söndag 24 juli 2016

Limits to moneycomputing (book chapter)

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This is blog post #5 - the very last blog post in my "summer spillover series" (here is #4). I'm on vacation but this blog post is again about something I "should" have written about when it happened (more than one and a half months ago) - long before I went on vacation.

Just as with the previous blog post, this is about a proposed chapter that I submitted to the upcoming (2017) book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption" together with Daniel Berg. I recently found out that we have indeed been invited to develop this proposed chapter of ours into a full book chapter. The (very preliminary) title of the text is currently "Limits to Moneycomputing" and I am writing it together with Daniel Berg who is a ph.d. student of economic history at Stockholm University.

Our extended abstract consists of a short abstract and a steam-of-consciouness "walkthrough" of different lines of reasoning we want to develop in the text. The walkthrough suffers from the fact that my co-author is finishing up his ph.d. thesis (it will be handed off to the printshop in a week, on August 1) and he has been very busy putting it together during the last few months. Daniel had furthermore isolated himself (to concentrate on getting his thesis written) right when the extended abstract was to be handed in seven weeks ago so I had to write it up myself based on our earlier discussions.

We now have to produce a first full draft of the chapter (5000-6000 words) by August 31, and I expect this text to take considerably more time to write than the chapter I will write together with Elina Eriksson mainly due to the following four reasons:

- I'm the first author and I have the main responsibility of writing this chapter. Elina is the first author of the other chapter and she thus has the main responsibility for that text.
- The ideas for this chapter are not as finished/polished as the ideas for the other chapter. For the other chapter we already have an outline (plan) for the whole chapter while we currently only have a steam-of-consciouness "walkthrough" of different lines of reasoning we want to develop in this text. I urgently need to plan a meeting with Daniel to "prune" the abstract and refine which ideas we should develop.
- The very ideas we are writing about are brand new. I (we) haven't written anything about the intersection of economy and computing before and few others have done that - to best of my knowledge (please do get in touch if you have tips for texts that I/we should read!).
- I have never written a text together with Daniel Berg while I have written many texts together with Elina. Me and Elina have a well-oiled routine for cranking out texts while me and Daniel Berg don't yet.

I here spare you of the rambling 2500-word extended abstract and instead present the considerably tighter 300-word short abstract. The abstract is however so tight that it might unfortunately be difficult to understand the main ideas that will carry the chapter and these ideas will have to be further "unpacked" to make sense. One idea (second paragraph below) is that our use of computers make our use of natural resources more efficient (which, in line with Jevon's paradox has "the same" effect as lowering the price of said resources). This is bad from a sustainability point of view as it increases the "social metabolism" and the material throughput in our societies. A second idea (same paragraph) is that by tightening the control and coordination of resource extraction, trade, transportation, production, marketing, sales (etc.), computers increase the velocity of money which again increases the material throughput in our societies (again bad from a sustainability point of view). With that in mind, here is the short abstract:

Limits to moneycomputing

Daniel Pargman (KTH Royal Institute of Technology) & Daniel Berg (Stockholm University)

Sustainability has become an increasingly important topic in computing during the last decade. An increasing number of researchers are contemplating and researching how ICT could be used to increase sustainability in our societies, and, great hope is attached to the potential of computing to help solve some of the greatest challenges of our time. Few researchers however study or indeed even consider what is bad about computers in terms of sustainability, i.e. how computers are oftentimes used in ways that contribute to unsustainability. Two of the top industries in terms of their use of computing power is after all the oil (exploration) industry and the financial industries.

Computers today help increase the effectiveness of our use of resources - with the effect that more numerous areas that make use of said resources are being found (e.g Jeevon’s paradox), thereby increasing the volume of material throughput in society. Computers today furthermore help increase the degree of control over processes of various kinds (Beniger 1986), thereby speeding up the use (and the volume) of material throughput in society. These are two important examples of how computers have, and how they continue to contribute to furthering the unsustainability of modern societies.

The intermingling of raw computing power with purely financial goals constitutes an especially potent witches’ brew that we here refer to as “moneycomputing”. We describe the origins of moneycomputing some 35 years ago, it’s development and its spread in lockstep with globalisation. We end the chapter by outlining some suggestions as to what can be done to counteract moneycomputing and instead allow computing to be used for more beneficiary and more sustainable purposes than it is oftentimes used today.  
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torsdag 21 juli 2016

On the contradictions of teaching sustainability at KTH (book chapter)

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This is blog post #4 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #3). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (more than one and a half months ago) - long before I went on vacation.

The previous blog post was about an upcoming (2017) book that I have submitted two chapter proposals to. This blog post concern one of these chapter proposals and it has the (preliminary) title "On the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability at a technical university".

There are quite some topical similarities between this chapter proposal and the previous summer spillover blog post about a text that has been written for the magazine Interactions (a special issue focusing on "teaching sustainability"). Both of these texts are about teaching ICT & sustainability and both are written together with my colleague Elina Eriksson. We originally thought that we could write a text for Interactions magazine and then extend it into a twice as long text/book chapter, but that didn't work out for various "dramaturgical" reasons. So despite the fact that these texts treat "the same" topic, they are in fact distinct texts with hardly any overlap at all when it comes to the actual text being written. Yet another difference between these two texts is that Elina is the first author of the proposed chapter (below) while I'm the first author of the text to Interactions Magazine.

We submitted an extended abstract (2500 words long) to the book editors in the end of May and not much has happened since then except for one thing and that is that we were recently invited to extend our extended abstract (proposed chapter) into a full chapter for the book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption". That means we have our work cut out for us in August as the deadline for the first full draft of chapters (5000-6000 words) is August 31.


The chapter of course has an introduction as well as some analysis/discussion/wrap-up, but the brunt of the chapter is structured around five examples that start with an anecdote (100-200 words) that is followed by an elaboration/analysis (400-600 words) of that anecdote. The anecdotes are harvested from our experiences of teaching a master's level course on sustainability for ICT students at a KTH Royal Institute of Technology during the last four years (we will teach the fifth cycle of the course during the second half of the autumn term). Instead of an abstract, I offer you the first of the five anecdotes (the only one that has been written this far).


On the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability at a technical university

Elina Eriksson & Daniel Pargman

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon, but the lecture hall is dark and cool. I am wrapping up my lecture, describing what Earth might look like in the worst-case scenario - if the average temperature on the planet was 6 degrees warmer, as a result of climate change. The slide-deck ends with a black slide and I smile a slightly ironic smile to the audience and wish them a great weekend. I feel rather shaken, but relieved. After weeks of reading up on planetary boundaries, climate change, ice core data, sea level rise and species extinction, I am now finished. When I pack up my computer, I see three students approaching the lectern in the corner of my eye. As I turn to them, I register the crossed arms, as if they are grasping for support, and that the student in the middle has tears in the eyes. One of them asks without prompting: “Can’t you say something more optimistic?”

As a lecturer, I stood dumbfounded. In this lecture, I had presented facts; all the measurements, calculations, all the observable changes of the planetary system. I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that the student’s reaction to these facts were emotional since I, over the weeks that I prepared for the lecture, had myself felt an increasing sense of alarm, dread and sorrow over the state of the world, the direction we are moving in and the insurmountable predicaments we are now facing. Not to mention the anger and frustration I felt for the lack of concern from politicians, industry and media. Instead of admitting my own apprehension, I tried to say something chirpy along the lines of “we’ll talk about what possible solutions might look like later in the course”, quickly bid the students goodbye and scurried away. I carried an emotional backpack to a coffee break with my colleagues, put it down and described the incident. Had I done something wrong, evoking such feelings in the students? One senior colleague answered that yes, I should not dump something like that onto them, especially not on a Friday afternoon. 

But what was I really “dumping” on them, I had but accounted for a score of scientific facts {Stocker, 2013 #339; Steffen, 2015 #473; Steffen, 2007 #432; Füssel, 2012 #494}. Science-based facts, that we in every other situation revere at a technical university. But in light of this anecdote, many questions arise. Should we avoid evoking emotions - both my own and those of my students? Ought I instead to have wrapped my students in cotton wool and downplayed the scale and the urgency of the problems we are facing? If so, how exactly am I supposed to do that? By portioning out (moderately) bad news in-between cheerful accounts of what we are currently working on that might help, or at least to some small degree help? If it on the other hand is fine - or even commendable - to evoke emotions in my students, exactly what responsibilities do I then have as their teacher? Do I have a responsibility to take care of their emotions, and how exactly am I supposed to do that? And for god’s sake, I’m a university teacher and not a therapist and our seminars are academic seminars and not support groups! Again, what am I supposed to do? Direct them to the nearest health center or tell them to talk to a psychologist? Deliver my facts in a detached manner and let them deal with it as grown-ups as best as they can. Or should we embrace their worries and follow up the lectures with some structure that makes it possible for the students to vent their concerns? There are so many questions and so few answers...

As shown in this section, emotions are stirred when presenting facts about our current situation. There are many emotional barriers that are met when approaching facts about the planetary boundaries, as described in Norgaard’s (2011) book on the social construction of climate change denial. In her study she shows that the most common emotion management strategies to avoid fear and helplessness is to is to control the exposure to information, not think far ahead and focus on things that one can do (but perhaps not are the most effective). Unfortunately, educators were one of the groups that most frequently used these strategies (Norgaard 2011), which contributes to the inertia in tackling the problem. We would argue that this is not only an educational problem but is also present within HCI research (Knowles and Eriksson 2015). But there is no more time, we have to find other strategies to handle negative emotions that do not lead to inertia, and dare to talk about the hard facts, even if it hurts. 
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söndag 17 juli 2016

Digital Technology and Sustainability (book)

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On the Internet, the space for writing low-bandwidth (text) blog posts is infinite. I try my very best to impose artificial limitations on this blog though and my goal is and has always been to publish at least one and a maximum of two blog posts per week. This blog post is an example of something that for sure would have been rolled into the next blog post if it wasn't for the fact that it is summer and I can "waste" some bandwidth here. (For an interesting angle on "waste/wasting", on dysfunctional behaviours and on "conspicuous consumption", see this Wikipedia entry on "sinking champagne".)

This blog post is about an upcoming book that I will hopefully contribute to, "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption". The book is edited by Mike Hazas (Lancaster University, UK) and Lisa Nathan (University of British Columbia, Canada) and it will be published by Routledge next year. I have had ideas for no less than four different contributions to the book, but later winnowed it down to two. The next two blog posts will concern my two proposed chapter contributions to the book.

