Alternatives to Political Systems, Consumerism, Economics, Financial Management, People Systems, Society — by Thomas Fischbacher June 22, 2011
Let us imagine a fictitious mountain village — or, for that matter, any other close-knit community — that has a high degree of economic independence at the community rather than individual level. Within this community, there is an on-going active exchange of favours, including goods and services. Naturally, there will be some sort of accounting mechanism that ensures everybody is providing roughly as much to the village as he is drawing from the village economy. Keeping a purely mental record of the entire history of such exchanges in mind may be too challenging, so let’s assume our villagers write little notes to keep track of exchanged favours. There is no intrinsic reason why some such approach should not work quite well.
Let us now assume that our villagers change their strategy, and decide to use legal tender money for this ‘bookkeeping of favours’ instead. In that case, they first have to obtain some of that money. But how? Evidently, one or more people from the village would have to climb down the mountain, visit the national bank, and take up credit. How does this work? Credit contracts come in many different flavours, but the basic rule of the game is that the credit taker has to promise to the bank to return a certain economic value to the bank in the future, plus added interest.Comments (11)
Alternatives to Political Systems, Economics, Nuclear, People Systems, peak oil — by Thomas Fischbacher April 29, 2011
One thing that often is forgotten in discussions about nuclear energy utilization is that it involves quite a lot of very dirty and dangerous work. According to Bill Mollison, Uranium mining companies in Australia often employed Aborigines as miners, knowing that they would not go to court should they develop cancer. The situation in the U.S. was fairly similar, with the Navajo Indians in the role of the miners (1).
Further down the chain, there is chemical processing of Uranium ore to "Yellow Cake" (Uranium oxide), which then undergoes isotope separation and is turned into nuclear fuel. While I would have an interesting personal story to share about Yellow Cake production in Germany, let us skip this step and look a bit further down the chain. The most interesting step in the life of nuclear fuel is perhaps when it is subjected to an environment in which fission occurs in a controlled way inside a nuclear reactor. Here, nuclear fuel becomes seriously radioactive.
Clearly, nuclear reactors are very complicated machines that need a lot of maintenance effort. Who are the people who do the dangerous tasks that involve serious contamination risks inside nuclear power plants? I was quite amazed when I first learned that professional divers can specialize in nuclear diving — which means you will end up diving and doing underwater welding in environments such as spent fuel pools (2). Who is doing such work?Comments (6)
Consumerism, Economics, Global Warming/Climate Change, Society — by Thomas Fischbacher February 17, 2011
Editor’s Note: This is part II of a series. If you haven’t already, read Part I first.
Considering the Latin root of the word, "forensics" is about bringing something before the forum the public perhaps should know about. And certainly, exploring the question where influential beliefs about the climate come from seems quite relevant.
These days, all the world is talking about all sorts of things that were before secrets of the U.S. government but which have recently been revealed to the public — and occasionally these are quite dirty secrets too it seems. One should, however, not be misled into thinking that all those things actually were ’secrets’. Concerning, in particular, the very important question over why our present-day collective resource management is so catastrophically bad, there are more tangible, and more immediate answers than the lofty "there is something wrong with us as a species" statement. Indeed, there are answers that are not secret at all, yet mostly unknown to the public.
What are the most evident problems with our resource management? It is not as if we utilized critical (especially: mined) resources in a disorganized way — far from it. And, as finding and exploiting such resources is done in a highly organized and systematic fashion, there evidently must be people claiming to be experts in this field. (The reason why I write "claiming to be" is that a discrepancy between actual and claimed insight might explain a lot about our problems.)Comments (11)
Society — by Thomas Fischbacher February 10, 2011
This is a translation of a short sample from a comedy show filmed in January 2011 in Munich. The language is unfortunately inaccessible for most readers (more so as this is in a regional dialect, Bavarian), but what this woman, Monika Gruber, has to say in this four-minute piece, matters a lot. Even those to whom the language is inaccessible may benefit from watching the (quite emotional) video. The translated text is given below the video.
Food Plants - Annual, Food Plants - Perennial, Land, Plant Systems, Rehabilitation — by Thomas Fischbacher January 19, 2011
This is a fairly recent video about the Natural Farming pioneer Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) that was produced by one of his former students, Larry Korn, who also translated Fukuoka’s best-known book "The One Straw Revolution" into English. One of the reasons why this video is especially interesting is that it contains video material showing Fukuoka in his fields that doesn’t appear to have been widely available before.
