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t3knomanser's Fustian Deposits

Ecological Footprints

How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy

run the fuck away

Mad science gone horribly, horribly wrong(or right).

Ecological Footprints

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run the fuck away
Recently, dulcinbradbury was talking about her attempts to simplify her life, reduce her household's ecological footprint, etc. One specific comment she made really leapt out at me: "I want to do more, but, my mind starts to boggle at the time it takes."

It does take a lot of time. That's why most people don't do it, and never will. That's specifically why society developed the way it did. Infrastructure developed to tackle the problems of getting food to folks that didn't grow crops, goods to people that couldn't make them. Human society has been aggressively de-localizing for the majority of its history.

By and large, I think this is a good thing. Oh, we can look at the negative environmental impacts of it. These are a problem, but I'm not sure they're a problem that can be solved in the long term by minimizing utilization of the infrastructure. It's a very short-term solution. There are extremely good reasons why our society doesn't make it easy to live locally: not all required (or desired goods) can be produced locally, regional pricing variations promote trade, craftsmen can increase income by targeting larger audiences, certain things are best produced on an economy of scale, etc. Then there's the issues of time- time spent canning preserves is time not used for other tasks. It a competitive economy, that is a potential liability.

Overall, the effects of de-localization are greater variety, a more just distribution of resources (this is not to say a just distribution- just more just), greater availability of resources, etc. It also drives technological development, general standard of living, live expectancy, etc.

The downsides are the resources consumed by the infrastructure- at a certain point we hit the scaling cap for any infrastructure. The resources consumed by the infrastructure will outweigh the benefits of using it. When we add in environmental costs, there's a definite concern about the sustainability of the current infrastructure.

Localized infrastructure is one proposed alternative, and it is a good one- so long as it doesn't get asked to scale well. Localized infrastructure can't support a city (although it can help). If everyone were to start shopping for locally produced items, the demand would outstrip supply very very quickly- driving prices up and sending people scrambling back into the current unhealthy infrastructure.

Both models, existing side by side, is a good, healthy arrangement. Obviously, no one but the mooniest of moon-bats is going to eschew all products that had to travel more than 50 miles. Who doesn't want some raspberries in January? But during the summer, it makes a great deal more sense to buy those raspberries from a local farm, or even grow them yourself.

We can't replace the current infrastructure with a more locally focused one. But we can use a locally focused one to balance the load and to provide limited fail-over capacity. And this gives us the opportunity to start working on replacing the current industrial infrastructure with something more robust, scalable and healthier.

I've rambled a long way from the original point. Living local and sustainable takes a great deal of individual time. There are positive social pressures that drive that time into other tasks. Localized economy is an excellent symbiont to large-scale industrial economies. They both benefit- but there's a diminishing return.

Mostly, I just find this absolutely interesting.
  • Do you think that delocalization's benefits really outweigh their impacts, though? This is something that I've really been thinking about lately, because my life is intensely virtual these days. The vast majority of my friends are people that I know from and connect with online, I work from home most of the time for an e-commerce company (right now all my developers are in Russia... that's a story for another day, though...), I do the great bulk of my shopping online... There's part of that that's really cool. I'm off living the reality-version of all the cyberpunk that I read 15 years ago. But there's a lot about it that I find incredibly unfulfilling.

    As to living green, it takes time to set up the process, but once you've done that, it tends to flow. The way things are structured now makes it VERY difficult to do. I think that society should vest in supporting people who want to make voluntary choices to reduce their footprint. One example is e-waste. We just dumped a bunch of our scrap machines and it was way too fucking hard to find someplace that would recycle the waste rather than throw it in a landfill to leach. With the imminant change to highdef TV, and the resulting obsolesence of probably 90% of the televisions in America, we need to make the process of safely disposing of electronic garbage easier. It was important enough to me to take the time to do it, but it's not going to be for most other people. Which is both a waste and an environmental problem.