The book has a relatively long prehistory at this point. I don't really know how it originally came about, for example how Mike and Lisa know each other and where and when they originally came up with the idea of writing/editing a book, but I first heard about it August last summer when Mike got in touch with me:


Hi Daniel,

Lisa Nathan and I are writing to ask if you would like to be involved in collaborating on a book that serves to invigorate the discourse within sustainable IT research (ICT4S, sustainable HCI, etc).  We are hoping you will consider crafting a chapter and engaging with other chapter contributors who join our broad inquiry into the field.
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A brief note on the process:  Rather than an edited book which is made up of relatively stand-alone contributions in part based on prior publications, we are working to design a process whereby: contributors are invited to create new writing on particular aspects of the debate; draft chapters are circulated between authors; virtual discussions take place where authors can debate and respond to one another in detail; and then with further rounds of editing, writing and responding as needed. Think of it as an extended workshop which has the tangible outcome of collected writings that recognize and engage with each other.

If you would like to contribute a chapter, then all that is needed is your idea, a bit of discussion with us, and a draft chapter abstract (600-750 words, excluding references) towards the end of August.

We are intent on submitting the book proposal to Routledge on 1 October, and we hope for their formal approval by the end of 2015.  As such, the project would begin in 2016, when the majority of the work would be completed.  


This sounded really interesting and fun and I submitted two draft chapter abstracts. Or, I think I did. I think my colleague Elina Eriksson submitted the second proposal. Or not. Oh, it doesn't really matter anymore, but I have since retracted/replaced the abstract that I submitted last summer, "Learning from Limits". It currently rests "in the drawer" as I am right now working on way too many texts in parallell to embark on writing yet another! I do think the idea itself is exciting though and I have therefore chosen to share it here (below), despite that fact that it is not currently headed anywhere. Dear reader, do get in touch if you have suggestions for a suitable venue for an article/chapter based on the abstract below!

Mike and Lisa's relatively hefty book proposal was submitted to Routledge in October last year and Routledge's "Senior Commissioning Editor, Sustainability and Development Studies" said the book proposal was going out to reviewers and that she herself thought "the proposal looks very strong". At the end of January we found out that the recommendation of all three reviewers was for Routledge to go ahead with the proposal: "the reviewers were very positive about the people involved ... and also the potential of the abstracts to develop into strong chapters which push the boundaries of our topic". The next step was to circulate a more general call for contributions and this went out in the beginning of April:


Working Title: Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption

Edited book to be published by Routledge

Editors:
Mike Hazas, Lancaster University, UK
Lisa Nathan, University of British Columbia, Canada

Important dates
28 May 2016 – Extended chapter abstracts due (2,500 words, plus references)
30 June 2016 – Acceptance notification
31 August 2016 – First full draft of chapters due (5,000-6,000 words)
Sept 2016-March 2017 – Feedback, Revisions, Contributor Conversations and Book Workshops
21 April 2017 – Final drafts of all chapters, responses, etc.

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Digital technologies are hailed as revolutionary solutions to the problems of environmental sustainability; smarter homes, more persuasive technologies, and a robust Internet of Things hold the promise for maintaining our lifestyles and sustaining our ecosystems. Yet, deployments of interactive technologies for such purposes often lead to a paradox: the tools algorithmically "optimize" heating and lighting of houses without regard to the dynamics of daily life in the home; they collect and display data that allows us to reflect on energy and emissions, while raising our expectations for comfort and convenience; we can share ideas for sustainable living through social networking and online communities, yet these same systems enable entirely new forms of consumerism. By acknowledging these paradoxes we make room for critical inquiry into digital technology’s longer-term impacts on ideals of sustainability.

This text brings together diverse scholars, researchers and practitioners willing to study, critique, and reorient dominant narratives and approaches to designing interactive digital technologies that support sustainability.

Objectives
-  To articulate and address the conundrums (theoretical, methodological, practical) for digital technology, and sustainable HCI in particular, in a single definitive volume;
-  To advance an iterative, interactive process (e.g., virtual workshops and one-to-ones) between scholars in the field;
-  Create a touchstone that scholars, students and interested members of the broader public can use to develop their understandings of sustainability in a digital future;
-  To initiate accessible and engaging modes of broad dissemination to coincide with the release of the book (e.g., video shorts and animations).

A list of possible content areas for which we are seeking chapter contributions are listed below; but topics are not strictly limited to these. [...]

- Critical Ethical Reflections - Who Are We To Decide What Is Of Value, What Is Worth Sustaining?
- Politics/Economics – Fundamental To Any New Tool, Yet Rarely Explicitly Addressed
- Shifting Orientations: Lengthening Temporal Scales/Accepting The Unknown:  With The Uncertainty And Unpredictability Of Effecting Change.
- Shifting The Norms Of IT Development/Practice: Developing Ways Of Fundamentally Shifting Current Trajectories Of ICT Development And Education
- Proxies For Sustainability (Emissions, Energy, Reliance On Natural Resources), And Approaches For Addressing These Infrastructure Considerations
- The Role Of Activism In Scholarly Work Tied To Environmental Concerns
- Relationships Between Sustainability And Social Justice
- Criteria of Excellence: Development of a broad set of expectations for future research in sustainable HCI.  

That's where we're at right now. As mentioned, the next two blog posts will be about my two proposed contributions to the book. Below is my original abstract/proposal for a book chapter that I later retracted/replaced with other proposals (see the following two blog posts).


Learning from Limits (draft chapter abstract)

Daniel Pargman, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Nobody dares to state that sustainability is not important nowadays. More and more people – ordinary citizens as well as corporate and political leaders – at some level realize that 20th century “business as usual” is an impossible trajectory for humanity to follow in the 21st century. We live on a finite planet and we are starting to push up against various limits, of which CO2 emissions and climate change are the most well-known. While there is broad agreement that we have to change direction, there is less agreement about how to conceptualize the situation we find ourselves in, how grave the situation is and which of the proposed options are sensible, easy, difficult or even possible.

While most computer researchers and professionals would agree that sustainability is important, the majority would be hard pressed to see the connection to their own professional practices. Lately, there has however been an upswing of researchers who are interested in the overlap between computing and sustainability, and, many of the contributors in this book work with “Sustainable HCI” or “ICT for Sustainability”. Scratch the surface and you will however find fundamental differences in the perspectives even among people who do work in these areas. Some researchers will (based on the research they conduct) propagate the view that sustainability is within the reach of relatively modest variations of current practices and that life can, for the most part, go on much as it does today. Other researchers will instead argue that humanity faces monumental challenges that will force us to rethink everything we have come to take for granted for decades if not for centuries. Rethinking “everything” would also force us to rethink the history, current developments, the role in society and the future of computing.

Based on that backdrop, this chapter strives to unveil the conceptual lines that divide us by revisiting the discussion around the “Limits to Growth” report from the early 1970’s (Meadows et al. 1972) as well as the different positions that emerged and crystallized around that report and that can still be seen in the positions taken by contemporary researchers, policymakers, corporate leaders, politicians and citizens.

I will furthermore argue for the merits of adopting the minority view; a hardline, uncompromising perspective on limits (as presented in the original Limits to Growth report). This perspective has started to be elaborated in work on “Collapse computing” (Tomlinson et al. 2012) and “Computing within Limits” (Pargman and Raghavan 2015). I will finally discuss some of the implications to computing of adopting such a perspective and of taking various biophysical limits seriously.
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torsdag 14 juli 2016

At Odds with a Worldview

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This is blog post #3 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #2). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (two weeks ago) - before I went on vacation.


My ex-UCI colleagues Bonnie Nardi, Bill Tomlinson and Don Patterson were in contact with the editors of the journal Interactions (Ron Wakkary and Erik Stolterman) some two and a half months ago and got a go-ahead for putting together a special issue focusing on "teaching sustainability". The special issue will consist of a brief introduction by Bill, Bonnie and Don ("The Troika") and three featured articles of about 2750 words each. The Troika will write one article, Me and Elina Eriksson have been invited to write another article and the final article will be written by Samuel Mann and Lesley Smith (from NZ).

Me and Elina thought this was a great idea and we submitted a draft of our article a few week ago. The draft title of the article is "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university" and if everything works out for the best, it will be published in the October-November issue of Interactions Magazine. Here is some boilerplate info about Interactions from their homepage:

"ACM Interactions magazine is a mirror on the human-computer interaction and interaction design communities and beyond. It is a multiplicity of conversations, collaborations, relationships, and new discoveries focusing on how and why we interact with the designed world of technologies. Interactions has a special voice that lies between practice and research with an emphasis on making engaging human-computer interaction research accessible to practitioners and on making practitioners' voices heard by researchers.

The magazine is published bi-monthly by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest educational and scientific computing society in the world. Interactions is the flagship magazine for the ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), with a global circulation that includes all SIGCHI members."



It is the case that that The Troika got the idea of putting together a special issue on teaching sustainability as an effect of writing the paper that they presented at Limits'16, "A Report from an Online Course on Global Disruption and Information Technology".

At my request, Bill wrote a 250 words long introduction to frame what The Troika wants/imagines the special issue to be about. I then took Bill's formulations and massaged them a little so that mine and Elina's proposed "specification" for our piece became as follows:

"The prevailing model [in education] is one of “vanilla sustainability” in which sustainability goals are pursued within a conventional industrialized model, but it may not be a viable path. Models of sustainability that much more vigorously challenge students’ previously uninterrogated assumptions about the world are needed."

