governance

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West Virginia v. EPA: A Setback for the Steady State Economy

by Sydney Lyman

Throughout the month of June, many Americans frantically refreshed the Supreme Court’s website each morning, as immensely important cases appeared on the docket in rapid succession. It turned out to be a disorienting month. The freedom to get an abortion was stripped from 40 million people of reproductive age, gun control efforts were stymied, and the separation of church and state in public schools was weakened.

In the chaotic wake of these historic rulings, another monumental decision was lost on much of the public. The Court released its decision on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the afternoon of June 30th, the last day of the annual session. Basically, the Court dropped an environmental bomb and left for vacation.

In its most significant environmental decision yet, the Court ruled 6–3 that Congress had not granted the EPA authority to establish “generation shifting” emissions caps when it passed the Clean Air Act in 1970. Littered with abnormalities, the ruling has already been called a “political act poorly disguised as a legal opinion” devised by the Court’s conservative justices, marking the Court’s swift swing to the right.

Bizarre from the Beginning

Protest sign that reads "Defend Our Constitution" held up in a crowd outside the U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. citizens protest the recent series of regressive Supreme Court rulings with a simple demand: “Defend Our Constitution.” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, vpickering)

The origins of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (hereafter, West Virginia) can be traced back to the EPA’s 2015 Clean Power Plan proposal. President Obama had made bold promises to act on climate change. So, when he found himself fighting with a deadlocked Congress, Obama turned to the power of the administrative state to get things done.

Obama’s EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The plan included “strong but achievable” goals such as cutting CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 32 percent over the subsequent 15 years. However, the CPP, initially thought to be one of Obama’s greatest achievements in office, never took effect. As soon as the rules were published in the Federal Register, 28 states and hundreds of companies filed suit in the DC Circuit Court, giving birth to West Virginia. In response, the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to halt enforcement of the law until a lower court ruled on the case; the first time the Court had intervened with regulations before a lower court could conduct its own review.

The plaintiffs issued three main challenges. First, they argued that the EPA couldn’t regulate CO2 using § 7411(d) of the Clean Air Act, because the House and Senate versions of § 7411(d) were never reconciled in the 1990 amendments. In fact, both versions had been codified. The Senate version covered CO2 emissions while the House version did not. In developing the CPP, the EPA followed the Senate’s version of § 7411(d), with the understanding that courts generally defer to an agency’s interpretation of the law pursuant to the principle of judicial deference. However, the plaintiffs claimed that the House version was more consistent with the law overall and should thus prevail.

The second challenge was that the EPA had overstepped its authority by mandating actions “outside the fenceline.” The EPA does have full authority to create standards to be met at each individual plant. However, the CPP’s requirement that states develop clean energy sources and increase efficiency of coal plants couldn’t be fulfilled at the actual power plants themselves. Such a requirement, then, was outside the fenceline.

Lastly, the plaintiffs claimed the CPP violated the Tenth Amendment by inappropriately delegating federal power to the states.

While the DC Circuit Court considered the plaintiff’s arguments in September 2016, the inauguration of Donald Trump and subsequent reorganization of the EPA four months later rendered the case moot. Trump’s EPA clearly stated its intent to repeal the CPP and did so in August 2018, replacing it with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

Compared to the CPP’s 32 percent target, the ACE established a far less ambitious target of between 0.7 and 1.5 percent reduction of CO2 emissions. In turn, the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association filed suit against the EPA, arguing that it was neglecting its duty to reduce emissions and improve public health. The Court ruled 2–1 in favor of the plaintiffs on January 19, 2021, vacating the ACE rule and allowing the EPA the opportunity to reinstate the CPP rule.

The very next day, President Joe Biden took office and the fear felt by industrial red states was reignited. Nineteen attorneys general and five power companies petitioned the Supreme Court to review the DC Circuit Court’s ruling before the Biden administration had even reinstated the CPP. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case at all, then, is questionable. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote:

The Court’s docket is discretionary, and because no one is now subject to the Clean Power Plan’s terms, there was no reason to reach out to decide this case. The Court today issues what is really an advisory opinion on the proper scope of the new rule EPA is considering. That new rule will be subject anyway to immediate, pre-enforcement judicial review. But this Court could not wait—even to see what the new rule says—to constrain EPA’s efforts to address climate change.

In addressing the hastiness of her colleagues and the fact that the Court had no place in the matter, Justice Kagan waves a red flag about the Court’s political activism, which seems outside a fenceline of its own.

Major Questions About the Major Questions Doctrine

Authoring the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts invoked the “major questions doctrine” as the decision’s main justification. He claimed that, because the CPP was so unprecedented and transformative, the Court had a “reason to hesitate” before confirming that Congress actually intended (via Clean Air Act) to provide the EPA with the authority to make such drastic changes.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

Despite the conservative majority, Justice Kagan holds fast to precedent. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Steve Petteway)

In the end, the Court did far more than hesitate. The majority held that Congress didn’t intend for the EPA to attain such authority, preventing the CPP and any other similarly comprehensive regulation from becoming law. In essence, the CPP created more change than the Court’s conservative majority was willing to accept, so they ruled it unconstitutional.

The principle of judicial deference is essentially thrown out the window should a case fall under the major questions doctrine. Adding to the confusion, the public doesn’t know if the Court will apply this doctrine in any particular case until the decision and opinion is released.

Now referred to as a “legal theory,” the major questions doctrine is a seldom-used concept stemming from FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco (2000). The FDA Court claimed that, given the “economic and political significance” of the tobacco industry, Congress couldn’t have possibly intended for the FDA to have regulatory jurisdiction over tobacco when it passed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) in 1938. FDA created a dangerous loophole that allows the Court to reject the principle of judicial deference whenever the majority believes a decision might have “vast economic and political significance”—whatever that means.

In her West Virginia dissent, Justice Kagan included a few “major questions” threads in the red flag she wove: “Apparently, there is now a two-step inquiry… The majority claims it is just following precedent, but that is not so. The Court has never even used the term ‘major questions doctrine’ before.”

The major questions doctrine has been described by Progressives as a move toward juristocracy, giving nine unelected judges from the least democratic branch of government the final say on society’s most controversial issues. Perhaps the doctrine should be applied to the Supreme Court itself. After all, overturning a 50-year-old precedent that upheld legal access to abortion would have vast political significance. Perhaps the public, too, has “reason to hesitate” before concluding such a transformative decision is within the Court’s authority.

Consequences Beyond the Courtroom

In April 2021, the Biden administration announced its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. The administration was relying on three approaches to accomplish this ambitious task.

The first approach was the development of a national network of electric vehicle chargers and new standards to make EVs more reliable and affordable. The second was the Build Back Better Act, a substantial part of which was dedicated to clean energy and reducing carbon emissions. Thanks to coal-powered Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, however, the bill is stuck in reconciliation and is unlikely to be salvaged in earnest.

Joe Biden, walking past signs about climate change on his way to discuss conservation and emissions reducing plans.

Hopes of halving emissions by 2030 fade into the distance as Biden’s strategies get stymied at every turn. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Biden For President)

The final approach included sweeping regulations enacted by the EPA to address smog, cross-border pollution, mercury, and toxic contaminants produced by power plants. These regulations were also intended to compel plants to adopt renewable energy. West Virginia has sent the agency back to the drawing board, leaving only the first of the administration’s approaches in effect.

Stripped of its ability to fully execute its climate action plan, and short of plans to degrow the economy, the White House will likely see its target of halving emissions by 2030 slip further into mathematical impossibility.

Worse yet, the consequences of the decision don’t stop with the EPA and climate action. Richard Revesz, a professor at NYU School of Law, contends that the “court’s pointedly vague invocation of the major questions doctrine casts a long shadow over the future of regulation,” regardless of which agency is doing the regulating.

This poses a significant problem for advancing the steady state economy. West Virginia leaves the USA idling in the depths of neoclassical, pro-growth economics, if not mired in the ancient tar sands of laissez faire. In a steady state economy, regulations would be “part of the landscape,” from tax code changes and banking reforms to restrictions on extractive industries and outright bans of certain practices. West Virginia makes such regulations profoundly more difficult to develop, uphold, and enforce.

With hyperpolarization and constant gridlock in Congress, the executive branch is perhaps the most promising channel for advancing necessary nationwide changes. Combating an unprecedented threat like environmental breakdown will certainly call for an unprecedented transformation of government. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of change the Supreme Court has chosen to undermine.

Headshot of Sydney Lyman, a summer 2022 journalism intern at CASSESydney Lyman is a summer 2022 journalism intern at CASSE.

The post <em>West Virginia v. EPA</em>: A Setback for the Steady State Economy appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The tide is rising against deep sea mining

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/07/2022 - 6:55pm in

Pacific nations are leading the campaign to protect the seas

Originally published on Global Voices


The #BlueMarch in Lisbon was attended by environmentalists and activists opposed to deep sea mining. Twitter Photo from The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Global leaders, scientists, environmental advocates, and civil society groups voiced their opposition to deep sea mining during the UN Ocean Conference held from June 27–July 1 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Deep sea mining is the practice of excavating the ocean floor to harvest rare minerals such as manganese, cobalt, copper, and nickel, which are often used for batteries, most notoriously those used in electric vehicles. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body, is currently drafting regulations that could be used by the mining industry in 2023. So far, the Pacific island nation of Nauru has expressed interest in allowing deep sea mining on its territory.

But Pacific communities are also among the most consistent in strongly opposing deep sea mining by citing the destructive colonial legacy of conducting nuclear tests in the region.

At the UN Ocean Conference, the leaders of Palau and Fiji led the launching of the Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium. Palau President Surangel Whipps, Jr. said during the event:

We all have to make sacrifices and come together as nations to achieve the greater good for our planet and our people. We know that deep-sea mining compromises the integrity of our ocean habitat that supports marine biodiversity and contributes to mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama added:

If allowed to go ahead, mining will irreversibly destroy ancient deep sea habits and impact those who rely on the ocean for their livelihood.

The Fiji government warned that deep sea mining will “further jeopardize” the lives of people “who are already suffering from climate change-induced disasters.”