    I do think that we can use local infrastructure better than we do now. Communities are going to have to grapple with things like mass transit... especially now that gas is well over $3/gal. Petro is an importnat ingredient in a lot of things that really do provide health and welfare benefits to people (especially in advanced medical technology.) it's a scarce resource and dumping it in a car is the biggest waste of it possible.

    People need to get over appearance when shopping. For example, unless I go to a Mexican supermarket, it's impossible for me to buy a ripe avocado in Las Vegas. White shoppers don't understand that an avocado that's squishy is not rotten, it's edible. So they buy the green ones and the ripe ones rot and get thrown out. (Incidentally, avos at the white-targeted supermarkets are about 2.50 each, and they're .99 at el Mercado. And we say that Mexicans are stupid?!!??) Honestly, shopping at the Mexican market is one of the things that really made me start to question the American mindset. Everything there, from meat to detergent is cheaper. It's the same stuff. If you look at the meat case, non-Americans utilize more of the animal than we do. Chicken feet, tripe, fish trimmings... it's all in the case and you can buy that stuff really cheap. For us, if it doesn't look perfect, we won't buy it. Which is why we ship in "apples" and "tomatos" (which are not grown to taste like what they look like, they're grown to be shiny, hard as rocks so they ship well and dense so they store well... the one thing they're not grown for is taste.) anyway... we ship crappy apples and tomatos in from Montsanto or ADM farms and disregard the local produce that is usually better, less expensive and likely healthier (I doubt that ADM researchers would prize nutrition above an extra two weeks storage time if it came down to it...).
    • Keep in mind, one of the benefits is the ability to support massive populations and cities. One can critique our expanding population, but altering that evolutionary behavior is a daunting, if not impossible task. Since nobody's volunteering to leave the Earth- yes, the benefits do outweigh the impacts.

      Living green takes time to setup and more time to maintain. I could, for example, eat healthier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. I won't, because I'm not willing to spend more than fifteen minutes preparing a meal (with the occasional, "Oh! I want to cook something!" days for a change of pace).

      E-waste is incredibly difficult to recycle- and that's a problem of design. The modern infrastructure developed according to a cradle-to-grave lifecycle. It had to- we didn't have the experience or capacity for any other kind of industrial design. Moving from hand-made products (which also obey a cradle-to-grave lifecycle, albeit a much longer and extensible one) into factory products didn't allow us to start thinking in terms of complex lifecycles. Now designers are starting to contemplate a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle- consumer products that are designed to be reused or recycled. With home fabrication devices, this will rapidly become the model- dump a bunch of special plastic in, get dishware out. When you're done with the dishes, dump them back in and get cups out. Dump those in and get something else.

      Local infrastructure does need to do better- especially in interfacing with de-localized infrastructures. Mass transit is a great example- because that's something that facilitates de-localization, but also has a distance-reducing effect, thus improving localization. Mass transit doesn't happen on the community level- it happens on the city level.

      In the case of gas, we're dealing with an entrenched industry fighting against a superior technology. Electric cars are better than gasoline powered ones. There's still a few engineering problems that would slow adoption, but the biggest issue is entrenchment. And that's really just a matter of time- gas powered cars are baroque, over-engineered relics. Someday, our descendants will look back on this era and marvel, "A transmission- but why?"

      Shipping range is a very important part of growing produce. Unless you're fortunate enough to have enough arable land to support the local population (impossible in a city), you're not going to have any other choice but to ship it from where there is arable land to where there isn't.

      From my experience, using more of the animal isn't a non-American thing- it's a poor thing. Generally, grocery stores serving the economically impoverished tend to do a brisk trade in those sorts of things. Appearance does matter- it has a (psychological) impact on taste.

      • I dislike the idea of massive populations. I also loathe and despise humanity, but that, again, is a topic for a different day. We're on our way out of urban environments because I don't think that they're sustainable. I think that for a variety of reasons: we're pricing things out of the range of poorer people which leads to increased crime; the breakdown of the family and the lack of connection between individuals and the larger society is creating an environment where collapse and reorganization is going to become a growing threat; increased corporate control of production and the resulting distance between the individual and the non-monetized means of acquiring goods and services is a concern, as well. All in all, urban areas are unmanaged at this point and not someplace that I want to be. (Again, part of the reason why I love being a virtual employee - there isn't much call for a Director of Project Management in a rural area, but as long as I can jack in, I can work in Vegas, in Dallas or on top of Everest and it doesn't matter. And I figure my salary will go a hell of a lot farther in, say, rural Vermont than it does here.