The result is our proposed article "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university"

The article doesn't really have an abstract but here are some selected quotes that will give you a feeling for what it's about:

"In this paper, we will first elaborate on two different approaches to addressing and teaching engineering (computing) students about the environmental and other challenges presented above. We have here chosen to call these two approaches “vanilla” and “strong” sustainability.
...
many cases, especially in engineering educations, the foremost stance is to present problems in such a way that they become possible to solve through picking low-hanging fruit in the form of energy efficiency, incremental technological innovations and by applying “human ingenuity”.
...
We have previously defined this stance in terms of “vanilla sustainability” (Pargman and Eriksson 2013), a perspective where mitigation strategies are employed to avoid calamity and where the problems might be severe, but where they will somehow still always be manageable. It could be that this perspective is especially attractive to students (and professionals) in the information and computing sciences since it both defines the problem of sustainability as 1) manageable and relatively easy to solve and 2) as a problem that someone else will solve (someone working with transportation, energy, pollution, planning, policy etc.).
...
Strong sustainability ... challenges the sustainability (or indeed the possibility) of everyone striving to take on Western lifestyles, or, even for us Westerners to maintain current lifestyles.
...
Ultimately, the goal for us is to teach students a perspective that they will not only practice in their own lives but that they will also act as change agents and affect and convince others to work towards the endeavor of building a more sustainable society both in their private as well as their professional lives. ... In the best of possible worlds, we would like them to act as “tempered radicals” (Meyerson and Scully 1995), both maintaining a technologist identity while simultaneously identifying as change agents on behalf of strong sustainability."
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söndag 10 juli 2016

On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil production

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This is blog post #2 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #1). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (10 days ago) - before I went on vacation.


This blog post is about the second submission of mine to the Energy Research & Social Science special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" (the previous blog post was about the first submission).

The roots of the abstract below stretch back for more than two years but this is the first concrete outcome of the project "Consider Half" (with the exception of the blog post I wrote last month). I do however promise that plenty more is to come, with additional articles slated to be written in 2016 and 2017 (as outlined in the abstract below).

As apart from the previous submission (proposal) to the special issue, this is a bid for writing a full paper (6000-10000 words) and we will find out if we are invited to submit it to the special issue three weeks from now (at the end of the July). We have, if our proposal is accepted, a lot of work in front of us between August and mid-October, but I would very much look forward to it as it has been a long time coming!

On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil production

Daniel Pargman, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Joshua Tanenbaum, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, CA, USA (more Josh here)
Elina Eriksson, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Mikael Höök, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, Sweden
Marcel Pufal, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, CA, USA
Josefin Wangel, School of Architecture and the Built Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden


Project and paper outline (instead of an abstract)

Our full paper proposal for the ER&SS special issue on “Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research” takes as its starting point the contrafactual (Ferguson 2000) statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?” E.g. what if there ever only was 1.5 instead of 3 trillion barrels of oil available in the ground back in the 19th century (Deffeyes 2006, Campbell 2013)

Taking that statement as a starting point, an interdisciplinary group of researchers spanning literature, futures studies, design fiction, social sciences, systems analysis, history and natural resource research have embarked on a project to envision what a contrafactual post-peak oil world could look like. The goal is to construct an alternative present where peak oil happened in the early 1970’s and were we now (2017) have lived with the consequences for more than four decades.

The first step will be to construct a scenario in terms of natural resources, e.g. a “baseline natural resource scenario.” What is, according to the best of our knowledge, the shape of the production curve that describes present, past and future oil extraction in our world? What would that curve look like in world where only half the oil ever existed? What would be the history of that world seen through the lens of petroleum geology, oil exploration and development options? Which half of the oil that did exist in our world would be missing from that world and how would that affect that world’s global oil production curve? The aim of this step is to develop a set of reasonable ground parameters and we will do so primarily based on geological, physical, and mathematical models for natural resources. 

The next step is to tease out the geopolitical implication of the new distribution and volume of oil, e.g. a “geopolitical reference scenario.” With only half the oil present, the North Sea oil would for example be totally or for the most part absent in that world. Norway would thus not be the affluent country it is today but rather a second-rate fishing nation.

The next step is to use theories and methods from historical research, narrative research, futures research, science fiction research and design fiction to describe (imagine, design) a scenario that depicts the state of the post-peak world of 2017 in terms of social, technological and economic factors, e.g. a “social science reference scenario”. This will naturally be the most difficult part of the project.

Each “step” above corresponds to a full paper and the first paper, containing the baseline natural resource scenario is slated to be written during the fourth quarter of 2017 with the next two papers slated to be written in 2018. The full paper we propose to write for the ER&SS special issue will be a “prequel” that describes the whole project, including the thinking about the project goals, purpose, audience, parameters, variables, challenges, solved issues, open issues etc. 

One example is that “half the oil” could mean very different things; it could mean half the oil in each place (in each oil well) where there was oil in our world or it could mean the first half of all oil that we have discovered in our world. We have in this case chosen the second option and an important part of the content of the article would be to highlight and justify this and other choices made by us. Another example is the fate of other fossil fuels (coal, gas) in that world. The topic of the ER&SS article will thus be the project itself and the text will also act as binding input to the work with, and the article about the baseline natural resource scenario.

The project as a whole has several goals, but a primary goal is to engage with the pedagogical problem of explaining the effects of peak oil by placing it not in the present (or the near future), but in the past. Since “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (Niels Bohr), we believe that however difficult the task we have here set ourselves, it is much much easier for us to discern the global effects of peak oil in a world where oil production peaked in the early 1970s than what it is to predict the future of our world for decades ahead. Some have already used historical cases to identify possible trajectories for countries faced with an energy shortage (Friedrichs, 2010)

This work partly comes out of the community that has congregated around the workshop (conference) on “Computing with Limits”, where the second workshop(1) was held recently (June 2016). Many papers that were presented at the first (2015) workshop have been published in a special issue of the journal First Monday(2) and the proceedings from the second workshop are available through the ACM Digital Library(3). Computing within Limits “aims to foster discussion on the impact of present or future ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits on computing. [...]  A goal of this community is to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits and/or scarcity.” There is thus a strong affiliation between Computing within Limits and the 1972 “Limits to Growth” report (Meadows et al. 1972). The year 1972 incidentally happens to be at or near the peak of oil production in the proposed counterfactual scenario.


1. See further: http://limits2016.org/
2. See further: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/issue/view/460/showToc
3. See further: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2926676&picked=prox
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torsdag 7 juli 2016

The green democratic energy narrative

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This is blog post #1 in my "summer spillover series". I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about before I went on vacation. My goal on this blog has however always been to post a minimum of one and a maximum of two blog posts per week and there are some blog post topics that are "backed up" right now due to excessive activity on my behalf during the month of June. I will therefore publish a series of "delayed" blog posts in July to so to speak "catch up".

This paper is in itself sort of spillover, or rather a spin-off from the panel that Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling organised and that I participated in at a conference back in March. After the panel I almost immediately grabbed hold of Ulrika and Karin Bradley. The basic idea for the paper came from my reading of Timothy Mitchell's book “Carbon Democracy: Political power in the age of oil” which I read last spring but wrote about in a blog post only a few months ago, in March. At the time, earlier this spring, this was only an idea about "something interesting we should work on". We met and started to discuss a future paper but only became goal-oriented at the end of May when we saw this call for papers for a special issue of the journal Energy Research & Social Science:

Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research

In recent years, references to narratives, stories, and storytelling have become common in energy and climate change research and policy (Randall 2009; Fine & O'Neill 2010; Open University 2014). Stories are used to communicate with, influence, and engage audiences; they serve as artefacts to investigate in terms of content, actors, relationships, power, and structure; they can be used to gather information, provide insight, and reframe evidence in a way that question-and-answer formats miss. But they are not simply benign or neutral, and a critical stance is needed. This special issue aims to cultivate a solid structure for understanding, interpreting, and applying stories within energy and climate change research and policy ... There are several reasons that this collection is timely. First, stories abound in research and policy, with a rhetorical structure different from that of the rational approaches, facts, and numbers that have been the ordinary face of knowledge in policy and science.  Stories allow tellers to represent multiple perspectives simultaneously, and observers to see different facets of complex issues, complicating notions of “the truth.” 

We will find out if our "bid" for writing a short paper for the special issue (1000-3000 words) is successful at the end of July. If so, we then have until mid-October to write a first draft of our paper and another four months until the final papers are due (Feb 21, 2017). Below is our paper proposal and it is already 700+ words long (1050+ if the plentiful references are added).


The green democratic energy narrative 


Daniel Pargman (1), Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling (2) & Karin Bradley (2)
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
(1) School of Computer Science and Communication
(2) School of Architecture and the Built Environment

Abstract

It has become a truism that the current fossil energy regime is unsustainable (Aleklett 2012) and that CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions pose great risks for humankind as well as for flora and fauna (IPCC 2014, Steffen et. al. 2015). Proposed solutions - beyond hopes for more high-tech energy systems and urgent breakthroughs in breeder reactors and fusion energy - almost exclusively point in the direction of a rapid scaling-up of renewable energy sources, e.g. solar, wind and biofuels. Renewable energy sources is and have been a continuing source of hope for more than four decades, stretching from the anti-nuclear movement, green political movements and the proto-green political parties of the 1970’s and the 1980’s (Dobson 2007) to renewable energy ideologist and German “Energiwende” architect Hermann Scheer’s visions about a “Solar Economy” (Scheer 2001, Scheer 2007, Scheer 2013) and more recently to The Tesla Powerwall; super entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Tesla home battery for storing solar energy.

These visions can also be seen as stories that narrate a shift away from fossil fuels to ushering in a utopian, green, future, decentralised, affordable, democratic, equitable renewable and resilient energy regime. But both talk and visions are easy to express in words and on paper while the actual realisation of “the whole package” (e.g. for example renewable energy and an equitable democratic society) might prove considerably more difficult than just wishing for it to happen (Hornborg 2014). However, even if visions about renewable energy tell a coherent story, storytelling should not only be seen as putting things in order. Storytelling can also be seen as something that distorts the commonplace and causes disorder in “the great story”. In this paper, we aim to question and to “defamiliarize” the reader with the familiar story of renewable energy as a unique source of redressing everything that is wrong in society today.

Timothy Mitchell has in his recent book “Carbon Democracy: Political power in the age of oil” (2011) argued that certain specific characteristics of fossil fuels (see also Winner 1986) and the concomitant (political economy) consequences of those characteristics are crucial for understanding social developments such as the spread of democratic ideas and a more equitable division of power in society. These developments happened first in the UK and later in other first-world, Western countries:

"Between the 1880s and the interwar decades, workers in the industrialised countries of Europe and North America [...] acquired a power that would have seemed impossible before the late nineteenth century. [...] Workers were gradually connected together [...] by the increasing and highly concentrated quantities of carbon energy they mined, loaded, carried, stoked and put to work. The coordinated acts of interrupting, slowing down or diverting its movement created a decisive political machinery, a new form of collective capability built out of coalmines, railways, power stations, and their operators [and] was put to work for a series of democratic claims whose gradual implementation radically reduced the precariousness of life in industrial societies." (Mitchell 2011, p.26-27).

