Tag Archives: civilization

Behind Government Budget Problems

Sutro Baths Steps by sirgious
Sutro Baths Steps, a photo by sirgious on Flickr.

This month’s post by Gail the Actuary explains our country’s (and the world’s) economic situation better than I ever could, so here it is.

This obviously speaks for Oakland as well, since we’re one of hundreds of US cities built upon a once lustrous but increasingly potholed and cracked foundation of cheap (and now all burnt up) oil and gasoline.

We’ll need to find other means of social lubrication, and in the meantime, don’t be poor!

The ramifications touch every part of our society, and thus I’ve tagged this with all categories. Put on your systems thinking cap and get reading!

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Are cities really sustainable?

One of my colleagues recently presented on sustainability and urban planning in Vancouver. This led me to think of what I’ve been reading lately. Not libatious poetry about cities or google eyed narratives in Next American City magazine, but some naysaying.

I’ve read a bit of city naysaying recently. One critique of cities is that they absorb quite a bit of bio capacity from other areas, requiring transport. Meaning, we cannot have Hong Kongs every 100 miles. Not at HK’s current scale.

For Rome in 2,000 years ago this would have meant moving food and lumber from outlying areas, France and even Africa back to Rome. Intercity trade without capital flight can be good, but ecologically speaking if there is one metropolis pulling in resources from everywhere, that probably cannot last long before exhaustion from human population growth and increasing resource use per capita.

This reminds me of something one of my friends said once, that urban is the conceit of stretching (bending) natural limits. I agree that urban constitutes the “extend and pretend” that we are separate from nature. Apart from wilderness.

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Heinberg On Civilization, Libraries, Cities

Civilization computer game model

"Civilization" PC game model (booth babe)

From the October issue of Richard Heinberg’s Museletter:

“Civilization has come at a price. Since the age of Sumer cities have been terrible for the environment, leading to deforestation, loss of topsoil, and reduced biodiversity. There have been human costs as well, in the forms of economic inequality (which hardly existed in pre-state societies) and loss of personal autonomy. These costs have grown to unprecedented levels with the advent of industrialism—civilization on crack—and have been borne not by civilization’s beneficiaries, but primarily by other species and people in poor nations and cultures. But nearly all of us who are aware of these costs like to think of this bargain-with-the-devil as having some purpose greater than a temporary increase in creature comforts, safety, and security for a minority within society. The full-time division of labor that is the hallmark of civilization has made possible science—with its enlightening revelations about everything from human origins to the composition of the cosmos. The arts and philosophy have developed to degrees of sophistication and sublimity that escape the descriptive capacity of words.

Yet so much of what we have accomplished, especially in the last few decades, currently requires for its survival the perpetuation and growth of energy production and consumption infrastructure—which exact a continued, escalating environmental and human toll. At some point, this all has to stop, or at least wind down to some more sustainable scale of pillage.

But if it does, and in the process we lose the best of what we have achieved, will it all have been for nothing?”

I post this mostly for V Smoothe who works for Oakland Public Library.  The article ponders what’s worth saving  about our modern civilization and culture, and how to save the knowledge on non-electricity-dependent media. Acid-free paper books, for instance. DVDs and CDs are worthless without electricity, which may someday not be so 24×7. Author suggests not trying to keep up with everything virtual except to provide a few web access terminals. Heinberg asks, who else will maintain our combined cultural knowledge if not public librarians?

Symbol: Anatolian Goddess of Fertility; Ankara, Turkey

Symbol: Anatolian Goddess of Fertility; Ankara, Turkey