        Green living doesn't really take all that much time to maintain once the process is running. Essentially, for us, after we'd made the upfront decisions, they became background processes for the most part. I hate the fact that Vegas <> local produce. Everything we buy is trucked in, which creates a dependancy point here that I'm not comfortable with. Vegas has about 50 years, actually. And should any major system fail for any period of time (for example, the NYC blackout of a few years ago) people would die. In very large numbers. Especially if it happened to occur in the summer. We don't build for the environment here, two-story houses with low ceilings are just stupid. Exposed, south-facing windows - stupid. Large lawns - exceptionally, probably fatally stupid. (Lake Mead, Vegas's water source (well, if you like drinking perchlorates, anyway) is down 50% in the last 10 years. We've been exceptionally unwilling to take measures to reduce water consumption, when they tried to put in restrictions against lawns, you'd have thought they were coming for people's kids... and the voter base won't fund things like building desalinization plants in California.

        Which ties in to the next point... yes, things like mass transit are community problems, but individuals make up the community and we, as a group, have no sense of contributing to the community at our personal expense. They proposed light rail around the valley and people protested both on the tax basis and on the basis that it would make it easier for undesirable people to travel to the suburbs. I'm not kidding. The level of selfishness in the populace at large disturbs me.

        The idea of the car is not just an engineering problem, it's a sociopsychological problem. People love their cars. The bigger the better. We want TANKS! And if you're going to suggest that I give up my tank because some butterfly somewhere is dying, you're a commiepinkoliberalfaggot and I'm gonna run your twinky ass over with my Durango! Walled suburbs, private cars, alarm systems... we're all so afraid of each other at this point that we don't want to interact as a community. We don't care about anything outside our very, very small network of those we care about.

        I would say that American conceptions of plenty does have something to do with why we don't eat the parts of the animal that we consider icky. We've never, as a culture, needed to and we waste as a mark of status. Europeans still eat some of those parts (think of black pudding in England or sweetbreads in Continental cuisine.)
        • I dislike the idea of massive populations as well. But "changing behavior" is infeasible, which leaves us the options of rewarding voluntary sterilization (or forcing involuntary sterilization), or killing a bunch of mother-fuckers.

          Cities aren't sustainable on their own. But they're required to maintain any level of arts, sciences and education. Oh, and economy on any real scale.

          I think the breakdown of the family is a myth.

          The point I'm getting at is that Green living takes more time than many folks are willing to spend. I've developed specialized skills so that I don't have to put time into those things. I hate them, and I have a hard time understanding why anyone puts themselves through that. Of course, I'm a lot closer to understanding that than I am people who run. Voluntarily. That's MADNESS.

          Speaking of madness- living in a desert. That's insane. But people will live damn near everywhere. Fortunately, nothing terribly important happens in deserts. If Vegas collapsed tomorrow, life would go on for everyone else. It'd be tragic, but relatively harmless.

          Mass transit is not a community problem- it's a municipal problem. There's no community on Earth for which it is logical to establish mass transit. Why? I live in a major city, but can walk from one end of my community to another. We rely on the government (enemy of the community) to facilitate things like mass transit.

          Selfishness is an evolutionary advantage in most environments. We've changed our environment enough, and developed into a social enough species that it is only now becoming an evolutionary disadvantage. It'll adjust. I mean, aside from social situations that require you to- do you willingly interact with people who live in their little walled communities? I don't. The gene pools are starting to form. The meme pools are already in place. There's going to be some evolutionary conflict between these groups.