Mitchell explores the link between the origins of coal- and oil-based fossil fuel regimes (Debeir et. al. 1991, Sieferle 2001, Malm 2016), fossil economies and the emergence of democratic values and he also dares to ask (but not to answer) the question: What if the system of democratic governance in itself is carbon-based? 

This leads up to the two main question we will explore in our proposed submission (in the form of a short communication) to the ER&SS special issue on “Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research”, namely: 

  • If the system of democratic governance is carbon-based, what then happens when we either voluntarily wind down or involuntarily run out of fossil fuels?
  • What if specific characteristics of present and future renewable energy systems, in our case solar energy, challenge some of the values we hold most dear in Western liberal democracies? 

That is, what are the effects of running up to various biophysical limits (Nardi 2015) and what more specifically are the implications of solar energy on democracy? Perhaps a “green”, decentralised future renewable energy regime is at odds with equitable and democratic developments (Desvallées 2016)? Perhaps we are only telling ourselves stories when we imagine a future renewable energy regime as being green and distributed and affordable and democratic and equitable?
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söndag 3 juli 2016

Books I've read (mid-Aug - Sept)

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I am still trying to catch up, but, the blog has once been buzzing with more important things (academic papers!) than what books I have read "lately" - in this case between mid-August and September last year (i.e. ten months ago). All three books below are about, well, culture, sustainability and the past/future of humanity. Here's the previous blog post about books I have read. The asterisks represent the number of quotes from the each book and you find the quotes further below.


********************* I've read several books by Jared Diamond before but none during the last five years (or I would have had written about it on this blog). Diamond's "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?" (2012) is his latest book but I do think he is mostly known for his 1997 book "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies". Diamond is a master of drawing up the grand lines and of popularising science, but this is not something that can be done without making a lot of (academic) enemies. As far as I can see, the critique is divided into two main lines. The first is that by popularising, he is also simplifying matters high and low to such an extent that he (runs the risk) of distorting reality/the truth. The second line of critique, most vividly expressed in the title of the 2013 academic article "F** k Jared Diamond" (published in the journal "Capitalism, Nature, Socialism") accuses Diamond of being (on the very first page, mind you) deterministic, "random", racist, silly, reductionistic, bourgeois, imperialistic, a pseudo intellectual, a "clever hack", deceitful (by pretending to be thoughtful and caring) and someone whose writing can be compared to a "crime spree". Phew. The author, David Correia, is a featherweight academic besides Jared Diamond, whose homepage says that he has published more than six hundred articles (how is that even possible?) and who was ranked to be the #9 public intellectual in a poll by Prospect and Foreign Policy in 2005.

We can draw the conclusion that Diamond is controversial to some but appreciated by others. Well, I thought the book was good read if not as good as his previous books. But it was as always interesting and sometimes thought-provoking (see the quotes further below). His main point is very interesting. There is much diversity in terms of social phenomena, but with the exception of the very few indigenous people who have no contact with modern civilisation, everybody else is, despite remaining variations, very much alike. Comparing someone from Benin with someone from Belgium will yield small differences compared to comparisons between the Daribi from New Guinea, the Nganasan in Siberia or the Machguenga who live in the Amazon. What can we learn about humans and human societies from the sheer variety of the 39 different indigenous societies on five contintents in terms of conflicts, war, religion and so on? From the back cover: 

"Over the past 500 years, the West achieved global dominance, but do Westerners necessarily have better ideas about how to raise children, care for the elderly, or simply live well? In a sweeping journey around the globe, Jared Diamond explores how tribal people approach essential human problems, from health and diet to conflict resolution and language, and discoveries that they have much to teach us. These traditional societies offer an extraordinary window into how our ancestors lived for most of human history - until virtually yesterday, in evolutionary terms."



****** Tore Frängsmyr's 1980 book "Framsteg eller förfall: Framtidsbilder och utopier i västerländsk tradition" [Progress or decay: visions and utopias in the Western intellectual tradition] is an outcome of a research project he participated in in the late 1970's, "Futures studies and their function in society". I have owned the book for a long time and even started to read it 10 years ago but got stuck or was distracted. I have since worked some with futures studies researchers and that made this book more interesting for me to read now than it was back then. The book is very much a history book about the different ways in which people throughout the ages have thought about the future (and about nature). From the back cover (translated):

"Futurology is today a highly topical subject. Through detailed study seeks to provide forecasts and determine trends in terms about population growth, food, resources and natural environments. Future Studies is however not something new. Already in the 1600s, many people believed that the earth's resources gradually decreased and that we one day would run out of them. 

In this book Tore Frängsmyr provides the history of ideas behind futures studies. He shows how different visions and utopias emerged from political, economic, religious and scientific beliefs, and what functions they had in the society of that time. As a guiding principle, he examines man's relationship to nature.
....
The author distinguishes between utopia and belief in progress as two opposing views, but in the final chapter he shows that the concrete future visions of society still are quite unimaginative. In chosing between the Effective society and the Good life, most have opted for the first."



*********************************************** "Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth" (2007) is a 500 pages long book that is edited by Robert Costanza (Wikipedia), Lisa Graumlich and Will Steffen (Wikipedia). The origin of the book is to be found at a workshop that was held in Berlin in 2005, "the 96th Dahlem Workshop (pdf) on Integrated History and future Of People on Earth (IHOPE)"). The book is in fact the report from the workshop. 

It is hard to go into details about such a massive 22-chapter book, but the four parts of the books (beyond the three chapters that form the introduction) are:
- The Millennial Timescale: Up to 10,000 Years Ago
- The Centennial Timescale: Up to 1000 Years Ago
- The Decadal Timescale: Up to 100 Years Ago
- The Future

There were many interesting chapters in the book (and some that were less so) that pointed in many different directions. Some of my personal highlights were: "Climate, Complexity, and Problem Solving in the Roman Empire" by Joseph Tainter and Carole Crumley, "Information Processing and Its Role in the Rise of the European World System" by Sander van der Leeuw, "Social, Economic, and Political Forces in Environmental Change: Decadal Scale (1900 to 2000)" by John McNeill and "Evaluating Past Forecasts: Reflections on One Critique of The Limits to Growth" by Dennis Meadows. From the back cover:

"Human history, as written traditionally, leaves out the important ecological and climate context of historical events. But the capability to integrate the history of human beings with the natural history of Earth now exists, and we are finding that human-environmental systems are intimately linked in ways we are only beginning to appreciate. In Sustainability or Collapse?, researchers from a range of scholarly disciplines develop an integrated human and environmental history over millennial, centennial, and decadal time scales and make projections for the future. The contributors focus on the human-environment interactions that have shaped historical forces since ancient times and discuss such key methodological issues as data quality. Topics highlighted include the political ecology of the Mayans; the effect of climate on the Roman empire; the "revolutionary weather" of El Niño from 1788 to 1795; twentieth-century social, economic, and political forces in environmental change; scenarios for the future; and the accuracy of such past forecasts as The Limits to Growth."



-------------------------------------



----- On us, begin WEIRD  -----
"psychologists base most of their generalizations about human nature on studies of our own narrow and atypical slice of human diversity. Among the human subjects studied in a sample of papers from the top psychology journals surveyed in the year 2008, 96% were from Westernized industrial countries (North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel), 68% were from the U.S. in particular, and up to 80% were college undergraduates enrolled in psychology courses, i.e., not even typical of their own national societies. That is ... most of our understanding of human psychology is based on subjects who may be described by the acronym WEIRD: from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies. ... if we wish to generalize about human nature, we need to broaden greatly our study sample from the usual WEIRD subects (mainly American psychology undergraduates) to the whole range of traditional societies."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.8.


----- There are only three sorts of people; friends, enemies and strangers  -----
"members of small-scale societies ... divide people into three categories: friends, enemies, and strangers. "Friends" are the members of your own band or village, and of those neighboring bands and villages with which your band happens to be on peaceful terms at the moment. "Enemies" are members of neighboring bands and villages with which your band happens to be on hostile terms at the moment. ... The remaining category is "strangers": unknown individuals belonging to distant bands with which your band has little or no contact. Rarely or never do members of small-scale societies encounter strangers, because it's suicidal to travel into an unfamiliar area to whose inhabitants you are unknown and completely unrelated. If you do happen to encounter a stranger in your territory, you have to presume that the person in dangerous"
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.49-50.


----- On how big the world is (perceived to be)  -----
"Geographic knowledge was very local in Highland New Guinea, with its dense populations and relatively stable environment. Travel and knowledge were wider in areas with stable environments but lower populations ... and were still wider in areas with variable environments and low populations (such as deserts and inland Arctic areas). For example, Andaman Islanders knew nothing about Andaman tribes living more than 20 miles distant. The known world of the Dugum Dani was largely confined to the Baliem Valley, most of which they could see from hilltops, but they could visit only a fraction of the valley because it was divided up by war frontiers that it was suicidal to cross."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.55.


----- On encountering pre-modern tribes  -----
"The last large-scale first contacts in world history will prove to be those that took place in the New Guinea Highlands, where from the 1930s to the 1950s patrols by Australian and Dutch government and army reconnaissance expeditions, miners on prospecting trips, and biological expeditions "discovered" a million Highlanders of whose existence the outside world hadn't known and vice versa - even though Europeans had by then been visiting and settling the coasts of New Guinea for 400 years."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.57.


----- On dispute resolution vs a justice system  -----
"the main aim of traditional New Guinea compensation is to restore the previous relationship, even if it was merely a "non-relationship" that consisted only of giving each other no trouble despite the potential for doing so. But that aim ... represent a huge difference from Western state systems of dispute resolution, in which restoring a relationship is usually irrelevant because there wasn't any relationship before and there won't be any again in the future."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.88.


----- On modern vs pre-modern warfare  -----
"As for the numerous differences between traditional and state warfare, one difference follows straight on from that discussion of the psychology of killing. Even when modern soldiers see an enemy face-to-face, the enemy is almost always a nameless person, someone whom they never met before and against whom they hold no individual grudge. In contrast, in small-scale traditional societies one recognizes and knows by name not only every member of one's own society, but also many or most of the enemy warriors one is trying to kill - because shifting alliances and occasional intermarriages make one's neighbors familiar as individuals."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.143.