Unfortunately, Fukuoka’s seminal treatise "The One Straw Revolution" may be difficult to grasp for many people who grew up in western culture, especially due to philosophical ideas that are rooted in the Zen Buddhist concept of "Nothingness" (mu) which are all too easily misread as being nihilistic. His other — but less well known — book, "The Natural Way of Farming", is more elaborate, far more pragmatic, and contains a good deal of background about the observations, ideas, trials and errors by which Fukuoka developed his methods. Hence, it may serve well to make both his other writings and his work more accessible to a wide audience. (I would highly recommend to read the section "Second Thoughts on Post-Season Rice Cultivation" and the one immediately before it in Chapter 4 of that book before reading this work from the beginning.)Comments (9)
Community Projects, Consumerism, Economics, Ethical Investment, Financial Management, Markets & Outlets, People Systems, Society, Village Development — by Thomas Fischbacher January 11, 2011
In chapter 14 of the Permaculture Designers’ Manual, Bill Mollison gives an interesting example of a restaurant (Zoo Zoo’s) that needed money for renovation but came up with a creative alternative to borrowing it at interest from a bank: they sold dated vouchers at a discount — e.g. an "a meal worth $10, redeemable in July" voucher for $8 — and thus raised money via a subscription system. (Vouchers were dated to prevent the problem of everybody showing up at the same time.) An interesting and maybe un-intended side effect of this was that these vouchers started to become "money" in the sense that people who had them but where short of cash started using them to pay one another for entirely unrelated economic activities (think piano lessons, hedge trimming, etc.). Evidently, these vouchers had a clearly visible value, and hence could be used to meet obligations between people who shared the belief in the value of these vouchers.Comments (4)
Global Warming/Climate Change, Society — by Thomas Fischbacher December 31, 2010
Considering the Latin root of the word, ‘forensics’ is about bringing something before the public that they should perhaps know about. And certainly, exploring the question of where influential beliefs about the climate come from seems quite relevant.
While massive atmospheric emissions caused by mankind at a sufficiently large scale to change important global processes is probably a fairly new (post-war?) phenomenon, we actually already have some experience, and some successes, in managing emissions. For example, we tackled sulfur dioxide emissions by removing sulfur from petrol and installing flue gas desulfurization systems. International treaties to implement regulations made a major contribution to getting acid rain under control. Likewise, the total effective ozone-depleting potential of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere is going down, due to emissions control measures. Similar things can be said about tackling lead emissions from automobiles.
In all these cases, while there has been some resistance to these changes, we did in the end manage to collectively do the right thing (more or less). This does not mean that we couldn’t do better — there are a number of awkward loopholes remaining — for example, sulfur emissions from cargo ships in international waters still are a big issue. But in none of these cases we have seen anything like the ferocious resistance against getting CO2 emissions under control. Where does this come from?Comments (26)
Community Projects, Demonstration Sites, Education Centres — by Thomas Fischbacher December 21, 2010
This is a video on the work of Paolo Lugari, founder of "Gaviotas", a project that managed to build a sustainable community in one of the most environmentally and socially hostile parts of the planet – the highly acidic and aluminium toxic soils of the Colombian Llanos.
What made this possible was (a) the development of fairly ingenious appropriate technology, and (b) the establishment of an energy surplus returning forest where no one considered it possible – by using an appropriate mycorrhizal symbiont.
Society — by Thomas Fischbacher November 26, 2010
There are a thousand things wrong with flying, considering that it’s an excellent way to burn precious liquid fuels for something that does not produce lasting economic value, that it puts combustion products into atmospheric layers where they really do not belong, and a score of other things as well. In that way, it may be a bit strange to see advice that superficially is related to flying on the PRI blog. However, the actual issue at hand is actually not about flying, but about a government testing how much further it can go with tormenting both its citizens as well as its guests. You guessed it: this post is about how to deal with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) recent implementations of security procedures. Actually, this is a fairly general issue — it would be a mistake to believe that there are no plans to extend the measures introduced at airports to e.g. maritime transport as well.
Let us get an overview over the present situation: When going through U.S. airport security, depending on when one arrives at the checkpoint, one will be urged to go through one of the newly introduced full body scanners — or not. (As it happens, during peak flows the previous method of X-raying hand luggage plus metal detector scans still seems to be okay, strangely.) For passengers asked to go through a body scanner, there is the alternative option of submitting oneself to a manual security check, which recently has changed to become an "enhanced pat-down". It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand what that means.Comments (30)
Consumerism, DVDs/Books, Economics, Ethical Investment, Financial Management, Society, peak oil — by Thomas Fischbacher November 8, 2010
Two issues keep on puzzling me about economics. On the one hand, it undoubtedly is an incredibly important subject. At present, my life pretty much depends on being able to buy certain things from a functioning economy and the same holds for just about everybody else. On the other hand, there seem to be a number of serious problems with deeply rooted beliefs about economics held my many professional economists. (This, then, also is one of the most important reasons why we are in a precarious situation in the first place – if people want "to save the planet", I like to ask "from what?". The answer seems to be: "from the consequences of an untenable economic ideology".)
So, developing a sane perspective on economics and in particular one’s own economic role certainly is an important goal. And no, I do not think management professionals who tell their students in their lectures that spending money on french brand name cosmetics is smarter than spending it on other cosmetics have anything to offer that I’d personally be interested in, thank you.Comments (18)
Alternatives to Political Systems, Deforestation, Society — by Thomas Fischbacher September 2, 2010
Isn’t it time to imagine a new world?
Perhaps it is impossible to write an article about politics without evoking strong – and maybe quite emotional – thoughts and responses. One particular all-too-human reaction to a novel concept or idea about which we have a strong "gut feeling" (good or bad) is to construct logically-sounding reasons to justify our initial emotions. For this reason, I would like to ask readers who would like to comment on this article to sleep one night over their reply before they post it.