During a separate event at the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron also stated his opposition to mining the high seas, although France has exploration agreements with ISA. The United States climate envoy called for more studies about the impact of deep sea mining. In a letter submitted to the annual meeting of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in early June, Chile called for a 15-year moratorium on adopting regulations that would allow deep sea mining.

Greenpeace oceans project lead Arlo Hemphill noted the growing opposition against deep sea mining:

The wall of silence is finally being shattered as countries begin to speak out against the destructive deep-sea mining industry, which would put the health of the ocean on which we all depend and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people living in coastal communities at risk.

Meanwhile, 146 parliamentarians signed the Global Parliamentary Declaration Calling for a Moratorium on Deep Seabed Mining. The statement offers an alternative for states which wanted to pursue deep sea mining to extract minerals needed in the transition towards a so-called “green economy”:

Rather than launching a vast new extractive industry, States should be investing in new technologies and systems that reduce the demand for raw minerals through reuse, recycling and innovative design. The green transition must not come at the expense of biodiversity and our planet’s biggest natural carbon sink.

Ad Nauseum: Addressing America’s Advertising Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 12:41am in
by Haley Mullins

One of the biggest roadblocks to achieving a steady state economy is advertising. While seemingly innovative solutions to consume conscientiously are becoming more prevalent, most people aren’t Marie Kondo-ing their way through each purchase, stopping to question whether the item in their shopping cart will “spark joy.” But how much blame can we really assign consumers when they’ve been dropped onto a hamster wheel of coupons, cash-back credit cards, and “consumer confidence” indicators?

We live in the age of the internet, where we can purchase anything with one click on Amazon. Websites track our movements and preferences as we surf the web, offering us personalized advertisements so we can discover and buy more of what interests us. To put into perspective how expansive advertising is in the USA, China is the second-largest advertising market in the world, yet its ad expenditures are estimated at less than half the amount calculated for the USA.

Advertising and Growth

Super Bowl promotions in a grocery store, featuring doritos advertising.

Super Bowl Sunday might be better named National Advertising Day. (CC BY 2.0, JeepersMedia)

In 1941, right before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, the first legal TV commercial aired in the USA. It was just ten seconds long and only cost the company nine dollars. Forty years later, the standard for prime-time TV was 9.5 minutes of ads per hour; today, it’s up to 14–17 minutes per hour. The cost of advertising has skyrocketed, too, but marketers are still willing to pay big bucks to make buyers aware of the “Next Big Thing.” In 2020, advertisers spent an average of $5.6 million for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl 54.

Firms advertise to create demand and promote consumption. (I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want socks with my cat’s face on them until I saw a Facebook ad for it.) While firms compete against each other for our business, they rally around the goal of GDP growth. Wall Street and Madison Avenue aren’t far apart—figuratively or politically—and both have skin in the growth game.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with ads though. A typical American might understand the role of advertising in economic growth, yet—apart from Super Bowl Sunday—we detest ads and go to great lengths to avoid them. By 2021, 27 percent of U.S. internet users used ad blockers on their connected devices. Younger generations are particularly put off; 48 percent of Gen Z consumers and 46 percent of Millennials prefer to pay a premium than watch advertisements on streaming video services.

First Things First

Steady staters have some significant hurdles to overcome in the degrowth of the American ad industry, the first of which is the First Amendment.

Advertising falls under the First Amendment right to free speech and free press, the most cherished of our constitutional rights. However, even the sanctity of the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee the freedom to say anything. The circumstances are important, too. Reasonable restrictions of free speech are imposed most notably when public safety is concerned. The classic example of unprotected speech is yelling “Fire!” at the movie theater when no fire exists, as the welfare of people supersedes your right to yell “Fire!”

While advertising isn’t as directly harmful as in this example, the prevalence and effects of advertising—unnecessary consumption, growth, and environmental impact—have become increasingly harmful to public welfare. Advertising restrictions already in place substantiate our cultural awareness of advertising as a danger to the public. Under the law, claims in advertisements must be truthful, and cannot be deceptive or unfair. Additionally, there are restrictions on promoting harmful products like tobacco and alcohol, as well as advertising to children, who can’t interpret ads with a critical lens.

Society understands the power of advertising and the dangers it poses when used manipulatively. Thus, it’s poor reasoning to use the First Amendment as an excuse for “anything goes” in the advertising industry. So, what policies could we enact to moderate advertising, slow consumption, and (in the process) improve wellbeing?

Ad-equate Policies

Defenders of advertising argue the importance of the practice in aiding competition, a fundamental facet of a capitalist system to keep prices low and fair. As American economist Lester Telser once described, “If sellers must identify themselves in order to remain in business, then formally unless they spend a certain minimum amount on advertising their rate of sales will be zero. Regardless of price, buyers would not know of sellers’ existence unless the sellers make themselves known by incurring these advertising outlays.”

1960 Budweiser advertisement with four Black men holding beers and chatting in a kitchen.

Advertising: framing the consumption of market goods as raising one’s quality of life. (CC BY-NC 2.0, ChowKaiDeng)

Touché, Telser. Eliminating the practice of advertising isn’t practical, as people would struggle to discover necessary goods and services. But billions of dollars are spent annually on advertising, far surpassing the optimal scale of the industry. In 2020, U.S. firms spent $240 billion on advertising; all of it tax deductible, as it’s considered a necessary business expense to generate or keep customers. Herman Daly and Joshua Farley argue for advertising taxes in Ecological Economics (Second Edition), declaring it appropriate to tax advertising as a public bad because production should meet existing demand rather than create new demands for whatever gets produced.

But if we’re truly to curb overconsumption of market goods, merely reducing the quantity of advertising will only do so much in the aggregate. To change consumer habits, an alternative to market goods must be introduced. Thus, in addition to taxation, Daly and Farley suggest making media information flows more symmetric so that the public is equally exposed to nonmarket goods as they are to market goods. Essentially, we need a sort of nonprofit advertising to balance out the advertising of firms.

Nonmarket goods, things that are neither bought nor sold directly, do not have a readily quantifiable monetary value. Some examples include visiting the beach, birdwatching, or going for a walk. Perhaps, with more attention given to nonmarket goods, consumer culture might shift to better appreciate our planet and better understand the true cost of frivolously consuming market goods that come from the Earth and return to the Earth as waste. Our resources might then be reallocated to the preservation of invaluable nonmarket goods, a shift that may aid in transitioning to a steady state.

Redefining Ethical Advertising

Cartons of cigarettes with several different warning labels making it clear that smoking is hazardous to people's health.

Full disclosure: unchecked consumption kills people and planet. (CC BY 2.0, kadavy)

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines “ethical advertising” as “truthful, not deceptive, backed by evidence, and fair.” The FTC assesses the adherence of these principles through the lens of a “reasonable consumer” to determine whether an ad meets the requirements. However, some argue that the FTC has a responsibility to protect the ignorant consumer to the same extent as the reasonable one.

If the last several decades of celebrated economic growth are considered, I’d say the vast majority of consumers fall into the ignorant category—ignorant to limits to growth, at least. Is it not within the scope of ethics, then, to make the true cost of consumption for advertised market goods evident? Is it not deceptive for ads to display a price tag that fails to factor in the environmental costs of production? We have warning labels on tobacco and alcohol products that consumption may lead to adverse effects, so why aren’t we warning buyers of the consequences of consuming other goods?

If we don’t restrict the amount or reach of advertising, the least we can do is demand full-disclosure advertisements that detail the environmental cost of producing and purchasing the product. This would, at minimum, include estimated life-cycle emissions, quantity of natural resources extracted, and the energy required to produce each unit. Such disclosures would, over time, raise awareness of limits to growth and could, perhaps, be the catalyst that converts our culture of conspicuous consumption to one of careful conservation.

Haley Mullins, managing editor for CASSEHaley Mullins is the managing editor at CASSE.

The post Ad Nauseum: Addressing America’s Advertising Problem appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The NRA’s Kuznets Curve: Deadliest Mind Game on Earth?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 12:15am in
by Brian Czech

Herald readers were reminded last week of a concept called the “Kuznets curve,” named after the late Simon Kuznets (1901-1985) for his analysis of the distribution of wealth. Kuznets (rhymes with “whose nets”) found, more or less, that the maldistribution of wealth had worsened in the decades preceding the 1920s, and lessened afterward. He famously linked both trends to economic growth, noting different effects of growth before and after the 20s.

I say Kuznets found these things “more or less” because he plastered his 1955 paper with disclaimers. To wit, “trends in the income distribution should be explored—even though we have neither the necessary data nor a reasonably complete theoretical model” and “trends in the income structure can be discerned but dimly.” Kuznets warned that his results should be “considered as preliminary informed guesses” and came “perilously close to pure guesswork.”

Nevertheless, growthists glommed on to the guesswork like glazed raisin bread, and it was only a matter of time before someone coined the everlasting “Kuznets curve.” Could it have been the same salesman who came up with the cockamamy “consumer confidence?” Or the same PR pro who gave us the paean, “a rising tide lifts all boats?”

Whoever it was, somewhat of a growth industry (so to speak) in copycat Kuznets curves developed thereafter. The one that drives conservationists nuts—“Kuznuts” we might say—is the so-called “environmental Kuznets curve” (EKC). This is the hypothesis that economic growth initially causes environmental problems, which are eventually solved after the average income grows beyond a threshold level. The EKC turned out to be a fish story, resting on “a very flimsy statistical foundation.”

Fallacious is bad enough, but a truly nefarious Kuznets curve lurks in the town halls of the USA. It has to vie for the title of deadliest mind game on Earth. It’s the gun-violence Kuznets curve touted implicitly by the National Rifle Association.

The NRA and the Gun-Violence Kuznets Curve

Even when a Kuznets curve isn’t mentioned by name, Kuznets-curve logic may still be afoot. GDP doesn’t necessarily have to be the driving variable, either. The generic Kuznets curve can be stated like this: “When X increases, it causes Y to increase, but after a certain point, with different factors in play, X causes Y to decrease instead.” In the process, either a problem will be solved by that ever-growing X (a pleasant Kuznets curve), or a problem will appear and worsen (a nasty Kuznets curve). For example, as age increases, so does strength, but only up to a certain age. Thereafter, strength decreases with aging. That’s a nasty Kuznets curve.