----- On prisoners of war as a modern invention  -----
"State armies spare and take prisoners because they are able to feed them, guard them, put them to work, and prevent them from running away. Traditional "armies" do not take enemy warriors as prisoners, because they cannot do any of those things to make use of prisoners. Surrounded or defeated traditional warriors do not surrender, because they know that they would be killed anyway."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.146.


----- On Leviathan blessings  -----
"Despite the excitement and the prestige of tribal fighting, tribespeople understand better than anyone else the misery associated with warfare, the omnipresent danger, and the pain due to the killings of loved ones. When tribal warfare is finally ended by forceful intervention by colonial governments, tribespeople regularly comment on the resulting improved quality of life that they hadn't been able to create for themselves, because without centralized government they hadn't been able to interrupt the cycles of revenge killings. [That] explains the surprising ease with which small numbers of Australian patrol officers and native policemen were able to end tribal warfare in the then-territory of Papua New Guinea. They arrived at a warring village, bought a pig, shot the pig to demonstrate the power of firearms ... and occasionally shot New Guineans who dared to attack them. Of course, New Guineans are pragmatic and could recognize the power of guns. But one might not have predicted how easily they would give up warfare that they had been practicing for thousands of years"
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.148-149.


----- On European colonial influences and the not-so-noble "savage"  -----
"From about 1818 to 1835 two products introduced by Europeans triggered a transient surge in the deadliness of Maori warfare, in an episode know in New Zealand history as the Musket Wars. One factor was of course the introduction of muskets, with which Maori could kill each other far more efficiently than they had previously been able to do when armed with clubs. The other factor may initially surprise you: potatoes, which we don't normally imagine as a major promoter of war. But it turns out that the duration and size of Maori expeditions to attack other Maori groups had been limited by the amount of food that could be brought along to feed the warriors. The original Maori staple food was sweet potatoes. Potatoes introduced by Europeans (although originating in South America) are more productive in New Zealand than are sweet potatoes, yield bigger food surpluses, and permitted sending out bigger raiding expeditions for longer times than had been possible for traditional Maori depending upon sweet potatoes. After potatoes' arrival, Maori canoe-borne expeditions to enslave or kill other Maori broke all previous Maori distance records by covering distances of as much as a thousand miles. ... As muskets spread, the Musket Wars rose to a peak until all surviving tribes had muskets ... and the Musket Wars faded away."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.150-151.


----- On our readiness to kill  -----
"ethnographic studies of traditional human societies lying largely outside the control of state government have shown that war, murder, and demonization of neighbors have been the norm, not the exception, and that members of those societies espousing those norms are often normal, happy, well-adjusted people, not ogres. ... traditional New Guineans from their earliest childhood onwards saw warriors going out and coming back from fighting, saw the dead bodies and the wounds of their relatives and clansmen killed by the enemy, heard stories of killing, heard fighting talked about as the highest ideal, and witnessed successful warriors talking proudly about their killings and being praised for it."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.168-169.


----- On the lack of studies of children in pre-modern societies  -----
"Why should we be interested in child-rearing practices of traditional hunter-gatherer, farmer, and herder societies? ... Despite ... good reasons for us to be interested in child-rearing in non-Western societies, it has received much less study than it deserves. Part of the problem is that many of the scholars who go out to study other cultures are young, don't have children of their own, aren't experiences in talking with or observing children, and mainly describe and interview adults. Anthropology, education, psychology, and other academic fields have their own ideologies, which at any given time focus on a certain range of research topics, and which impose blinders on what phenomena are considered worth studying."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.174.


----- On teenage parenthood  -----
"In such multi-age playgroups, both the older and the younger children gain from being together. The young children gain from being socialized not only by adults [but] also by older children, while the older children acquire experience in caring for younger children. That experience gained by older children contributes to explaining how hunter-gatherers can become confident parents already as teen-agers. While Western societies have plenty of teen-aged parents, especially unwed teen-agers, Western teen-agers are suboptimal parents because of inexperience. However, in a small-scale society, the teen-agers who become parents will already have been taking care of children for many years"
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.201.


----- On competition and educational toys  -----
"A regular feature of the games of hunter-gatherer societies and the smallest farming societies is their lack of competition or contests. Whereas many American games involve keeping score and are about winning and losing, it is rare for hunter-gatherer games to keep score or identify a winner. Instead, games of small-scale societies often involve sharing, to prepare children for adult life that emphasizes sharing and discourages contests. ... American toy manufacturers heavily promote so-called educational toys to foster so-called creative play. American parents are taught to believer that manufactures store-bought toys are important to the development of their children. In contrast, traditional societies have few or no toys, and any toys that do exist are made either by the child itself or by the child's parents."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.204.


----- On different "endgames" for men and women  -----
"Another consequence of the population pyramid's inversion is that, insofar as older people continue to be valuable to society (e.g., due to their long and varied experience), any individual old person is less valuable because so many other old individuals offer that same value. ... Aging plays out differently for men and for women. ... For instance, in the U.S. 80% of older men are married and only 12% are widowers, while less than 40% of older women are married and over half are widows. That's partly because of longer female life expectancy, but also because men tend to be older than their wives at the time of marriage, and because widowed men are more likely to remarry (to considerably younger new wives) than are widowed women."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.232-233.


----- What to do with older people in modern society?  -----
"My abilities to build a vacuum-tube radio and to drive a manual-shift car have also become obsolete. Much else that I and my contemporaries learned in our youth has become equally useless, and much that we never learned has become indispensable. ... On the one hand, people live longer, old people enjoy better physical health, and the rest of society can better afford to care for them than at any previous time in human history. On the other hand, old people have lost most of the traditional usefulness that they offered to society, and they often end up socially more miserable while physically healthier."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.236.


----- On our taken-for-granted healthcare  -----
"the effects of many or most accidents that we Americans suffer can be repaired, whereas accidents in New Guinea are much more likely to prove crippling or fatal. On the sole occasion when I became incapacitated and unable to walk in the United States (from slipping on an icy Boston side-walk and breaking my foot), I hobbled to a nearby pay phone to call my physician father, who picked me up and took me to a hospital. But when I injured my knee in the interior of Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island and became unable to walk, I found myself stranded 20 miles inland from the coast, without any means to obtain outside help. New Guineans who break a bone can't get it set by a surgeon and are likely to end up with an improperly set bone that leaves them permanently impaired."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.245.


----- On estimating and counteracting dangers  -----
"the annual number of people killed or injured by a certain type of danger may be low precisely because we are so aware of it and go to such great efforts to minimize our risk. If we were fully rational, perhaps a better measure of danger than the actual annual number of deaths inflicted (easy to count up) would be the annual numbers of deaths that would have been inflicted if we hadn't taken counter-measures (hard to estimate). Two examples stand out ... Few people in traditional societies normally die of famine, precisely because so many of a society's practices are organized so as to reduce the risk of dying of famine. Few !Kung are killed each year by lions, not because lions aren't dangerous, but instead because they are indeed so dangerous that the !Kung take elaborate measures to protect themselves against lions"
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.245.


----- On accidental deaths  -----
"When we imagine the dangers facing traditional societies, our first association is likely to be with lions and other environmental hazards. In reality, for most traditional societies environmental dangers rank only third as a cause of death, behind disease and human violence. But environmental dangers exert a bigger effect on people's behavior than do diseases, because for environmental dangers the relation between cause and effect is much quicker and more easily perceived and understood. ... the main causes of accidental death in modern Westernized societies: in descending sequence of death toll, we are killed by cars, alcohol, guns, surgery, and motorcycles"
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.278-279.


----- On food insecurity  -----
"Starvation is a risk that affluent First World citizens don't even think about, because our access to food remains the same, day after day, from season to season, and year after year. ... For small-scale societies, however, there are unpredictably good or bad days, some season each year when food is predictably short and to which people look forward with foreboding, and unpredictably good or bad years. As a result, food is a major and almost constant subject of conversation. ... The significance of sex and food is reversed between the Siriono [indians of Bolivia] and us Westerners: the Sirionos' strongest anxieties are about food, they have sex virtually whenever they want, and sex compensates for food hunger, while our strongest anxieties are about sex, we have food virtually whenever we want, and eating compensates for sexual frustration."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.299-300.


----- On the functions and use of religion  -----
"What about religion's future? That depends on what shape the world will be in 30 years from now. If living standards rise all around the world, then [some of] religion's functions ... will continue to decline, but [other functions] seem to me likely to persist. Religion is especially likely to continue to be espoused for claiming to offer meaning to individual lives and deaths whose meaning may seem insignificant from a scientific perspective. ... If, on the other hand, much of the world remains mired in poverty, or if (worse yet) the world's economy and living standards and peace deteriorate, then all functions of religion, perhaps even supernatural explanation, may undergo a resurgence.
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.368.


----- On food and population density  -----
"The main reason for the small [size of the] communities of hunter-gatherrs is low food availability, hence low human population densities. Within the same environment, population densities of hunter-gatherers are 10 to 100 times lower than those of farmers, because much less food is available to hunter-gatherers, able to eat only that tiny fraction of wild plant species that is edible, than to farmers, who convert the landscape into gardens and orchards of edible plants."
Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday, p.379.


----- On future studies and speculations  -----
"Future studies and speculations have of course in a trivial sense occurred [for a long time]. Religious divinations have manifested themselves in eschatological and apocalyptic literature, in everyday life, humans have relied on Farmers Almanacs and other practical precepts. The politician's task has been to predict the future in the longer or shorter term, the poet's to in a personal way shape his thoughts about it. Prophecies of doom have been mixed with utopian visions of the future. The great ideological thinkers have drawn up blueprints for the future society. And science fiction authors have played with technological dreams, which in many cases have occured with astonishing certainty. "
Frängsmyr, T. (1980). Progress or decay, p.9-10.


----- On More's Utopia and the downfall of the 1%  -----
"When I see our modern social system, I can not [Thomas] More continues [in his novel Utopia from 1516,] with Raphael's voice, see it as anything but a conspiracy of the rich to protect their own interests under the pretext of "organising" society. They devise all sorts of tricks to protect what is theirs while simultaneously taking advantage of the poor by buying their labor as cheaply as possible. And they get their actions "approved" by society by themselves introducing suitable laws. A ruthless minority can thus, through their greed, usurp all that which would have sufficed for an entire nation."
Frängsmyr, T. (1980). Progress or decay, p.52.