          Waste as a mark of status is hardly an American conception. From the Shogunate to Versailles to the corpulent tribe-chief, there's an evolutionary drive that leads us to conspicuous consumption. In a very real sense, it demonstrates a fitness to breed. Cultural norms can override that instinct, just like most others, but it gets channeled elsewhere. In some utopian communist realm, it would manifest as self-destructive devotion to labor. Heck, that even shows up here- working for works sake. Again, madness.
          • We have changed behavior, though... Culturally we support life-spans far beyond the useful or practical (see: Terri Schivo). We've created a situation where we can sustain life beyond the point where it's evolutionarilly practical to do so. I'd be fine with limiting reproduction to 1 kid per individual. If you don't want to use your kid license, feel free to throw it on e-bay. I bet that satorisearching and I could make a good chunk of cash on those.

            Cities are possible. Megalopoli are not. I don't think you need megalopoli for culture, either. In fact, I think that the homoginization that comes from mass media and mass interaction destroy true culture and replace it with a watered-down acceptible version for the moronic masses.

            The breakdown of the family is not a myth. Look at what the welfare state has done to the black family (essentially the government put black men as important figures in their family and community out of the picutre entirely. And now, because of the fact that there have been two or three generations of male black youths who've grown up without a sense of what it means to be a man (responsible to family and community, productive, paternal, etc.) they've coopted the marketed violence as a replacement status-marker and so instead of putting them to work as employees and fathers, we've thrown a sickening proportion of them in jail.

            Children by and large don't have parents. Hopefully it's not as bad in the locations you live in, but here, children are adults with no responsibility and far too much time on their hands. Little girls look like hookers (and in many cases that's not an exaggeration. if I tried to leave the house at 17 in what they're dressing girls in the pre-school set here, my mother would have killed me.) And, yet, of course, sexual attraction to children is some sort of creepy new social phenomena and we need to lock all those people away forever. Um, how about we not dress 5 year old girls as bait and see if that helps, mkay?

            The other issue in the breakdown of family is population migration. I'd venture to say that you relocated to be closer to family, likely because you're contemplating kids. That makes total sense... but neither satorisearching nor I essentially have family (we each have one living parent. my father is 3k miles away and his mother is insane. neither of which would be a big help in a situation where having the support and help of extended family would be beneficial (a medical or economic emergency, or the need for trusted and inexpensive child care, etc.). People don't live in their own community anymore. Yes, they make community, but those are still fragile. Historically, people who migrated were the exceptions, not the rule. Now, people don't stay in any single place very long. The ability to relocate for economic or social benefit is good, but there's also a downside in the development and maintanance of relationships.

            Yes, living in a desert is insane. Especially living in a desert in this fashion. Vegas is utterly unsustainable, and it doesn't much care. People figure that they're either going to be dead, gone or that the problem would magically get itself fixed. Does Vegas matter much to the rest of the country? Yes and no. Vegas as a place, not really; Vegas as an idea, somewhat. It's a cultural icon and all. (One, that, in my opinion, speaks to how sick a culture we live in.)

            There are plenty of communities on Earth where mass transit was logical: New York City for one - could you imagine attempting to move around Manhattan if every commuter brought a personal car?

            Selfishness outside your group is an evolutionary advantage. Selfishness within your group is not. It's also not a cultural advantage. That's getting close to the Hobbesean notion of a war of all against all. That's bad for a species and for a culture.

            Waste as a mark of status is not a uniquely American notion, but we've raised it to an artform an made disposable and cheap goods available to the poor and middle classes in such volume that we've brought it to unheard of levels. Look at the statistics on the amount of resource that an American consumes compared to a resident of any other nation on Earth. We're gross.
  • Who handles the distribution of breeding licenses? In a world where we can't manage to give everyone a secure method of identification, there's no way to enforce that without significantly expanding government power. I do not want to live in China. The ripeness for abuse gets even worse if you let people exchange them- despite my free market inclinations, I can only see problems with it.

    Megalopoli are a natural outgrowth of growing societies. It's not even a population issue anymore- it's an issue of interconnectedness. Megalopli exist because we have easy and convenient transportation. Resources can get to those what need them. And they aren't directly related to mass media or mass interaction, I'd argue quite the opposite. The demand for mass media is not driven by people living in cities- it's driven by the suburbs. City dwellers have easy access to things like art galleries, home-town retail districts, concert halls, etc. These things do not exist in the suburbs- and I think that's why suburban life tends to revolve around school and television.