Kuznets curve with gun violence on y-axis and gun owners on x-axis; NRA symbol with blood dripping under the curve.

The NRA’s gun-violence Kuznets curve: deadliest mind game on Earth?

Invariably, though, Kuznets curves proposed in the literature are pleasant ones, often intended to argue for the growth or proliferation of X.

Which brings us to the NRA and its gun-violence Kuznets curve. We’ve all heard it: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” “We need more firearms on campus.” “Gun bans don’t disarm criminals, gun bans attract them.” Unlike the prudent and analytical Kuznets, the quotees (Wayne La Pierre, Donald Trump, and the late Walter Mondale, respectively) abide no doubt or compromise.

In the NRA’s Kuznetsian logic, yes, guns do allow for gun violence problems. However, the NRA’s solution is to simply have more guns in the hands of more people. Just like evermore money seeping out into different segments of society will supposedly solve the maldistribution problem, evermore guns seeping into different segments—especially good-guy segments like kindergarten teachers and church deacons—will solve the gun violence problem.

What a massacre of truth and logic, especially when coupled with the next lie in the NRA’s arsenal.

Guns Don’t “Cause”

The gun-violence Kuznets curve isn’t the only wicked logic pitched by the NRA and its loyal legions. They love to argue that “guns don’t kill people; people do.” With this argument they not only lay claim to an unassailable thread of logic, but usher in a whole school of red herrings to get the focus off guns.

White man with gun pointed at the camera.

Guy with a gun. Good or bad, gun violence looking likely.

Once the focus is on the “real” cause of gun violence, the town hall descends into irrelevant gibberish. Some aspiring Plato opines that people don’t really cause violence, either; societies do. Next, Jerry Falwell’s disciple says it’s not society, but the Devil, bent on destroying souls. But no, says the guy in the Darwin T-shirt, it’s neither people nor society nor the Devil, but evolution, which brought about violent tendencies especially in young men.

By now, if you haven’t noticed, guns aren’t even in the conversation. Mission accomplished for the NRA!

Meanwhile the unassailability of the NRA’s logic—yes, a gun on its own will just sit there, not killing folk—is a source of frustration for gun control proponents, and for people with common sense. It’s like the frustration caused by pro-growth interests who tell us that economic growth doesn’t “cause” environmental problems; rather it’s people and the technological choices they make that cause the problems. Which leads us back to arguing about society, the devil, evolution, aliens, PizzaGate…anything but economic growth!

NRA’s Argument Rests on Magic

For an argument to be “sound” (right in other words), two conditions must be met. First, the premises must be correct. Second, the argument must be valid, meaning that the premises must logically lead to the argument’s conclusion. If a premise is incorrect or the argument is invalid, the argument is “unsound,” or simply wrong.

Not that the NRA posits a deductive argument to begin with. They’re not arguing in classic logical form, “All guns are owned by good guys. Good guys never commit gun violence. Therefore, no guns are used in acts of violence.” That would be a valid argument, because if all guns were owned by good guys (and never stolen or commandeered by bad guys), and if good guys never did commit gun violence, then no guns could be used in acts of violence. Unfortunately, the first premise is patently false—plenty of creeps own guns—and the second premise wouldn’t be true unless we defined a “good guy” as someone who never commits gun violence, reducing the premise to a truism. The argument, in other words, is unsound, despite its technical validity. To put it more bluntly, it would be a stupid argument or an outright lie.

Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre, bad guy with Big Gun Money. (CC BY-SA 2.0, Wayne LaPierre)

The big-moneyed NRA isn’t stupid and doesn’t commit such an obvious lie. In fact, the NRA avoids deduction altogether. Their fallacious logic is more slippery to pinpoint, but self-contradiction is evident enough. They’ve told us that guns don’t “cause” gun violence. On the other hand, they’d have us believe that more guns would reduce—cause a reduction in—gun violence. They can’t have it both ways; can’t have their bullets and shoot them too.

Next, the notion that evermore guns in the hands of evermore people would lessen the incidence or impacts of gun violence is subject to some good, swift, valid reductio ad absurdum: If there were zero guns, we could have a whole society of Satan-worshiping creeps, and yet not a single act of gun violence could possibly occur.

What if there was one gun? Or ten? Still very little gun violence could transpire, and we wouldn’t need the billions of dollars of security equipment for safeguarding our workplaces, churches, and schools from bad guys with guns. (Yes, airports and political rallies would still need plenty of protection from other types of terrorism.)

Now if 100,000 Americans owned guns—especially AR-15s—we’d have to start taking notice and staying alert. A creep with an AR-15 can mow down as many people in one spree as all the gun-related homicides per year in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Netherlands.

Still, compare these low-gun scenarios to the level of gun violence we have today, not even with a population of Satan-worshiping gun nuts but with “regular” American citizens: 45,222 gun-related deaths in 2020, including over 19,384 homicides. That’s more than the number of people (38,824) that died in car accidents!

At what point along their gun-violence Kuznets curve does the NRA think the magical reversal will commence? We already have over 100 million armed Americans (32 percent of the population). What happens when we reach 100 percent gun ownership and have even more grotesque levels of carnage? What do we do then? Start cloning everyone so we can arm more people yet, chasing that ever-elusive inflection point? When do we have enough of this deranged social experiment? Especially given the utter lack of scholarly corroboration for decades now.

Sympathy for the Gun Industry?

To be fair to the NRA, we must acknowledge that they don’t say, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is an even worse jackass with a gun.” Rather, it’s the “good guy” (and gal, and kid, and possibly soon robot) the NRA wants armed, preferably to the profit-maximizing teeth, locked and loaded and fully accessorized.  That alone undermines the gun-violence Kuznets curve, as it puts quite a limitation along the X axis, where “Gun Owners” should really be “Exclusively Good Gun Owners.”

On the other hand, given the extreme position of the NRA against gun control—even against expanding background checks—they must be assuming that all remaining unarmed Americans are already good. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they want to do a better job of discerning bad from good, so their modified Kuznets curve might have some validity? Well, you know the NRA; they always have an answer, such as following their advice and investing much more of our hard-earned taxes in mental health, so we can arm every man, woman, and child without bothering to discern. That way, just in case somebody falls back through the cracks into the bad category, we’re all prepared to shoot the hell out of them at a moment’s notice.

Until that glorious day, though, we have numerous other barriers to getting the guns from the factory floor into the hands of the good guys, and keeping them exclusively there. For example, guess what else (aside from gun violence) the bad guys are known for. I bet you’ve already arrived at the answer, because it’s such common knowledge. Yes, bad guys are known for stealing! Consider an annotated list of the top five crimes committed in the USA:

  1. Larceny/theft. Better not leave those guns out in plain sight (where they might have been handy for stopping bad guys with guns).
  2. Burglary. Keep those guns locked up tight, you good guys and gals. Guns are stolen “in staggering numbers,” especially from houses and cars and trucks. Speaking of cars and trucks…
  3. Motor vehicle theft. Once that vehicle is gone, it’s adios to the Glock in the glovebox. Chalk one up for the bad guy (one more gun that is), and cross one off for the good guy.
  4. Aggravated assault. If you’re the assaultee, you better hope it’s not aggravated and exacerbated by an AR-15.
  5. Robbery. If you’re not fast on the draw, or your sidearm’s been stolen, or your handgun is locked away for theft prevention…stick ‘em up! Otherwise your number just might be “45,223.”

 I'm a Teacher and you want to arm me?

Thanks to the NRA, U.S. teachers are pressured to arm themselves in the classroom. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Adam Fagen)

I suppose it would be possible to have some amount of sympathy for the gun manufacturers under pressure, their attorneys, the NRA, and the NSSF. However, there wouldn’t be much left for them, not even empathy; not after thinking of all the innocent guys and gals—never before armed—suddenly faced with the heavy-handed and heavy-hearted responsibility of packing a sidearm. Homeowners, soccer moms, preachers, and teachers in certain school districts are facing this responsibility, feeling coerced to put in the time, money, and psychological effort for learning about guns, practicing shooting, and getting trained up for responding to a bad guy with a gun in unthinkable scenarios.

These everyday Americans are the good guys—exceptionally good Americans—and they’re good without guns. Sure, there are good guys with guns, too. (I like to think I’m one of them, with my .243 for venison.) We’re overlooking some bad guys with guns, though. The real bad guys start with the AR-15-toting NRA. They’re leading innocent people astray with their lies, they’re bullying politicians and school boards, and they’re abetting gun violence galore with the vilest Kuznets curve on the books.

You might say the NRA has a bright future, though. Where they’re headed, everyone will finally be toting an AR-15.

Brian Czech, Executive Director of CASSEBrian Czech is the executive director of CASSE.

The post The NRA’s Kuznets Curve: Deadliest Mind Game on Earth? appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 1:12am in
by Max Kummerow

With the recent leaking of the draft decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the heated controversy over a woman’s right to abort—or voluntarily terminate—a pregnancy is again at the forefront of democratic discourse. At the heart of this debate are issues of morality and theology. Self-identified Christians make up 63 percent of the U.S. population, with Evangelical Protestants and Catholics representing an overwhelming portion of the “pro-life” camp.

The question of when moral and legal obligations to protect a new life should begin has been pivotal to abortion politics and policy. Throughout history, four primary theories have been proposed to mark the commencement of a new human life:

  1. Moment of Conception

The moment of conception refers to when the egg and sperm unite to create a zygote with a unique genetic code. Those who hold that this is when life begins may argue for the prohibition of voluntary terminations or contraceptives used after conception, such as IUDs and hormonal methods that prevent pregnancy; that is, the implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall.

  1. Quickening

The mother’s first sensation of the fetus moving—known as quickeningtypically occurs between 16 and 20 weeks after the last menstrual period, or roughly the middle of the pregnancy. “Animus, soul, or life enters the body of the unborn infant when it first moves or stirs in the womb,” said the great 11th century theologian Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church viewed the animation of the fetus in the womb as evidence of ensoulment, or the moment when a physical body has been joined with a human soul.