----- On one of the most popular literary utopias ever  -----
"One of the most successful among modern utopias is undoubtedly Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000-1887, published in 1888. It has been published in the tens of million of copies in twenty-ish languages around the world. It has become especially appreciated in the author's native United States, where only since 1960 eleven editions have been printed for a total of more than a million copies. Another measure of the book's popularity is that between 1889 and 1900 no fewer than 46 novels appeared in the United States with similar titles, like "Looking Forward", "Looking Beyond" "Looking Ahead," "Looking Further Backward", "Looking Within" and "Looking Backward and What I Saw"."
Frängsmyr, T. (1980). Progress or decay, p.141


----- On Bellamy as the Bernie Sanders of the 1880's?  -----
"[The main character of Bellamy's novel from 1888] Julian West's old society is compared to a wagon being pulled by the crowds on a hilly and sandy road. Although the work is heavy and the road cumbersome, the roof is full of people sitting there, and they don't even get off in the uphills. It is cool and pleasant on the roof, those sitting there can enjoy the scenery, or critically discuss the team pulling the cart forward. ... Don't the travellers have any compassion for those who work? Yes, they often express their "pity" for them, especially when they arrive at a bad stretch of road or a steep uphill. The workers' desperate efforts, whereby some are trampled in the mud, make the passengers anxious and causes "very respectable expression of emotion on the wagon roof".  The passengers usually shout words of encouragement to those who toil by the ropes, urging them to be patient and giving them the hope of compensation in another world; others let purchase ointments and liniments for the injured."
Frängsmyr, T. (1980). Progress or decay, p.147.


----- On utopian thinkers as the ultimate realists?  -----
"It is exceedingly easy to demonstrate that utopians are unrealistic or that their societies are boring; it is especially easy if you in retrospect have the answer at hand and do not understand how contemporaries perceived the problems. ... In no way was [the author Edward] Bellamy [1850-1898] a realist in his concrete depiction of an ideal future state. But his starting point was indeed realistic, because he realized that man's future must be built on a more sensible relationship to nature and its resources."
T. Frängsmyr, T. (1980). Progress or decay, p.149.


----- On decay as the mother of all utopias  -----
"A society in crisis creates unrealistic, otherwordly utopias [and] a society in balance gives birth to hopes of continued developments. ... If you are dissatisfied with societal developments, you will want something different; decay gives birth to utopia. ... Decay stands in opposition to progress, utopia stands in opposition to belief in the future. Anyone who experiences society as if in crisis wanted a change so radical that the ideal image had a an imaginary character. Anyone who was happy with society hoped for continued and similar developments; you just had to move forward on the path taken."
Frängsmyr, T. (1980). Progress or decay, p.225-227


----- Prediction is hard, especially about the future  -----
"Predictive power appears to be an even more elusive skill if one takes into account the observation that any attempt of anticipation is generally fed back into the sysem (e.g., through the reactions of important stakeholders) and thus modifies teh very assumptions, conditions, and processes that were involved in the original projections. In other words, we are faced here with the dilemma of self-destroying prophecy!If a scientific study were to predict, for instance, that technological innovation as generated by pre market forces would suffice to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at subdangerous levels, then each and every climate policymaker could complacently lean back only to miss the opportunities for the strategic induction of the pertinent innovations."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.xxi.


----- On the history and future of human-induced environmental change  -----
"This volume is divided into five sections, with the overall organizational principle being the timescale at which the analyses are conducted. The approach was to address the collection, integration, interpretation, and analysis of knowledge on human history and environmental change at three complimentary temporal scales for the past - millennial, centennial, decadal - and to bring the same tools to a consideration of the future."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.5.


----- On "risk spirals"  -----
"Dearing et al. ... defined a risk spiral as being derived from "... a transformation of environmental complexity into social complexity. The key point is that while human actions often succeed in reducing specific risks, these efforts also create qualitatively new risks at a larger spatial scale and/or a longer time frame." The notion of risk spirals points to a dangerous positive feedback loop. As human societies become more complex, they are less able to withstand shocks from the natural world and, ironically, in the process of making themselves more complex, societies inadvertently and (often) unknowingly change natural systems in ways that make these systems more prone to abrupt changes or extreme events!"
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.14.


----- On the trade-off between short-term production and long-term sustainability  -----
"'A critical aspect of any society is the trade-off between short-term production and long-term resilience or sustainability. These values are often in conflict. In general, there is a need to keep production well below theoretical carrying capacity to avoid a severe drop in resilience. Cultural traditions have played an important role in building long-term resilience by acting as a brake on short-term production that would damage or diminish resilience and long-term sustainability. During the Great Acceleration [following World War II], many of these cultural traditions dissipated such tat resilience and long-term sustainability may be adversely affected.""
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.14.


----- On the lack of quality measures for information  -----
"Grades for quality are routinely assigned in innumerable spheres of activity in our society (e.g., academic performance or quality of meat and eggs). Yet in the case of information, one of the most sensitive products we have, there are no standard systems for grading and hence no means for a socially effective system of quality control."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.40.


----- On uncertainty  -----
"No scientific activity is free from uncertainty ... These include inexactness (as expressed by significant digits), unreliability (as expressed in systematic error), epistemic uncertainty, linguistic uncertainty, and others. No amount of sophisticated apparatus and computer power can replace theoretical understanding of the problems of uncertainty or the practical skills of controlling and communicating it."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.41.


----- On the Mayan miracle  -----
"The ancient Maya ... occupied a geographic region of 250,000 km2 with an uninterrupted cultural legacy of at least 1500 years. Although much is made of their well-know, if little understood, collapse in the 9th century A.D. ... the long-lived success of the Maya within a difficult and frequently inhospitable semitropical environment warrants greater attention. As a primary civilization, or a highly complex social order unlike any preceding it, and the only such "state" from a tropical regime, the Maya are best known for their towering pyramids, elaborate ball courts, developed art forms, and a writing system unparalleled elsewhere in the pre-Hispanic Americas. So how is it that a primary civilization without the wheel, sail, metal tools, beasts of burden, or navigable rivers was capable of supporting an estimated 10 million people by A.D. 700?
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.52.


----- Can renewables pay the bills after we have spent the fossil surpluses?  -----
"For an agrarian empire, the highest net returns are realized in the conquest phase, when the accumulated surpluses of the subject peoples are appropriated. These surpluses are the stored accumulation of past solar energy, transformed into the production of precious metals, works of art, and peasant populations. As have many empire-builders, Rome found their conquests initially to be highly profitable. ... Once these accumulated surpluses are spent, the conqueror must assume responsibility to garrison, administer, and defend the province. These responsibilities may last centuries and are typically financed from yearly agricultural surpluses. The concentrated, high-quality resources available at conquest give way to resources derived from dispersed subsistence agriculture, which yields little surplus per capita ... Costs rise and benefits decline. When fresh problems arise, they must be met by taxing the populace, and if tax rates are insufficient they will likely be raised."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.62.


----- On the Roman Empires as the original Evil Empire  -----
"[In] The tax system of the late [Roman] Empire ... rates were so high that peasant proprietors could accumulate no reserves. ...If 50% of the yield went to seed and subsistence, then tax amounted to one-half to two-thirds of the surplus (or in bad years, all of it). If barbarians raided, or drought or locusts diminshed the crop, farmers either borrowed or starved. Eventually their land passed to creditors, to whom they became tenants. Whatever crops were brought in had to be sold for taxes, even if it meant starvation for the farmer and his family. Farmers who could not pay their taxes were jailed, sold their children into slavery, or abandoned their homes and fields. ... The state, moreover, always had a backup on taxes due, extending obligations to widows or orphans, even to dowries. ... Under these circumstance it became unprofitable to cultivate marginal land as too often it would not yield enough for taxes and surplus. And so land came increasingly to be deserted."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.67-68.


----- On us, (not) really solving environmental and other societal problems  -----
"Hierarchical systems tend to commit themselves to specific structures and solutions, establishing brittleness where flexibility may be required. ... Today's approach to understanding environmental problems - on the part of both policy makers and scientists - has been largely hierarchical: authoritative, distant, and too often decontextualized. ... The upper levels in any hierarchical system act only on aggregated, filtered information and respond slowly to signals from below."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.69-70.


----- On (the costs of) complexity vs resilience  -----
"Complexity has great utility in problem solving, but it also costs. The evolution of complexity is a benefit-cost relation. The costs of complexity may be measured in energy, metabolic rates, labor, money time, or any other unit of accounting. At the time a problem arises, increments to complexity may seem small and affordable. It is the continual accumulation of complexity and costs that becomes detrimental. As a benefit-cost function, complexity in problem solving can reach diminishing returns and become ineffective. In their complex phase, institutions may lack the fiscal reserves to address new challenges, whether the new challenges are hostile neighbors or environmental perturbations. A society that has adopted much costly complexity may lose resilience and become vulnerable to challenges that it could once have overcome and even become more likely to collapse."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.71.


----- On increasing costs and decreasing returns  -----
"In the early phases ... increasing complexity is typically effective, giving increasing returns ... The problem with complexity comes when additional expenditures fail to produce proportionate benefits. ... Many of the problems noted above fall into the same category of undertaking higher costs merely to maintain the status quo: energy costs, security, replacing infrastructure, funding retirement pensions, and paying for education. Much money will be spent restoring the environmental damage caused by previous economic activity and mitigating the effects of climate change. Given budgetary constraints in every nation, funding for much of this activity will be inadequate and some problems may not be addressed at all ... If addressing the problems we foresee should cause the industrial standard of living to stagnate or fall, existing forms of government may lose legitimacy."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.71-72.


----- On Syria, before the civil war  -----
"On a millennial timescale, settlement of the marginal rainfall zone [in Northeastern Syria] fluctuated, with periods of occupation on the order of 1-300 years; abandonments lasted a thousand or more years. ... [Modern] Syrian agriculture is dominated by national needs and is supported directly through production quotas, provision of seed and fertilizer, inexpensive fuel and water, and agricultural loans for the purchase of equipment. Long-range planning and construction have generally been based on optimistic projections rather than sound assessment of sustainability. The growth of human populations and their increasing wealth have contributed to the problem through rising demand for goods that can be supplied only trough further intensification of pressure on the land."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.83.


----- On Australia, when humans arrived  -----
"I have argued [elsewhere] that rapid overkill of the large herbivores led to the accumulation of plant biomass, which in turn led to a changed fire regime. ... In summary, it is now clear that Australia underwent a profound transition in ecosystem function around the time that people arrived on the continent. Precise timing and cause and effect are still being vigorously debated, but there is now little doubt that humans were key factors in this change. As a result of the shift, the biological productivity of Australian ecosystems plummeted, and its climate was possibley changed."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.90.