    A "sense of what it means to be a man"? I can sum up what it means to be a man: you have a penis. That's it. Social roles for genders are defined fluidly and change rapidly. So it has been, so it always will be. There's nothing wrong with that. I think poverty is a far stronger force in the decay of inner-city family structures. And that's a very special case. What "family" means is certainly changing, but I'd wouldn't say that it's decaying.

    Little girls look like hookers because they have disposable income and choose their own mode of dress. That's how it's always been. What was acceptable to previous generations is thrown out by the next. When it comes to dress, I'd blame better heating and air conditioning. Mode of dress has always been linked to climate- while wandering around the streets in a bikini is acceptable in Florida, it's looked at oddly in the North-East. People in warmer climes always wear less. But we've destroyed climate as a factor- we aren't exposed to the elements for very long periods of time. Even those of us living in the North-East can dress as if we were living in the tropics without fear of freezing to death, or even more than mild discomfort.

    The reason we relocated to Pittsburgh, as opposed to some other city, like Boston, was because of family. The reason we relocated was because I wanted to live and work in a larger city- I was driven by the convenience of city living. Everything I need in walking distance. Easy access to public transportation.

    Once again, our methods of maintaining relationships are changing. And they'll continue to do so. I won't argue that it's not causing some friction, but there's a growing number of people who really are comfortable and prefer that. I certainly do. I like forging new relationships. I like exploring unexplored terrain. It's that instinct that drove us out of Africa, and it's the same instinct that will (I hope) drive us to the stars. But that's another conversation.

  • Being unsustainable is the entire point of Las Vegas. The city thrives on the dollars of people who aren't good at math. That's not a sustainable business model to begin with. Vegas won't experience a catastrophic crash- it won't be destroyed tragically like New Orleans. It will die more like Detroit. By then, the symbol will have just moved elsewhere, or our cultural values will have changed.

    Unrelated: The ghost town of Vegas would be an awesome setting for... something.

    New York City is not a community. New York City is thousands of communities. Mass transit is only viable when you have communities to connect together, and they generally need to be close together. New York City is a municipality, not a community.

    Selfishness is so an advantage within your group. Or, to word it better- it can be an advantage. It's just one strategy, and there's plenty of areas for human interaction where it is a good strategy. And there's plenty where it's not. "Civilization" is shrinking the areas of human accomplishment where selfishness is an advantage- but those willing to be extremely selfish can still do well for themselves.

    I'd hardly say we've made it an artform. Pre-Revolution France beats our pants off for the artistry of conspicuous consumption. We've raised it to unheard of levels, but everything is at unheard of levels. The standard of living, for example, is higher now than it has been at any other point in history.

    Wastefulness is a self-correcting problem. Pressures increase to trim out waste as resources get depleted. This is an ongoing process that will never ever end. Not so long as there are humans, anyway. And it's true of most animals- they consume all the resources they can. The difference is that very few of them have the same capacity for tools as we do- we don't have to worry about death or disease like other animals.

    You can say, "It's gross", but it's just a fact. The US has had a very successful series of competitive strategies across its history. Some of them, like the principles within our founding documents, could be considered good. Perhaps our foreign policy might be considered bad. Either way, the reason we consume the most resources is because we control the most. Before us, it was Britain. And Spain. And then the Church.

    I would argue- we should consume more, not less. But we need to consume smart. Any green strategy must increase, not reduce standards of living. Green cars must be cheaper, faster and better than modern cars. Environmentally healthy foods must be cheaper and tastier and easier to acquire than the alternative. Organic farming has to yield more crops per acre, not horrifyingly less. All of which requires technological innovation. And I think that's where things get interesting. Using technology to structure the environment to reward positive actions and punish negative ones. It's an interesting way to achieve social change, and I think one of the more long term sustainable ones.
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