  1. Viability

The age of viability refers to the time during pregnancy when a fetus could be born with a reasonable chance of survival. The time at which a pregnancy becomes viable is typically around 24 weeks; however, babies born around this time have an increased risk of disability and other complications. Most delivered before the age of viability do not survive because the lungs and other vital organs aren’t sufficiently developed.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court divided pregnancies into trimesters. During the first trimester, the woman has sole discretion to terminate the pregnancy. During the second trimester, states can regulate—but not outlaw—voluntary terminations for the sake of the mother’s health. The fetus becomes viable at the start of the third trimester, at which time states can regulate or outlaw terminations in the interest of the potential life, except when termination is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

  1. Breath of Life

The breath-of-life theory is that a new life begins at the baby’s first breath. This theory reflects the Christian creation story in Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This theory makes the most sense to me. When, as a child, I helped my uncle pull calves, some died and some lived. To live, they had to breathe. My uncle himself died eventually, precisely when his breathing stopped.

Even birth and breathing haven’t always granted an individual protection under the law. Infanticide was common throughout the Roman Empire and many other parts of the ancient world, and has been documented in 27 countries. For instance, China’s one-child policy, implemented between 1980 and 2016, resulted in a wave of female infanticide. Scholars who have extensively studied infanticide have found a positive relationship between income inequality and female infanticide. These researchers concluded that societies with extreme poverty may use infanticide to conserve resources, reduce financial strain, or improve the family’s quality of life.

A purple bus with a large banner covering the back with a smiley face reading "We're pro-life."

What does it really mean to be “pro-life?” (CC BY-SA 2.0, infomatique)

While there are some denominational differences amongst Christians regarding ensoulment and the beginning of life, we can safely assume that those against a woman’s right to choose believe this divine moment occurs sometime in the womb. Scripture, however, provides no guidance on voluntary terminations.

The closest The Bible comes to the topic is in Exodus 21:22-23, where Moses writes, “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed.” If the embryo or fetus was ensouled, wouldn’t the men have received a more severe punishment according to the “eye for an eye” doctrine? Such is the case if the men kill the living, breathing woman. In other words, Scripture clearly implies that the fetus does not have a right to life equal to that of a breathing person.

The Science of Reproduction

Galileo begged the Inquisition to “look through the telescope” to see the truth about the solar system. Those against abortion services should look through a microscope to observe the lengthy, complex processes of conception and gestation. The authors of The Bible did not have the benefit of microscopy, and accordingly wrote nothing on the science of reproduction. To reconcile theology with science though, we must understand the biological facts of conception, fetal development, and birth.

First, the terms “moment of conception” and “beginning of life” are misleading, as these processes don’t occur in an instant. The actual beginning of life took place circa 4 billion years ago when DNA (or possibly even simple RNA, ribonucleic acid) first replicated. Some of the earliest “experiments” may have blinked out, but for several billion years—while innumerable organisms have died and species have gone extinct—life has continued with no interruption.

Nor is conception a “moment,” but rather a multi-step process—prefaced by episodes of meiosis and the production of male and female gametes—taking several hours for a sperm cell (male gamete) to penetrate an egg’s (female gamete) cell wall, stimulate the zona pellucida to deploy (preventing other sperm from entering), shed its axial filament (the “tail”), burrow into the egg, and redeploy genetic material until the collective 46 chromosomes have been linked into 23 pairs. By then, a fertilized egg (zygote) exists, ready for mitosis and another very gradual process of fetal development, but precisely when did the fertilization transpire? And is that unclear moment equivalent to “conception?” Or would conception be more appropriately consigned to the first mitotic division of the zygote?

One thing we do know is that only a relative handful of the quadrillions of potential combinations of DNA win the lottery, manifesting in zygotes and ultimately children. People across the political spectrum can agree that life is sacred, but even in the absence of abortion, most potential humans—even after conception—never experience the breath of life. While often tragic for aspiring mothers, stillbirths and infant mortality are nonetheless common features of human biology. In 2019, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In poorer parts of the world, infant mortality is in the hundreds per 1,000 born.

Even with the advancements in medical technology, maternal mortality is still a risk everywhere. In the USA, the risk of death associated with childbirth is roughly fourteen times higher than that with legal abortion, making responsibly provided abortion significantly safer than childbirth. This is a point worth pondering for those who oppose abortion because they value human life, especially considering the Exodus distinction between the value of an adult woman relative to a fetus.

The Odds of Life

Charles Darwin discovered not only how species evolve via natural selection, but explained why organisms produce so many more than can survive. All species have an innate propensity to multiply. More specimens are born than can survive to adulthood; far more in the case of most species.

Meanwhile, the way organisms interact with and adapt to their environment determines their survival and reproduction. In this way, the most “fit” organisms (given the environmental conditions) begin to overtake less fit organisms, passing along more of their genetic code for traits ranging from eye color to blood type and even cognitive ability (which is influenced by genetic and non-genetic variables). The species evolves, in other words, and—assuming moderate rates of environmental change—becomes ever more fit or “successful.” One of the prerequisites of this progressive process is a surplus of specimens, from which the most fit are naturally selected.

Ensouled or otherwise, Homo sapiens is no exception. In the process of ovulation, an egg is released from the human’s ovary each month for roughly 30 to 35 years of fertility. This amounts to 350 to 400 chances of pregnancy. Of the roughly 300,000,000 sperm ejaculated during coitus, only around 200 reach the fertilization site in the oviduct. Even when one lucky sperm fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube, half of fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus, becoming lost after conception and before pregnancy.

Table 1 reflects the reality of surplus reproduction from conception onward. Even given the substantial “drawdown” of zygotes and fetuses in 2020, there were 140 million births and only 59 million deaths, resulting in 81 million more people on Earth.

Table 1. Global Conception, Pregnancy, and Fetal Drawdown, 2020

Total in Millions
% of Conceptions

Conceptions
475
100%

Pregnancies
238
50%

(Unintended Pregnancies)
107
45%

Involuntary Termination
47
10%

Voluntary Termination
50
10%

Births
140
30%

To the best of my knowledge, no woman has ever experienced 350 or 400 pregnancies. Cases such as the Octomom (fourteen children) and the Radford family (16 children) are famous because of how extreme they are (although a Russian woman supposedly produced 69 babies in the 18th century). What if all women could have fourteen to 16 pregnancies during their 30 to 35 years of fertility? Should that be the goal of a pro-life movement?

No society, even those with early marriages and lack of contraception, has averaged more than a dozen births per woman. Contraceptives and other family planning services have allowed most societies to reduce births per woman to more manageable levels. It would seem eminently logical that maximizing the number of human lives is neither desirable nor moral compared with moderating reproduction for purposes of healthy, happy, and sustainable lives.

Choosing Life

One of the cornerstones of steady-state economics is democratically stabilizing population; another is achieving fairness and quality of life. For these purposes, access to contraceptives, comprehensive sexual education, and family planning services are needed.

Abortion rights protest with signs reading "Pro-choice is Pro-life"

Considering the wellbeing of all life forms—or all God’s creatures—pro-choice is  congruent with pro-life. (CC BY 2.0, Debra Sweet)

Better contraceptives and family planning services have already proven to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. In countries that restrict abortion, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion has ironically increased from 36 percent to 50 percent over the past 30 years. In the end, if preventing the frequency of abortions is truly the goal, then widening access to sex education, contraceptives, and other forms of reproductive healthcare—even abortion itself—is the most effective course of action.

Ending abortions altogether, were it possible, would increase the number of children born each year by at least 50 million globally. These children would be born to families that, in many and probably the vast majority of cases, couldn’t afford them or are otherwise not prepared to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. Banning abortion would also increase maternal mortality and the presence of negative health effects in mothers and children.

In my opinion, an abortion should be considered a responsible parenting decision to the degree the pregnancy is unwanted. Unintended teen pregnancies are one of the leading circumstances for abortions in the USA. Among teens 15 to 19, 75 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Teenagers have many other chances (about 350 to 400) to be a mother when they are more prepared for the responsibility. An abortion allows the teenager to choose a better time to have a child who will grow up better cared for.

For a woman already with children, a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy lessens her family’s financial and psychological strain, and leaves more resources to be shared by her pre-existing children. In other words, terminating an unwanted pregnancy can reduce the burden on the mother, on society, and on the planet, or the fullness of God’s Creation for the faithful among us. In that sense, abortion too has a pro-life element.

Max Kummerow portraitMax Kummerow is a population activist and researcher, and author of the forthcoming book, Too Many People.

The post Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Icebreakers in the Arctic: An Overlooked Environmental Concern

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/04/2022 - 12:17am in
by Johanna Cohn

Global heating has a greater impact on the Arctic than the rest of the planet. In fact, the Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average. This is due to Arctic ice’s high albedo, meaning the ice reflects a tremendous amount of sunlight into the atmosphere. As the ice melts, the sea water absorbs more sunlight than it reflects. The resulting water subsequently warms and evaporates, becoming a powerful greenhouse gas. A positive feedback loop ensues as warmer waters melt more ice, and more water vapor adds to Earth’s greenhouse effect.

Arctic nations—the USA, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland—view the thawing Arctic as an asset for tourism, fishing, and trade. Never mind the risks that come with shipping across waters that may contain icebergs, thanks to large ships called “icebreakers.”

The USA has two icebreakers in its fleet, and at least three more on the way. Russia, on the other hand, has at least 50. These nations recognize the value of holding power in the Arctic, and having icebreakers is a means to power. Nations that effectively use icebreakers in their Arctic fleets can grow their economies faster, improve the safety and efficacy of Arctic travel, and conduct scientific exploration. But at what cost?

Why Are Icebreakers So Loved?

image of a researcher exploring an Arctic pool, with an icebreaker ship in the background, cutting through Arctic ice.