----- On the connection between anomalous weather events and the French revolution  -----
"The price of bread doubled between 1787 and October 1788. By midwinter 1788-1789, clergy estimated that one-fifth of the population of Paris had become dependent on charitable relief of some sort. ... The excessive cold and food shortages of early 1789 drove increased poaching and stealing. There were regular attacks on grain transports both on road and river. Bakeries and granaries were also robbed. ... In the summer of 1789 much of France rose in revolt; in cities, urban crowds rioted. How far the resulting course of revolution had its roots in the anomalous climatic situation of the period is open to debate. What is certain is that the part played by extreme weather events in bringing about social disturbance during the French Revolution simply cannot be neglected."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.160-161.


----- Doomsday prediction by a "dysterkvist"  -----
"This chapter contends that the nation-state ... is beset by inherent contradictions that are characteristic of complex societies. ... With glaring differences in lifestyles exposed by the media, rising expectations, limited growth potential (both due to disparities in wealth appropriation), and with a burgeoning world population, coupled with a massive assault on almost all world biomes everywhere in the world, the framework for modelling the future cannot be limited to the interplay of environmental and economic variables. Before the world is exhausted from environmental fatigue, it is more likely to descend into a nightmare of civil unrest, violence, and despair as a result of the failure of current political systems to address social grievances, the problematic of identity ... and the loss of hope in resolving outstanding disparities. The situation is now exacerbated by a disgruntled younger generation well-tuned to the ideologies and technologies of violent protest that have characterized the recent history of European nations."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.169.


----- On promises given that cannot be upheld  -----
"In recent decades, the impact of multinational corporations and information communication technologies have progressively undermined the monopolies of governments on information and weakened their ability to control their nationals. By promising economic welfare, prosperity, and security, the modern ruling elite have unleashed an unprecedented wave of rising expectations. Such expectations can hardly be met even with continued economic growth because those who have still want more, while those who do not have try by any means to gain what is, in the ideology of the modern state, their unalienable right."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.171.


----- On Stupid Unsustainable Cities  -----
"The cancerous expansion of urbanization and explosive (and implosive) increase in cities has placed humanity today at unprecedented levels of risk. The recent aggrandizement of cities and their unstoppable spread was enabled by higher rates of agricultural production: mass, fast, transport and distribution of food products and other resources, and food processing. Although this system is potentially capable of serving humanity through judicious integration of food resources and distribution to ensure equity and harmony with ecological resilience, it has led instead to socially disruptive and ecologically disastrous consequences as certain urban centers in rich, industrial states use the world (mainly outside their borders) for ruinous short-term agricultural ventures, cash-cropping, deforestation, and intensive use of machinery, fossil fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.187.


----- On global wealth disparities and the resulting despair  -----
"A policy that ignores the call of the weak and downtrodden, that is blind to misery and disease, and which lives on borrowed time must sooner or later suffer from internal moral callousness and duplicity as well as from desperate resistance by those who have no hope for a better future and whose lives are no longer worth living. It may be that the dignity they gain in desperate actions is perhaps their only salvation in a world that has turned a deaf ear to their suffering, or those with whom they identify."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.192.


----- On social complexity as a one-way street  -----
"Human beings ... appropriate the environment by reducing its complexity in exchange for increasing the complexity of their societies. Once this has been accomplished, however, there is no return ... Once a garden has been created out of a wilderness, one is bound to keep gardening. In addition, the more one has transformed the original wilderness, the more gardening there is to be done!"
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.215.


----- On how (slow) societal collapse manifests itself  -----
"after the end of the Roman Empire ... between A.D. 600 and 1000, the whole of the fabric of society reached a higher level of entropy in western Europe ... trade and long-distance contact diminished greatly, urban population dwindled ... and most villages were abandoned All of society seems to fall back on immediate, local, survival strategies. [from the footnote:] ... it seems that loss of skills is due to the (high) cost of maintaining those skills versus the (limited) local benefit obtained. Labor was needed for survival and locally one could not afford specialist artisans; the market (and thus the profit) to be obtained by artisans shrank with the withering of their lines of communication."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.224.


----- On the Renaissance information revolution  -----
"Through relatively unregulated commerce and industry, which profited from increased contrasts between the rich and the poor, Italian (e.g., Medici), German (e.g., Fugger), and later Dutch and British heads of commercial houses amassed enormous wealth, and used it to bankroll the interminable political conflicts and wars that disrupted the continent. In the process, they and their societies extended their control over much of the Western world. To expand and maintain that control, they created extensive, centralized networks for the gathering and communication of information, which included numerous spies in every important commercial, financial, and political center, as well as the first private courier services. By investing in this information-processing infrastructure, these houses (and in their wake the political powers) explicitly acknowledged the fact that their power and influence was essentially based on their superior knowledge abut what was going on in the world. Power is enhanced both by getting control over information flows and constructing new forms of information flow."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.228.


----- On wealth production before and after the industrial revolution  -----
"Europe moved from being a zone in which internal consumption of high-value goods produced elsewhere generated most of the wealth, to one that mass-produced a wide range of goods for export and marketing throughout the rest of the world. ... Until the Industrial Revolution, the large majority of the (rural) population had been so far removed from the process of wealth generation that it was relatively easy for the dominant classes to control the whole of the structure that generated their wealth. Now, for the first time, very large numbers of people became involved in the new wealth production system. Industrialization tied a very large working class to the (mechanized) production industry (e.g., coal mines, steel mills, textile factories) through low-paid, often dangerous, mass production jobs that gave little personal satisfaction and created much resentment. ... Slowly but surely eduction came to be seen as the only way out of misery for large groups of the population, and some of the educated engaged the political battle to achieve this."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.231.


----- On "being late to the banquet table" as a source for World Wars I and II  -----
"In the latter part of the 19th century, Italy and Germany united into territorial states and then attempted to create colonial empires. Despite these attempts, however, the Germans and Italians were essentially too late and had to content themselves with the leftovers of the colonial banquet table,. This fact contributed importantly to the cause of World Wars I and II that followed, as both countries sought expansion in Europe because it was denied them elsewhere."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.232.


----- On disturbances, risks and "time bombs"  -----
"In general, the effect of a series of human interventions in the natural environment is a reduction in the number of (known) minor disturbances, which gives the impression of increasing stability or control over the environment, as well as an increase in the risk of occurrence of less frequent, unexpected disturbances of unknown nature and scope (so-called "unintended consequences"). Over the long term, this may lead to a buildup of major unknown risks, or "time bombs." Once the density of such time bombs is sufficiently high, major crises are likely to occur."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.232.


----- On mundane infrastructure ruling over time and space  -----
"Many European landscapes and ecosystems are clearly the products of previous agricultural regimes, but some have evolved along trajectories that many be essentially irreversible or have yet to reach a dynamic equilibrium. ... Also, the legacy of the width of the U.K. and U.S. railway carriages, which in turn was a function of the width of coaches being driven in Europe over roads originally built in Roman times, is now seen in terms of the constraints on the size of NADA's rocket boosters!"
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.255.


----- On path dependency and lock-in  -----
"The differences in development trajectories span the extremes of "high intensity" (U.S.) to "high efficiency" (Japan). These originate in differences in initial conditions (e.g., resource endowments, relative prices) that lead to the adoption of particular technology and infrastructure development trajectories, which in turn influence, for example, settlement patterns and economic structures. Because of the cumulative nature of technological change, such development trajectories are persistent and maintain their momentum even when initial conditions (e.g., resource abundance) no longer prevail. This twin dependence on initial conditions and the development path followed has come to be know as "path dependency" and its resulting technological inertia as "lock-in."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.261.


----- On industrial growth in the 20th century and the emergence of an environmental movement  -----
"restraint in the interest of the biosphere was rarely given any consideration at all until the emergence of a more or less worldwide environmental movement in the 1960s. Although it had its precedents in many times and places, this was something novel, more general, more popular, and more sustained than prior conservation or preservation movements. It was provoked primarily by unbridled pollution ... Thus it was that the global economy grew 14-fold in the 20th century, human population 4-fold, industrial production 40-fold, and energy use about 13-fold. Nothing like this had ever happened before in human history. The mere fact of such growth, and its unevenness among societies, made for profound disruptions in both environment and society.
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.302-303.


----- On bottlenecks as the nexus for power struggles  -----
"The Great Depression of the 1930s made life harder in most colonies, raising rebellious sentiments. Colonial economies generally had a vulnerability that well-organized anticolonial nationalist could exploit. State revenues depended on exports of crops or minerals, which passed through the bottlenecks of railroad lines and ports. So when railwaymen or dockers went on strike, the colonial sate risked insolvency, a fact eagerly exploited by insightful anticolonial nationalist as of the late 1930s."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.313.


----- On extreme economic growth as the norm  -----
"Soon after World War II ended, the global economy entered its most remarkable era, growing 6-fold between 1950 and 1998. Indeed in the quarter century before 1973, the world's economy grew at nearly 5% per year, and 3% per year per capita. Yet even when economic growth slowed after 1973, it galloped faster than at any time before 1950. Taken as a whole, this era is the most unusual in the history of economic growth, although many people, having experienced nothing else, now imagine it is normal. It happened because of oil and energy, medicine and population growth, science and technology."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.315.


----- On immigration as a boon to the rich but a threat to the poorest native-born  -----
"In absolute number, the U.S. and Canada had more immigrants than any time in their history by 2000, although in 1913 the proportion of immigrants to native-born was much higher. In general, cheap transport, cheap information about conditions elsewhere in the world, and relaxed quotas on migration encouraged scores of millions to uproot and try their luck elsewhere. By 2000 some 125 million people lived as immigrants, and the annual flow of legal migrants totaled about 2 million. Most, as in the past, were poor and unskilled, but a large minority had strong educations and marketable skills. This accelerating swirl of migrations helped ease the stresses of rapid population growth in places such as Algeria or El Salvador. It provided willing laborers in France or the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, often in jobs that few native-born citizens would take. ... In economic terms, it proved helpful to all but the laboring classes in recipient countries, whose wages were held down by the competition of immigrants. In cultural and political terms the great swirl brought new tensions. Most Britons did not welcome large numbers of Pakistanis or Jamaicans in their midst, and Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, and Filipinos in Kuwait also met cold receptions."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.318.