Politics is all about defining the legal environment that guides society. It is this framework that defines to a large extent what is illegal and what is not, what is profitable and what is not – hence what sort of economic activities will be pursued. Evidently, political decisions therefore have a major impact on how well societies manage their natural resources. Some would even claim that sustainability is exclusively a question of politics. While I personally would not subscribe to this idea, there have been a number of people who became professional politicians out of a strong inner desire to move their respective societies away from their suicidal paths. Across the globe, some quite prominent politicians invested a lot of personal energy into this – often to ultimately fail in resignation. One might think, for example, of the German politician Herbert Gruhl, originally a member of the conservative party, who, cancelling his membership due to irreconcilable differences on environmental issues, became one of the founders of the German Green Party. In 1992, the year before he died, he published a sequel to his 1975 best-seller (whose title would translate as "Plundered Planet"), which roughly would translate as: "Ascension to Nothingness – the Plundered Planet at its End". In the U.S., Jay Hanson seems to have played a similar role. Resignation clearly speaks out of the last lines of his article ‘requiem’:Comments (10)
Alternatives to Political Systems, Economics, People Systems, Society, Village Development — by Thomas Fischbacher July 23, 2010
by Thomas Fischbacher. Read Part I here.
History has seen many an ideology fail that wrongly believed to "finally" explain everything that went wrong in this world, and show a way out. The problem with any such system of thought is that its key feature – "to explain everything" makes it both very seductive and very dangerous. Seductive, because many (most?) people experience psychological discomfort at the thought of living in a world they cannot fully understand, and dangerous, because any such ideology by construction must be unable to recognize feedback of the "you are on the wrong track here" sort – it will always have both an excuse and a remedy ready that is of the form "it would have worked straightaway if only …". So, how do such ideologies fail? In the only way they can – by bumping into the solid wall of hard reality.
In human societies, "conflict" more often than not is a conflict between different interpretations of the world around us and how we think it should be shaped. The dominant attitude towards "conflict" in western society is one of "might makes right". "Conflict" is typically seen as a problem of "preferred outcomes", with "strategy" being the key tool employed by both parties in conflict as they lead their own ideology to victory – as if the world were a game of chess.Comments (4)
Society — by Thomas Fischbacher May 4, 2010
Whoever likes to drink wine, eat sausages, or read newspapers, had better not watch the production process. - Anonymous
A well-functioning society has to be aware of new trends and developments that influence the context in which it has to live. Also, it must be able to analyze and evaluate complex situations. The better a society does on these aspects, the stronger its ability will be to deliver flexible, dynamic, appropriate responses to novel challenges. For this reason, anyone whose work is related to informing or educating people carries a special responsibility that demands diligence. This includes teachers, journalists, scientists, and a number of other professions. In our present western culture, that is strongly dominated by the concept of manipulation of other people to obtain a strategic advantage, we can pretty much expect to find many of the well-established news distribution systems to be badly broken in that respect. We see this evidenced when we apply the very same ancient standards which this culture claims to cherish, in this case: "Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness". It is interesting to note that throughout India (for example), the cultural function of journalists for a long time was provided by wandering monks – hinting at a deeper understanding of the importance of journalism to be linked with high ethical standards of integrity. (The claim here is not that this system was perfect. The claim is that Indian society might have had a better understanding of what matters most here.)
Twenty years ago, most people were fairly helpless if they wanted to independently verify the validity and accuracy of news reports – and newspapers (say) generally tend to not report gross inaccuracies or fabrications in other newspapers. There is a long history of using images, in particular, to manipulate public opinion. One has to appreciate the importance of public exhibitions such as this one.Comments (4)
Eco-Villages, People Systems, Society, Village Development — by Thomas Fischbacher March 19, 2010
A chinese proverb says: "the last thing a fish notices is the water in which it swims". And indeed, we often find that we are immersed so deeply in our present context and its corresponding mindset that we fail to ask the most important questions simply because we cannot see them. This certainly is true for the physicists who worked on the "Manhattan Project" and built the atomic bomb, genuinely believing that the situation at the time required all their effort to prevent Nazi Germany from using nuclear weapons in the war. It took a major catastrophe – the nuclear attack on two Japanese cities – to make a number of scientists ask themselves the question they perhaps should have asked much earlier: Is it conceivable that, all things considered, our present perspective on the general situation might be dangerously inaccurate? The relevance of this question has not changed since.Comments (0)
Alternatives to Political Systems, Bio-regional Organisations, Consumerism, Eco-Villages, Economics, Ethical Investment, Financial Management, People Systems, Society, Village Development — by Thomas Fischbacher January 21, 2010
"Money" is nothing but a social construct that comes with a number of "rules of the game". In one way, "money" has much in common with computer operating systems: most users are completely unaware of the degree to which these rules are flexible, malleable, and allow very different designs. So, before we ask ourselves: in what way could a different design of rules lead to a different role of money, it is worthwhile taking a look at what sort of phenomena the present arrangement gives rise to. A telling passage can be found in Bill Mollison’s autobiography:Comments (9)