Icebreakers allow researchers to explore areas once considered unreachable, but at what cost? (CC BY 2.0, NOAA Photo Library)

The USCGC Healy, one of the USA’s two icebreakers, is primarily used for scientific research and is famous for its advanced technology. In recent years, scientists aboard the Healy have accomplished two notable feats. The first was the identification of a species previously unknown to science called ctenophores—organisms similar to jellyfish—distinguished by the groups of cilia they use for swimming (commonly known as “combs”). The second was the discovery of Chukchi pockmarks during the exploration of the Chukchi Plateau. Despite encountering treacherous winds and waters, the size and stability of the Healy allowed researchers to continue mapping and studying the pockmarked area.

Another important asset of the Arctic is the Northern Sea Route, which lies east of Novaya Zemlya, Russia, and runs along the Russian Arctic coast by Siberia to the Bering Strait. As Arctic ice continues to melt, this route becomes more alluring for transporting goods across the North Pole. With the help of icebreakers cutting through remaining ice that could impede travel, the route reduces transportation time and costs, making it the most efficient route.

Icebreakers are also invaluable in Arctic search and rescue missions. The Arctic Council (an intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and indigenous Arctic people) has taken action to allocate search and rescue resources on an international level. All eight Arctic nations signed the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in May 2011, making it the first legally binding agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council.

Cold War Races in the Arctic

During the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union raced to pioneer new technology and discoveries, while competing for the greatest GDP. The Arctic was one arena for Cold War competition; whichever nation had the greatest presence in the Arctic would be better positioned to exploit Arctic resources and gain a significant advantage in climbing the GDP ladder.

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, the Soviet Union launched Project 97, which added 32 new icebreakers into the Soviet fleet. These were a series of diesel-electric icebreakers, several of which are still operated by Russia today. The Soviets had plans to revive military bases on islands in the Arctic Sea, a move that would prevent the U.S. Navy from deploying into the Arctic.

During this time the USA also introduced a new class of icebreakers into its fleet, known as the Polar class. These two Polar class ships were designed to support science and research, provide resupply to remote stations, launch search and rescue missions, escort ships, protect the environment, and enforce laws and treaties in places other ships cannot reach.

In 2020, President Trump released a memo calling for a new fleet of icebreakers in the Arctic. This, in part, reveals the Trump administration’s concern about Russian and Chinese presence in the Arctic, a concern reflected throughout the U.S. population. When Americans were asked to rate their feelings toward Russia on a zero-to-100 scale, Americans averaged at 29, the lowest reading since 1982. The USA’s attitude towards China in 2020 was similarly negative, with 73 percent of people surveyed claiming an unfavorable view of China.

Since national sentiments towards Russia and China were overwhelmingly negative, President Trump produced a memo to address concerns. Trump announced his administration would create a plan within 60 days of the memo release to construct at least three heavy icebreakers by 2029 to compete with the growing Russian and Chinese presence in the Arctic. The Biden Administration has yet to retract this plan, so these icebreakers are still under construction.

What’s Missing from the Conversation?

Little information is available about the environmental concerns that icebreakers pose. Literature highlights the perceived “positives”—scientific exploration, search and rescue, trade and shipping, and competition amongst nations—as being more important than considering environmental degradation. However, here’s what we know.

Icebreakers break ice. As the broken ice melts, sunlight is absorbed, leading to increased temperatures, and thus more ice melting. An icebreaker cruising through the ice for 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), leaving an ice-free wake of ten meters (33 feet), would open an area of water ten square kilometers (3.9 square miles) over the entire cruise. Although the Arctic Sea covers about 4,000 kilometers (2500 miles), any amount of ice breaking harms the environment. With the continual use of icebreaker ships, the Arctic will continue to look more like ice cubes melting in a glass of water.

Birds-eye shot of an icebreaker ship in the Arctic, with patches of cracked ice floating atop the sea.

The Arctic: melting ice cubes bobbing in a glass of water.

As melting endures, we will continue to see environmental effects around the world. Changes in the Arctic Sea ice pattern leads to a rise in sea levels globally. Low-lying developed areas in the Gulf Coast and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk from sea-level rise. The recent growth of coastal areas has resulted in larger populations and more valuable coastal property being at risk from sea-level rise. Major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems because of saltwater intrusion.

Changes in Arctic ice patterns are also leading to more frequent extreme weather. In the past few years, such extreme weather has been seen particularly across the east coast of the USA, western Europe, and central Asia. These regions will continue to experience more extreme weather because of Arctic amplification, the enhanced sensitivity of high latitudes to global heating. Arctic ice melt has also been shown to distort the flow of and weaken the jet stream, resulting in more frequent periods of intense heat and ferocious cold.

There’s also evidence that the sound emitted from icebreakers is detrimental to marine animals, particularly whales and other large mammals. The sound interferes with their ability to communicate with their pods. Additionally, sound pollution likely has long-term effects that are difficult to predict.

Most of the Russian icebreaker fleet is nuclear-based due to the fuel costs of running an icebreaker. On average, an icebreaker working in regions with three-meter-thick ice uses more than 100 tons of fuel per day. However, nuclear icebreakers have obvious concerns as well. In fact, should an accident occur, the consequence would be as severe as the Chernobyl disaster and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill combined: devastating.

What Should Be Done?


Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers save on fuel costs, but flirt with disaster. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, GRIDArendal)

There is indeed much more research in support of the use of icebreakers than documented concern for the ships’ environmental impacts. Beneath the bias of growth, it’s clear that icebreakers are largely detrimental. By continuing to add more icebreakers into the Arctic and simultaneously ignoring the environmental consequences, we are making yet another mistake that could be avoided.

The best way to limit the use of icebreakers is by having Arctic nations sign a treaty. One of the main reasons for such large numbers of icebreakers is competition amongst the nations for control over the Arctic. This can be addressed in a treaty eliminating or significantly reducing the use of icebreakers. We’ve seen successful use of treaties in the Arctic through the Search and Rescue Agreement, so there’s no reason to suggest another one can’t be instated.

A potential treaty could manifest in many ways. One option is to divide the Arctic Sea into zones and designate certain zones as “no break zones,” where icebreaking would be illegal. This would allow nations to continue using icebreakers to a lesser extent while the international community monitors the environmental effects. With this option, zones could shift and change depending on weather and ice patterns.

An alternative could be a plan to phase out icebreaker ships over many years. This would allow nations to find other ways to accomplish important tasks that icebreakers achieve in the Arctic, such as search and rescue missions and scientific research.

However, before an anti-icebreaker treaty can be successful, there needs to be an international agreement on environmental protection in the Arctic. A common goal amongst Arctic nations must be concern for the environment, or we risk edging closer to a world in which the Arctic Sea looks like the Atlantic Ocean. Arctic nations must understand the impending doom that comes with breaking and melting Arctic ice. Once these nations take responsibility for protecting the Arctic environment, then an anti-icebreaker treaty can be developed and signed, and we can take one crucial step towards protecting the Arctic.

portrait of Johanna Cohn, environmental studies intern during spring 2022 at CASSE.Johanna Cohn is a spring 2022 environmental studies intern at CASSE, and a junior at American University majoring in environmental studies and political science.

The post Icebreakers in the Arctic: An Overlooked Environmental Concern appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Citizens push back on Palau’s plan to open marine sanctuary to commercial fishing and exploration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 7:38pm in

The move is meant to aid pandemic-related economic loss

Originally published on Global Voices


The “Milky Way” cove in Palau seen from the air. Photo from Flickr page of LuxTonnerre, (CC BY 2.0)

Palau's Olbiil Era Kelulau (Congress) is considering a bill that will open their expansive marine sanctuary, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), to commercial fishing and oil exploration. In response, citizens are circulating an online petition opposing the proposal.

Palau is a small archipelago of more than 500 islands located on the western side of the Pacific. In 2015, the Palau government established the PNMS which designated 80 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a conservation area with no international or domestic fishing, while 20 percent was set aside as a domestic fishing zone. This marine protected area became one of the largest in the world and was hailed as a model for countries that want to conserve their marine resources. After five years of planning, the PNMS became fully operational in 2020.

But two years later, the government is already considering reopening 50 percent of Palau’s EEZ to foreign fishing fleets in order to generate revenue and stimulate the economy. House Bill No. 11-30-2S proposes temporarily reopening the PNMS and allowing commercial fishing and even oil exploration as the nation grapples with dwindling resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Palau’s tourism sector, which employs 20 percent of the population, was severely affected by the pandemic.

As of 2021, Palau's GDP had contracted 17. percent due to pandemic-related losses, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The bill says that “foreign fishing agreements brought significant revenue to the Republic,” adding:

By temporarily permitting fishing pursuant to foreign fishing agreements within EEZ, the Republic will bring much-needed revenue for the national and state governments, as well as local vendors and will have a significant positive impact on the economy.

Before the closure, the government received around USD 700,000 per year from fishing licenses through its vessel day scheme (VSD), equaling about USD 40,000 per state. The VSD is an agreement between some Pacific island nations that sets limits on the number of days a fishing vessel can fish in each nation's economic zones and is considered one of the most complex, yet successful, fishing regulations in the world.

Palau receives an average of USD 8 million per year from the VSD.

However, other estimates show that between international conservation and development grants — both money and supplies — Palau has received over USD 70 million so far as a result of the PNMS. This year alone, Palau received USD 1.8 million from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) to help implement the PNMS over a four-year period, according to reporting from the Mariana Variety, Micronesia's leading news outlet.

Environmental cost

The bill was criticized by Palau environmentalists, community elders, and concerned citizens alike. Environment group Ebiil Society initiated an online petition against the bill. The petitioners have a reminder for Palau authorities:

…While it is understood that there is a need to seek ways to bolster our revenue earning capacity, short-term solutions should not jeopardize well thought out long-term policy objectives established for our Republic by the Palauan people.

…We believe there is a multitude of unexplored alternatives resulting in sustainable revenues that return social and environmental gains, that reflects our deep wisdom and connection to the ocean, which has cradled our lives and sustained our culture for many generations.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. acknowledged the petition and responded that the government is offering a solution. He said this to the media:

We want to come up with a solution. So I don’t know if they’re opposing the solution or they’re opposing something else. What we’re doing is providing a solution. So I hope we can all work together to solution that benefits everyone. That’s really the goal. So I think a lot of times we do petitions or we run around doing things being misinformed.