----- On the effects of the "informationalization" of the world economy  -----
"The consequences of the electrification of information are hard to assess because the process is still in train. It has clearly played a large role in the "financialization" of the world economy. It has enriched the information-intensive service sector more than manufacturing and agriculture. It has strengthened the premium on education in the modern world, increasing the rewards for those who acquire schooling and shrinking the rewards for those who can contribute only a strong back or a nimble pair of hands. I has, so far, enhanced the status of English worldwide ... It changed the conduct of warfare for those who could afford it (mainly the U.S.), because satellites linked to computers allowed a level of precision with long-regne weaponry previously impossible. But it created new vulnerabilities as well as new capacities."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.319.


----- On how new media have changed the world during the last 100 years  -----
"The ... communications and transport technologies that shaped the 20th century (telephone, radio, television, movies, automobile, airplane, Internet) ... altered the everyday lives of billions of people, enlarging their range of experience and their access to information. ... The cumulative effect of all these changes ... was to bombard people with new information, impressions, and ideas, and to allow more of them to travel further, faster, and more frequently than ever before. This proved disconcerting and disorienting, as well as deductive. It invited people to suppose that their circumstances need not be as they were, but could be improved - through emigration, revolution, education, hard work, crime, or some other initiative. With radio, movies, and television in particular, hungry illiterates could catch a glimpse (accurate or not) of how more fortunate people lived. This information, combined with massive urbanization ... inspired both ambition and resentment, providing potential recruits for an array of political movements."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.320-321.


----- On the rise (and the degradation) of The Scientist  -----
"In Darwin's day, science remained an occupation for gentlemen of leisure (or rarely gentlewomen) or academics. They typically worked alone, although thanks to post offices and scientific societies they communicated frequently with their fellow researches. ... In 1900, the two most scientifically advanced nations, Germany and Britain, had about 8,000 working scientists, but by 1980, the U.S. alone boasts over a million, and western Europe employed still more. After WWII showed what enormous funding and scientific manpower could do, governments and businesses increasingly bankrolled scientific research. While they were prepared to pay for a modest amount of pure science - disinterested inquiry about, say, the origins of the Universe - what they most wanted was applied science that would help build a better mousetrap - or, after the rise of biotechnology in the 1980s, a better mouse."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.321-322.


----- On the rise of and the use of capital-letter Science  -----
"The wedding of science and technology took place in the late 19th century. With the imperial powers, chiefly Germany and Britain, competing to develop superior navies, governments began to organize scientists and engineers into teams directed to generate useful military technology. Scientific expertise gradually became a crucial component of military security. In the 1870s, industrial firms in Germany and the U.S. created their own research laboratories and maintained flocks of scientists assigned to solve particular problems. Chemical firms in particular developed ties with universities, financing research and assuring a stream of skilled graduates. As governments and firms became increasingly involved in funding science, the thrust of inquiry shifted toward applied science that could help win wars, improve health, and expand wealth."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.322.


----- On urbanization as the premier social challenge of this century  -----
"Urbanization and population growth stands as the cardinal social change of the last century. For 5,000 years or more the typical human experience was village life, and human ideologies, institution, and customs all evolved primarily in that setting. Now the majority human experience is that of city life with its anonymity and impersonal character. Past eras of urbanization, all slow and circumscribed compared to the modern one, put great pressure on reigning religions, ideologies, and worldviews as well as on standing political structures. Among the acute challenges of our time, it seems sure, is the process of social, political, psychological, moral, and ecological adjustment to life in the big city."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.323.


----- On global population growth in the 20th century  -----
"The acceleration of death from political causes [in the 20th century] did not nearly match the deceleration of death from public health measures and improved nutrition. ... [But] ... By 1920 almost every corner of Europe had reduced its fertility sharply ... Whereas in Europe in 1900 emigration took away about one-third of the natural increase, in India, China, Latin America, and Africa emigration did not notably reduce pressures. Instead, population growth promoted political unrest, urbanization, and desperate state efforts to industrialize overnight. Africa's population history was especially dramatic - a 6- or 7-fold increase to roughly 750 million in the course of one century."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.324.


----- On why environmental problems always play second fiddle  -----
"Our political institutions, which evolved over millennia to cope with other challenges, proved ill suited to large-scale but slow-moving environmental problems. The competitive international system impels states to maximize their wealth and power in the short run, assigning low priority to other concerns. ... The impetus for effective response to environmental ills came mainly from citizen agitation. That agitation typically focused on problems whose solution did not require any material sacrifice from the citizenry, nor much trust and co-operation across national boundaries. In rich countries in the 1980s, for example, it proved easy enough to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants or lead emissions from automobile exhausts by changing or altering fuels and engines. But few people desired the sacrifices that seemed necessary to check carbon dioxide emissions or fertilizer runoff. Environmental outcomes around the world reflected the preferences and compromises embedded in the prevailing political system."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.327-328.


----- On opposing perspectives and fundamental disconnects  -----
"Social science seeks to theorize specific relationships, such as those between population and environment. In terms of population, there is a fundamental disagreement between Malthusians, who see population as a primary cause of environmental problems, and those who perceive population to be a resource that can be used to manage the environment more efficiently and sustainably. Technology has been viewed as the main cause of environmental degradation or as the solution to environmental problems"
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.346.


----- On nonlinear connections and the fate of the ozone layer  -----
"There are many examples of surprises and nonlinearities in the Earth system. Discovery of the ozone hole itself came as a complete surprise, because the ozone layer in the stratosphere was thought to be very stable. ... In addition, a near disaster was averted, during the development phase of refrigerants and propellants (in the 1920s), when chlorine compounds were chosen instead of bromine compounds. Although bromine was more efficient than chlorine, it was also more expensive, and thus, an administrative decision was taken in favor of chlorine - a serendipitous decision as it turns out, for bromine compounds are also  about 100 times more reactive in the atmosphere than chlorine ones. Had bromine been used, the results would have been much worse: there would have been a much deeper ozone hole over the entire planet during all seasons."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.368.


----- On different sorts of forecasts  -----
"Numerous names for efforts to foretell the future are used commonly as synonyms. Among them are: conjecture, prediction, prophecy, scenario, prognostication, augury, divination, projection, prognosis, and forecasts. ... An influential futurist in the social sciences, Frenchmen Bertrand de Jouvenel, used the term *conjecture* ... But professionals in the field have come to prefer the word *forecast*. ... Some forecasts are *philosophical*. ... Some forecasts are *defensive*. ... Some forecasts are *proactive*. ... The consequences of an inaccurate forecast in each of the three situations are very different. The criteria for deciding if the forecast was useful are also very different, and each of the forecasts could possibly be quite useful, even if it turned out to provide an inaccurate picture of the future."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.400-401.


----- On obsolete world views taking their time to die  -----
"In 1972 [when Limits to Growth was published] it had not yet occurred to the vast majority of humanity that there was any chance our species could expand its physical demands on the planet to levels that would cause serious, irreversible damage to key ecosystems. However, through the 1980s and 1990s this awareness began to dawn. ... Of course some details of the original Limits to Growth forecasts remain in doubt. But the global community of biological and physical scientists no longer disputes that physical expansion in population and industrial activities are causing irreversible damage to important earthly ecosystems. So why can many skeptics still claim the opposite ... scientists or policy makers, who have found one view of the world to be useful first ignore and then, when that becomes impossible, bitterly fight against information that might suggest a different view is more valid or useful. ... when there are enormous ego, financial, or political benefits at stake; when the establishment controls the channels of communication and sets the rules of the battle; the fight between proponents of an obsolete and a new paradigm can be long and rancorous. In the case of Galileo, it was only 350 years after his death, in 1992, when the Church finally admitted that errors had been made in his 1633 trial."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.405-408.


----- On economists' dysmal predictive powers  -----
"Economists ... work and think with essentially linear models. Their goal is precise prediction of numerical values in the near future. They have notorious difficulty with delays, nonlinearities, and unquantified variables. So variables for which there is not an extensive data series are generally omitted from their forecasts. That is one reason their forecasts have such poor accuracy when called upon to predict variables that lie far outside the period for which they have data."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.411.


----- On the struggle between science and power-political shenanigans  -----
"misrepresentation, misunderstanding, and malevolence are characteristic of those within the establishment who feel threatened by potential for a major paradigm shift. ... Be aware! Do not imagine you are entering a scientific exercise in which the best theories and data will inevitably and quickly win. Scenarios that portray futures for the complex global system will challenge the perceived vested interests of important players. Ego gratification and self-importance, political influence and financial income are at stake. When people see threats to these,they do not respond as scientists eager to improve their knowledge; they fight back and attempt to destroy the credibility of the messenger."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.413.


----- On assumptions of limits vs unlimited-growth  -----
"[The Limits to Growth computer model] has been criticized on methodological grounds. ... the essential difference in pre-anlytic visions centers around the existence and role of limits: thermodynamic limits, natural resource limits, pollution absorption limits, population carrying capacity limits, and, most importantly, the limits of our understanding about where these limits are and how they influence the system. The alternative unlimited growth model, derived from neoclassical economic theory ... assumes there are no limits that cannot be overcome by continued technological progress, whereas the limited growth model assumes that there are limits, based on thermodynamic first principles and observations of natural ecosystems. Ultimately, we don not know which pre-analytic vision is correct (they are, after all, assumptions). Thus we have to consider the relative costs of being wrong in each case."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.427-428.


----- On defining the term collapse  -----
"Let us define *collapse* as any situation where the rate of change to a system:
- has negative effects on human welfare, which, in the short or long term, are socially intolerable;
- will result in a fundamental downsizing, a loss of coherence, and/or significant restructuring of the constellation of arrangements that characterize the system; and
- cannot be stopped or controlled via an incremental change in behavior, resource allocation, or institutional values.
In addition, collapses can be characterized according to whether they are (a) capricious or predictable, linear or nonlinear and chaotic, unexpected or expected; (b) irreversible or reversible; or (c) have local, regional, or global consequences. ... For the purpose of developing models and scenarios, we define the opposite of collapse as a set of arrangements that retain system coherence, are accepted by humans as evolving at acceptable rates, and do not diminish perceived quality of life. In many cases, considerable reconfiguration ... is possible without collapse."
Costanza, R. et. al. (2007). Sustainability or collapse?, p.450.
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