During a public hearing for the bill, House Speaker Sabino Anastacio pointed out that the funds that Palau is entitled to receive from international environment donors are not being used to finance the country’s needs. He added that the state is not aware about how some of the grants given to Palau are being spent by non-profit organizations.

When the money comes, these are non-profit so we don’t see the paperwork. We don’t know how much goes to the [salaries] and where the rest of the money goes.

During the same hearing, some stakeholders asserted that Palau stands to benefit more if the PNMS is maintained.

The hashtag #SaveMySanctuary is used to mobilize online support against the bill.

The Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook page has uploaded several videos featuring Palau residents who want to preserve the PNMS.

Ngatpang Chief and Chairman of Belau Offshore Fisheries, Inc. Rideb Okada Techitong explained how the PNMS was conceived as an application of the indigenous Palau practice of “bul” which prescribes a moratorium on the use of resources to prevent the destruction of a habitat or species.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Dora Benhart, Department of Conservation and Law Enforcement Outreach Officer, warned about how reopening the PNMS will negatively affect the Palau way of life.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Fisherman and Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary board member Adolph Demei recalled how overfishing has caused a decline in Palau’s fisheries which prompted elders to declare a “bul” and led to the establishment of the PNMS.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Ironically, Palau will host the 7th annual “Our Ocean Conference” on April 13–14 as representatives of governments and civil society organizations from around the world will meet and discuss new and significant measures to protect the ocean.

A Perfect Storm for Inflation: COVID, Loose Money, and Putin

by Brian Czech

The current bout of inflation should be no surprise to steady staters. We have national and global ecosystems pushed to the limits by population and economic growth. At the same time, we have monetary authorities and heads of state—neoclassically oblivious to limits—eager to stimulate the economy with loose money. It’s a recipe for inflation.

Gift of inflation.

A simple warning issued in March 2020: full tweet here.

We tweeted all the way back in March 2020 that inflation was coming. If it wasn’t already in the works from COVID-caused supply shocks, President Trump’s fiscal stimulus (CARES Act) put it there. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan came a year later (and one year ago today). These fiscal policies were politically prudent and remedial for many, but they fanned the flames for inflation.

And now we have a two-pronged supply shock emanating from the steppes of Eastern Europe. Russian energy and Ukrainian grain (plus Ukrainian energy and Russian grain) are now sanctioned, restricted, and constricted. The Russian threat also puts even more pressure on NATO countries and Russia to let loose with yet another round of money.

All this creates a perfect storm for an episode of inflation that will be long-lasting and global. If the war in Ukraine spirals further out of control for a protracted period, this inflationary period could become one of the worst in world history. It’s time to take a 21st century look at the fundamentals of inflation, and plan for the storm ahead.

Inflation

Inflation is one of those confounding concepts—a bit like gravity—that is at once easy to understand and subjected to baffling analysis. Fortunately, a perfectly clear and memorable phrase can be used to grasp it: “too much money chasing too few goods.” As such, you tend to know it when you see it. If you’re old enough to buy a beer, you’ve already seen plenty of it.

Three animated dollar bills chasing a runaway shopping cart full of goods.

Too much money chasing too few goods.

Economists distinguish “demand-pull” inflation from “cost-push” inflation. These are two sides of the same coin (so to speak), but the phrase “demand-pull” connotes the “too much money” aspect of inflation, while “cost-push” connotes “too few goods.” Yes, the distinction has a chicken-and-egg aspect: Given either pull or push, inflation is hatched.

Given that “too much money” and “too few goods” are aggregate measures, inflation is a macroeconomic phenomenon, but sometimes sectoral price increases are conflated with inflation per se. If everyone suddenly wants a pet rock, the price increases, but that’s not inflation, demand-pull or otherwise. Similarly, if rocks become harder to find, the price increases, but that’s not inflation, cost-push or otherwise. Consumers can turn to cheaper pet sticks or pet ants, or simply eschew the pet sector entirely. Prices don’t go up across the board. The price of pet rocks is simply a microeconomic phenomenon reflecting the supply and demand thereof.

It makes little sense, then, to talk of inflation exclusively in terms of pet rocks, widgets, or even lumber. It would seem that the proper way to measure inflation would be with a relatively full basket of goods, monitoring the cumulative price over time. That is, in fact, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The BLS doesn’t need to include every single good and service stemming from the thousands of industries identified in the North America Industry Classification System. You might, for example, leave out the pet rocks. Surely, however, you wouldn’t want to omit groceries and gas, would you?

Yet that is precisely what economists at the Federal Reserve do with the curious concept of “core inflation,” which accounts for the prices of most goods and services except food and energy. For ecological economists, “core” sounds like a misnomer when the most essential goods are omitted. The rationale of economists at the Fed is that food and energy prices are more volatile than those of other goods; the core should be more stable. A less volatile core measure is supposed to make things easier for forecasting and goal-setting purposes, but it’s hard not to suspect some kind of political fish lurking in the waters circa 2000, when the Fed adopted the concept.

The notion of a non-volatile inflation metric is a bit like thinking, “When we weigh the patient, let’s not include the fat in the midsection, because that area jiggles around more than the rest of the body.” If it’s not a political red herring, the notion of a foodless, energy-absent core measure of inflation is yet another example of the conventional economics profession overlooking the primacy of the agricultural and energy sectors at the trophic base of the economy.

When you think about inflation, do you think it wise to omit grocery bills and gas prices? I didn’t think so. Neither would moms, car drivers, or eaters. (Have I left anyone out?)

Century of Supply Shock

In this article, “supply shock” takes on two meanings. We have the typical meaning of a sudden and steep decline in the supply of a resource, such as an oil shock resulting from an embargo. Of immediate concern, though, is the absolutely macroeconomic scenario I wrote about in Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution. A suite of essential resources are dwindling rapidly, although unobserved and out of mind for most. Soils, groundwater, sawtimber, fisheries, various minerals, and conventional energy resources become ever scarcer as the global population grows and the stocks of these resources are eroded, compromised, or outright liquidated. We’re entering an era or a century of Supply Shock, corresponding with other labeled periods such as the Anthropocene and Sixth Great Extinction.

Some may argue that, by definition, the ongoing, background declines of natural resources are trends, not shocks. That would be a fair argument if we were talking about one resource, but supply curves across the board are moving inward, and faster by the decade. Soon enough, the cumulative effect will be stunning to generations accustomed to dealing piecemeal with temporary supply issues, such as an oil embargo here or a fishery collapse there.

Furthermore, economists and politicians are still living in a fantasyland, expecting new technologies to save the day. By the nature of their professions, they tend to be older folks who’ve seen many a 20th century problem overcome with new technology. Unfortunately, most of them seem to have little sense that the low-hanging technological and thermodynamic fruits have been picked, leaving the shelves barer and less accessible for this century. The impending wake-up call will be quite a surprise to them, as it will be for the media who cover them.

For the broader public then, which in turn gets its fuzzy understanding of economics from the mainstream media, the combination of widespread shortages and the limitations of technology will suddenly appear overwhelming. People (exceedingly few of whom read outlets such as the Herald) will be wondering, “Why weren’t we hearing about this in advance?” They’ll be shocked.

In other words, while the economy of nature is undergoing its Sixth Great Extinction, the human economy is entering the Century of Supply Shock. The money supply will be chasing fewer goods, and the stage will be consistently set for inflation, just waiting for feckless fiscal and monetary actors.

Fiscal Stimulus

Biden launching the American Rescue Plan.

President Biden touting the American Rescue Plan. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0, Eric Haynes)

Thus far we’ve had three rounds of economic impact payments—aka “stimulus checks”—to buffer the majority of American citizens from the economic impacts of COVID. Direct payments totaling approximately $867 billion have been or will yet be made pursuant to the CARES Act (2020), the Consolidated Appropriations Act (2020), and the American Rescue Plan (2021). $456 billion is somewhat attributable to Trump (who signed the first two bills), and $411 billion to Biden (who signed the American Rescue Plan). The total is not far from a trillion dollars; roughly five percent of American GDP and well over one percent of global GDP.

Where did such a huge sum of money come from? While it’s a little more complicated than this, the money is mostly debt. The CARES Act, for example, was signed by Trump on March 27, 2020, well into the fiscal year, which itself was budgeted for long before COVID-19 was even identified. In other words, the money came out of thin air, much like COVID.

That means we instantly had an inflated money supply, by definition, chasing goods already becoming scarce in the age of Supply Shock. Demand-pull and cost-push forces were already at work, with the depths of the COVID pandemic yet to come. The subsequent two fiscal stimuli packages were more planned and better budgeted, but still “financed” largely by debt, conducive to further inflation.

COVID-Caused Recession

The COVID-caused recession brings us back to the “fewer goods” part of the inflation equation. While COVID-19 triggered an initial wave of positive demand shocks for such home-bound supplies as toilet paper, pasta, and paper towels, negative demand shocks slammed the hospitality, entertainment, and certain retail industries. (Imagine being an airline or a dentist during the depths of the pandemic.)


Sports and entertainment sectors took a heavy hit during the COVID pandemic.

More importantly, virtually all sectors were slowed by supply chain issues resulting from workplace shutdowns and an erosion of the labor force due to covid deaths, illness, and exposure avoidance. The ultimate avoidance tactic was retirement or resignation. Millions of workers—especially the very young and the retirement-eligible—learned they didn’t necessarily need to work. Not when they were receiving stimulus checks while saving the expenses of commuting and parking. The Great Resignation is “still in full swing,” too.

Only higher-income individuals and families weren’t eligible for stimulus checks. That means those who received the checks were fairly dependent upon them for essential goods and basic services; the checks weren’t deposited in savings accounts. The demand for such goods (most notably food) is price-inelastic, too, so the sudden glut of debt-based money was bound to settle into the prices at grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies. That’s demand-pull inflation.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, setting in motion supply shocks at the trophic base of the economy.

The Volatile Mix of Gas and Grain

The relevance of trophic levels in the structure of the economy is about to take center stage in the tragic play called Inflation 2022. Almost one-fourth of the world’s wheat and nearly a third of its barley comes (normally) from the grain belt stretching from western Ukraine through southwestern Russia. Ukraine alone provides about 16 percent of the world’s corn. Significant shares of rye, soybeans, potatoes, vegetable oils (most notably sunflower), and numerous other food staples emanate from this breadbasket of Europe.

Ukrainian agricultural production and transport will be severely challenged by the Russian invasion. The vast majority of wheat in this part of the world is winter wheat; planted in fall and harvested in summer. If the war remains hot into the summer, with most Ukrainian men—and many women as well—occupied with fighting, farming will suffer. Farmers are also facing shortages (high prices) of fertilizers and pesticides at a time when income flows and even basic financial operations will be difficult to maintain. Similar problems will be faced in all of the major Ukrainian agricultural operations. For what surplus might remain, export routes along the Black Sea are cut off.

In addition, Russian commodity exports have been banned, not only by receiving countries but, in retaliation, by Putin himself. That means grain from the USA and Canada, along with lesser grain belts in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, China, India, Australia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey will be needed to feed the world. Wheat and corn prices are already skyrocketing, and supply shocks from the “chernozem” belt of Ukraine/Russia are reverberating into the price points for all cereal grains including rice.

Meanwhile, as steady staters know, money originates from the agricultural surplus that frees the hands for the division of labor unto all other sectors. That’s the trophic theory of money, which links the real (trophically structured) economy with the monetary sector in a manner that makes inflation easier to understand. The trophic theory of money implies that, if agricultural surplus declines, less real money is “authorized.” When the agricultural decline is sudden, as with a pronounced, cereal grain supply shock, the nominal money supply is just as suddenly inflated. And this is precisely the current situation.

In other words, no one should be wishfully thinking that inflation can be confined to the grocery store. All the money in the world—real money that is, adjusted for inflation—stems from agricultural surplus (or more generally, food surplus, which at this point in history is all about cereal grains). This underscores the truly macroeconomic aspect of inflation. It’s not only market forces that reallocate demand into different sectors, spreading price increases along the way. Rather, the money supply—same supply used for all goods and services—is inflated from the moment the agricultural surplus declines. If it takes a little longer for prices of some goods and services to increase, relative to others, the difference can be chalked up to the trophic procession of production from agro/extractive at the base to heavy manufacturing (and rough services) in the middle to light manufacturing (and refined services) at the higher levels. That’s why, in these early stages of the Russian invasion, commodity prices have increased faster than others.

Of course, one such commodity is energy; most notably crude oil and natural gas, supplies of which have also and suddenly been disrupted by the war. These are probably the most widely reported commodities for several important economic, environmental, and geopolitical reasons. I bring them up here primarily to highlight their linkage to agricultural production. Cereal grain production in the chernozem belt has become heavily mechanized, and the trend continues. As if all the other hurdles weren’t enough for Ukraine and Russian grain production and export, rapidly rising fuel prices add further to the cost-push inflationary pressures.

As global leaders, think tanks, and corporations analyze or plan for the future, they may want to pay close attention to the economic effects of the war in Ukraine. We’re learning a painful lesson about how disastrous things can become when we push beyond reason for growth. The planet can only produce so much food, oil, natural gas, and all the other resources. Yes, renewables are coming online for powering electricity grids, but the wheat combines of the Eurasian steppe don’t turn on a dime, and renewables may never cut it for the type of sheer horsepower needed for cultivating the chernozem of Eurasia, North America, or any other grain belt.

The money supply, on the other hand, can become inflated overnight, impacting the lives of billions of people in short order and with long-lasting consequences for families and businesses.

The warning signs are clear now, and they’re not all about the environment. The biggest, newest red flag on the planet is inflation, the dreaded tax-in-effect that hits everyone, everywhere. In the Century of Supply Shock, inflation will always be nipping at our heels, ready to run wild with any agricultural supply shock, ready to run loose with any feckless “stimulus,” fiscal or monetary. It’s yet another warning that we need a new approach: degrowth toward a steady state economy.

Brian Czech, Executive Director of CASSEBrian Czech is the executive director at CASSE.

The post A Perfect Storm for Inflation: COVID, Loose Money, and Putin appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Ukraine: Putin’s Lebensraum

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/02/2022 - 3:48am in
by Brian Czech

People tend to think of Russia as a wide-open country with plenty of space for economic growth. While it may take days to ride the trans-Siberian railway, any notion of an empty Russia is as antiquated as Dr. Zhivago. European Russia, especially, has been cultivated, harvested, logged, mined, fished, and “developed” to the gills with roads, bridges, railways, power lines, pipelines, grids, towers, cables, dams, and canals connecting every industry under the sun to thousands of towns and cities plus tens of thousands of villages. Pollution problems abound. Such overdevelopment is due in no small part to the Cold War aspirations of the Soviet Union, which tried to defeat the USA on the scoreboard of GDP.

Scenes of Russia's environmental degradation.

Moscow (upper left) and some of its ecological toeprints. (Clockwise from upper left: CC BY-SA 4.0, Axelspace Corporation; CC BY 3.0, Senin Roman; CC BY-SA 3.0, Loranchet; CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, Jean-Daniel Paris)

Given the overdevelopment of Russia, the practical motives of Putin vis-à-vis Ukraine surely include the rich soils (“chernozem”) and grain-belt climate of the steppes comprising Russia’s western doorstep. With the breadbasket landscape of Ukraine and a capitalist mode of production, Russia would become a bona fide superpower on the order of the Soviet Union; Putin’s dream come true.

Those forementioned villages, however, are dying out as fast as small farms in the American Midwest, and for the same basic reason. They’re being pushed out, literally and economically, by industrial agricultural operations, as Russia’s grain exports have exploded to a level approximately twenty times over the past two decades. The agricultural community knows this and intelligence agencies know it, but the general public (especially in the USA) remains oblivious to it, because the mainstream media consistently overlooks it.

This is not to imply that Ukrainian agricultural potential is the #1 reason Putin wants Ukraine, whether in whole or under control. NATO geopolitics gets the most attention, as it probably should, along with Putin’s documented desire for a return to Soviet-era Russian control in Eastern Europe. Yet it would be naïve to think Ukraine’s world-class agricultural productivity and potential is of no concern to Putin, regardless of how much agriculture is already on Russian soil. That would be to overlook history and the role of agriculture in the geopolitical affairs of Europe.

Lebensraum: The Underused World War II Metaphor

Usually when an autocrat rears his ugly head, the overused metaphor of Hitler is trotted out, often as a fallacious reductio ad Hitlerum. Vladimir Putin gets his share of comparison. However legitimate the personal parallels may be between Putin and Hitler (especially a searing sense of national humiliation), the focus here is on the most overlooked geopolitical parallel: that between Nazi Germany and today’s Russia.

A bread line in Germany, early 1900s

Germans in bread lines, circa 1920.

By the late 1930s, the Third Reich was running out of space for the economic growth it needed not only for World War I reparations, but for building a modern war machine. It wasn’t space for military industrial activity that was in short supply; rather, it was space for the civilian population to live and prosper in. What the Fatherland needed was more room for the children: more living room for Germans, more “lebensraum.” And the type of lebensraum it especially needed—for the sake of prospering economically and socially—was agricultural lebensraum.

History students learn about the hyperinflation that fanned the flames of Hitler’s rhetoric and doomed the Weimar Republic. Monetary and fiscal policies played a role—and certainly bank failures—but those iconic images of Germans waiting in lines for single loaves of bread reflect the supply side, too. Bread was scarce because grain (other than rye) was scarce; grain was scarce because, per capita, agricultural lebensraum was scarce. As Elizabeth Collingham stated in an interview for the Herald, “Food and agricultural concerns played a fundamental role not only in the origins of World War II but in the ongoing strategies and tactics of the German Reich.”

If you’re wondering who Elizabeth Collingham is, it will be my pleasure to introduce her.

The Road to War Starts with Appetite

A particular take on limits to growth, along the lines of Jared Diamond’s, for example, will lead you to interpret world affairs in terms of the waxing and waning of agricultural surplus. In 2014, I roughly interpreted the doctrine of Lebensraum through such a lens, including with a tenuous connection to Putin and Ukraine. The unfolding events in Ukraine lead to a renewed interest in this connection, and bring us naturally to the history writings of “Lizzie” Collingham.

The cover of The Taste of War by Lizzie Collingham.

The Taste of War: A history book with growing relevance. (Penguin Random House)

Collingham’s scholarship has been overlooked, most notably The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food. Not that I’m the authority on what is and what’s not overlooked; after all, Taste of War was a New York Times “notable book.” Yet if it wasn’t overlooked, it must have been “underlooked,” because we see next to nothing in the mainstream media about Ukraine’s agricultural productivity as a motive for Putin invading far further than the “smart” money bet (that is, no further than Donbas and Crimea).

Evidently the media reflects the limitations of geopolitical think tanks such as The Atlantic Council, who could benefit from a little less neoclassical economics and a little more steady-state economics, plus a reading of Collingham. Steady-state economics provides the theoretical background on limits to growth and the need for a steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth. The key implication for national security and international stability is that the aggressive pursuit of economic growth inevitably leads to war.

In Taste of War, Collingham builds upon that theoretical background (not intentionally, but effectively) with compelling empirical evidence for the primacy of agricultural surplus in economic welfare, as extended to national security concerns. She details the nexus between food and strategy in domestic policy and in military operations. For the Nazis, starving hundreds of thousands of “useless eaters” in Europe—not just in concentration camps but out on the lebensraum—was a conscious decision pursuant to a detailed strategy, the ominously named “Hungerplan.” The Hunger Plan, overseen by Herbert Backe, the Nazi’s Minister of Food, was designed especially to starve enemy forces while feeding their own along the front.

When I asked Collingham what she thought of the parallels to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, she was unequivocal. “People of the West are amazingly unaware of the importance of Ukraine to Russia,” she opined, “not only as a strategic location on the map of Europe but as the main competitor and potential contributor to Russian grain production.” I’m guessing that applies especially to Americans, not only because they’re the furthest west, but because their economic education is most dominated by neoclassical economics, which seems blind to limits to growth and the primacy of agricultural production in maintaining national and global economies.

Collingham didn’t go so far as to label Putin’s invasion the second coming of Lebensraum doctrine, yet perhaps the biggest difference is the cardinal direction. It’s a type of lebensraum doctrine alright, coming from the east instead of the west. While Russia may not have a Nazi-style Hungerplan, Russia does have its own legacy of starving Ukrainians, when they were part of the Soviet Union no less.

You Can’t Eat Gas

The conventional assumption that Putin cares little about Ukraine grain stems in part from the stranglehold he has on the European energy sector. The notion seems to be, “Why would Putin care about farm commodities when he holds the keys to the gas pumps?” Unfortunately, this ignores Putin’s documented concern about food production.

Furthermore, from a theoretical and strategic standpoint, Putin the Practical must have a sense that the energy sector is a bit like the information sector: it’s worthless unto itself. To put this point most profoundly, “You can’t eat gas.” If the gas and oil isn’t fueling the other economic sectors—starting with the agricultural sector—what’s it good for? Lubricating horse-drawn carts?

Portrait of Herbert Backe.

Overlooked evil: Herbert Backe, overseer of der Hungerplan. (CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Nor is it good for fueling heavy manufacturing, light manufacturing, or a power grid for the service sectors, unless the agricultural sector is fueled first. No food, no activity; little food, little activity. In fact, it takes a lot of food to free up enough labor into a full-fledged, well-developed economy. It takes, in other words, a well-oiled (so to speak) agricultural sector.

Agricultural surplus allows for the other sectors to develop and “authorizes” the exchanging of money. In that very real sense, agricultural surplus generates all the money in the world. That’s the trophic theory of money in a nutshell. It helps us understand Lenin’s statement that “grain is the currency of currencies.” It also helps us understand why the obsession of Hitler with Russian oil fields in the Caucasus wasn’t all about fueling tanks for the Wehrmacht and planes for the Luftwaffe.

As Collingham describes in Taste of War, the Nazis needed fuel for farm tractors and for trucks to transport grain. The Hunger Plan was on a fast track, with German civilians and soldiers taking over the Polish and Ukrainian farms and fields. Backe and his fellow bureaucrats had calculated that this was the only way the Wehrmacht could prevail in Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union). Not only would the Nazis have to feed themselves, they’d have to choke off the Red Army’s grain supplies.

Evidently the proportion of Caucasus petroleum going to Nazi agriculture was slated to be roughly 30-40 percent. While the Wehrmacht captured some Caucasus areas and oilfields, it was under constant attack by Red Army forces. It never secured them sufficiently to follow through with transporting oil back to the front further north, much less farms to the northwest. The Soviet pushback in the Caucasus was as pivotal a point as any other in World War II.

Does anyone think Putin, as calculating as he is, doesn’t understand the durable, double-barreled power of oil and agriculture? Does anyone still think Putin, as ruthless as he is, won’t take as much of Ukraine as he can capture? His infamous spite may extend even further back than the collapse of the Soviet Union; he could harbor a defensive if not vindictive attitude over the catastrophic Russian losses from Operation Barbarossa.

Putin’s motives aside, one thing is especially relevant for the intelligence community, statesmen, and diplomats: At this point in history, war is inevitable as long as nations are determined to grow their economies. Economic growth starts at the trophic base; that is, with agricultural surplus. In other words, a bigger economy requires more lebensraum.

What does that make peace, then, in economic terms?

Brian Czech, Executive Director of CASSEBrian Czech is CASSE’s executive director.

The post Ukraine: Putin’s Lebensraum appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Concerned Faculty Letter to UCSB Chancellor and Senate Chair on Munger Hall

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 5:52am in

Tags 

governance

Date: November 23, 2021 

To: Susannah Scott, Academic Senate Chair, UCSB 

Henry Yang, Chancellor, UCSB 

Cc: Michael V. Drake, UC President 

Cecilia Estolano, Chair, UC Board of Regents 

Robert Horwitz, Chair, UC Academic Senate 

From: Concerned UCSB Senate Faculty 

Re: The planning of Munger Hall at UCSB 

The UCSB Academic Senate Town Hall Meeting, “Faculty Questions on the Munger Hall Project,” held on November 15, 2021, intensified pervasive and significant concerns about 

(a) UCSB administration’s lack of response to fundamental questions about student well-being related to the Munger Hall project, including concerns about mental health, physical safety, security, and accessibility; 

(b) student housing options on campus and future housing projects; 

(c) building funding, planning and construction processes at UCSB; 

(d) abrogation of the right of faculty shared governance; 

(e) the impact of these decisions on UCSB’s stated commitment to social justice and equity; 

(f) UCSB administration’s failure to adequately take into account and address the opinion of experts in architectural design and rethink the design to ensure student well-being. 

To elaborate:

On the Design of Munger Hall: A broad swath of architectural design and housing experts both within and outside the university have criticized the design. Among its many problems we call particular attention to: (i) lack of natural light and ventilation—particularly the absence of openable windows; (ii) floor plan that reveals poor organization of space at the scale of the rooms, the suites, and the entire floor space at each level; (iii) inadequate thought given to student accommodation and well-being, given what we know about virus transmission, quarantine, and recovery in situations such as COVID-19; (iv) poor wayfinding and evacuation plans that would greatly endanger students in fires, earthquakes and other disasters; (v) massing and volume; (vi) environmental sustainability. 

We, the faculty, are gravely concerned by these issues, and we urge the UCSB administration, including Chancellor Yang, to address openly, explicitly and responsibly the many questions regarding the current design’s impact on the safety, security and mental well-being of the students. These fundamental questions were not answered at the November 15 Town Hall meeting and we urge the administration to answer them now. 

On Due Process: A key reason for the current state of affairs is that the usual design review process that has governed campus construction over the last 30 years was bypassed. The request-for-proposal stage of the design review process was ignored, thereby eliminating potential competition to Munger’s design. When the design review committee and its panel of architects were asked to comment, their views were not adequately taken into account. 

We have two options to move forward: 

1. Stop the plans. Begin the entire design process again following the established procedures of the design review committee. 

2. Halt the process and modify the plans. Consider the advice of a joint committee of experts on design, health and safety, drawn from both outside and inside UCSB, including Academic Senate Members and student representatives. The UCSB Academic Senate must have a say in the composition of such a panel of experts, the issues they will be asked to consider, and the way in which their recommendations would be implemented. 

We wish to send a clear message to the Chancellor, UC Office of the President, the UC Board of Regents, and the donor, that we will not accept inequitable and unsafe options for student housing. 

While we recognize the measures that must be taken to resolve the immediate housing crisis, we call on UCSB to democratically and transparently develop a long-range housing plan that ensures safety, affordability, community responsibility, and environmental sustainability for students, faculty, and staff. Not only does UCSB have a responsibility in this regard, but so do the President of the University and the UC Board of Regents. 

Sincerely, Concerned UCSB Senate Faculty, including, 

Constance Penley 

Swati Chattopadhyay 

Laurie Monahan 

Eileen Boris 

Dominique Jullien 

Bishnupriya Ghosh 

Lisa Hajjar 

Jeffrey Stopple 

Bassam Bamieh 

John Majewski Richard Wittman 

Ann Bermingham 

Michael Curtin 

Ann Jensen Adams 

Omer Egecioglu 

Mark A. Meadow 

Harold Marcuse 

Catherine L. Albanese 

Heather Badamo 

Sabine Frühstück 

William Robinson 

Barbara Herr Harthorn 

Herbert M. Cole 

David White 

Steven Gaulin 

Bhaskar Sarkar 

Kip Fulbeck 

Barbara A. Holdrege 

William Elison 

Kate McDonald 

Christina Vagt 

Juan E. Campo 

Arpit Gupta 

Julie Carlson 

Elisabeth Weber 

Stephan Miescher 

Jenni Sorkin 

Janet Walker 

Kevin B. Anderson 

Nancy Gallagher 

Aazam Feiz 

Hilary Bernstein 

Wolf Kittler 

John S. W. Park 

Silvia Bermudez 

Sara Pankenier Weld 

Marko Peljhan 

Jorge Castillo 

Jill Levine 

Evelyn Reder 

Kim Yasuda 

Erika Rappaport 

James Frew 

Janet Afary 

Fabio Rambelli 

Amr El Abbadi 

Giuliana Perrone 

Salim Yaqub 

Elena Aronova 

Cristina Venegas 

Stuart Tyson Smith 

Phill Conrad 

Volker M. Welter 

Adrienne Edgar 

Joseph Blankholm 

Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi 

Catherine Nesci 

John W. I. Lee 

Sylvester O. Ogbechie 

Daniel Masterson 

Grace Chang 

Daniel Reeve 

Enda Duffy 

Roberta L. Rudnick 

Leroy Laverman 

Walid Afifi 

Iman Djouini 

Cherrie Moraga 

Dorota Dutsch 

Mark Maslan 

Charmaine Chua 

Roberto Strongman 

Amrah Salomón J. 

Ralph Armbruster Sandoval 

Carlos J. Garcia-Cervera 

Darren Long 

Sharon Tettegah 

Aashish Mehta 

Kaustav Banerjee 

Miroslava Chavez-Garcia 

Helen Morales 

Casey Walsh 

Terrance Wooten 

Birge Huisgen-Zimmermann 

Felice Blake 

Juan Cobo Betancourt 

Mario Garcia 

Scott Marcus 

Ingrid Banks 

Jody Enders 

Nelson Lichtenstein 

France Winddance Twine 

Lisa Jevbratt 

Ellen McCracken 

Juan Pablo Lupi 

Gisela Kommerell 

Edwina Barvosa 

Jeremy Douglass 

Valentina L. Padula 

Mayfair Yang 

Harvey Molotch 

Sven Spieker 

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