I’m Deeply Concerned About Our Addiction To Debt

Came across this article yesterday:

Americans Feast on Debt

Of particular concern:

  • Debt is reaching new highs: “total household debt achieved a new peak in the first quarter of 2017, rising by $149 billion to $12.73 trillion-$50 billion above the previous peak reached in the third quarter of 2008”

Now, I’ve also read some pieces about the effectiveness of various policies in convincing people to incur more debt. I am left to wonder, as I was back about a decade ago, at what point does all this collapse? There comes a point where servicing debt load consumes all available income. Or, in the case of a sudden economic shift, drops below and things fail.

America currently only is able to see as far as the next quarterly earnings report, if that far. Our lack of vision and inability to see citizens as people instead of just consumers to exploit, helps drive this phenomena further.

At some point, we need to step away from a consumer-driven economy. It is not sustainable, and is only going to cause long-term pain and, for many, calamity. We’ll need to learn, as people, as individuals, to value things other than purchases. Don’t use shopping to alleviate boredom, or loneliness, or…. We need to balance spending with saving, find value in something other than things, than accumulated stuff.

Let’s not wait for policies to incentivize savings. Nor for marketing campaigns. Here’s the time to innovate, for ourselves and for our families. Perhaps, by making long-term thinking cool, we can truly change the world.

Living Shoreline: How Nature Can Help Us Beat Back Rising Seas

The good folks over at Grist put this video together. There are some great ideas here. Often, the best ideas are pretty straightforward.

Considering Sustainability

Sustainability has been a significant part of my journey for years. Perhaps the most obvious element was my time at Starbucks working in environmental affairs, but that’s really only a piece. Also, my time with the Episcopal Church, where I interacted closely with the Earth Ministry greatly expanding my learning. Just two of the more significant parts of my life. I’ve been exploring this idea for decades.

My goal is greater than just understanding sustainability, but finding ways to live it. Really, defining it is the easy part. It’s living it that’s tough. I’m paraphrasing my friends Brian and Mary Natrass with this definition: a sustainable society is one that takes no more then it returns to the ecosystem. Balance. And though the term “sustainble” gets thrown about a great deal nowadays, I’m not aware of any element or system in modern society that meets that description. Our consumer economy is, actually, the exact opposite. Continued exploitation returns nothing to our systems. Single use and dispose fails, too. There’s so much opportunity to progress and grow.

All may be distressing, but not cause for despair. Humans are highly adaptable. We will adjust and survive. My goal is for something beyond survival. Rather, thriving; with a new definition of thriving. That what I shall explore now.

Changing the World Through Design

A couple of months back I stumbled upon the Design Matters podcast. I’d utilize my commute to explore new and interesting ideas, and this is one that resonated well. Then my FM transmitter (which was how I played my podcast through the Prius’ radio [no aux jack in my Prius…a 2005…none…in 2005 <wish I could all-cap 2005 here>…] died. I fell behind while I made my way through the holidays lacking one (I’ve been told that my propensity to buy stuff I need makes me a hard gift-shopper-for during the holidays. I really do try to be amenable to generosity).

Currently, I’ve made my way back to November 2013 and have now discovered Dawn Hancock. Her blending of design, sustainability, social entrepreneurship just sings to me. One key thing driven home during my time at Starbucks: the power of these inter-related themes. This is transformative, and a key part of deep innovative thinking.

She was a TEDx Speaker in 2010 (Chicago). Here’s the video. Enjoy!

OTIS Green Mountain College Design Build

I love innovative design. Besides the sustainability elements, I think it’s quite ascetically pleasing. 

Exploring GMOs Deeper

I was recently engaged in an online debate about sexual shaming as a response to “disagreement”, or a dislike for reporting. In the discussion, the focus, Amy Harmon with the NYTimes asked me to look at her GMO story with fresh eyes. And so I tired.

A bit of background is important at this point. I have years of experience on the “con” side of this issue. I’ve worked in environmental affairs, been involved with myriad environmental action groups; hell, I drive a Prius. And I’ve read over the years the stories about increased cancer risk, Monstanto’s seed police, contaminated soils, and myriad other concerns. Yet I also recognize science evolves, that what we understand about any particular subject gathers more information, different analyses; that the scientific consensus may change. Plus, I’m willing to admit that I am often within an political echo-chamber, where truly hearing other voices can be rather difficult.

With that, I decided to read the article with as open a mind as I can muster. Ms. Harmon does a great job providing in-depth research that challenges my mindset. But, also, I see that this issue is a giant, freakin’ muddle. I’ve spent a little time digging, exploring and counter-exploring. The main thing I’ve learned at this point: this is no easy project. I found this quote over at Nature perfect:

People are positively swimming in information about GM technologies. Much of it is wrong — on both sides of the debate. But a lot of this incorrect information is sophisticated, backed by legitimate-sounding research and written with certitude. (With GM crops, a good gauge of a statement’s fallacy is the conviction with which it is delivered.)

I found another writer looking to make sense of all of this, over with my friends at Grist,  Nathanael Johnson. He started a series on GMO foods, starting with “The genetically modified food debate: Where do we begin?” If you have an interest in this subject, I suggest you give the series a read.

I intend to continue my dive into this.  Feel free to follow my reading via my Delicious account. This will serve as something of a bibliography on the matter for me. As of right now, my brain is full. And, ultimately, I really want to do the subject justice.

Tom Perkins, Income Inequality, And Engaging With The Public

I groaned when I saw this come through my Twitter feed:

Jumping straight to the Nazi/Hitler comparison’s really streamlines the descent to trollish online discussion. No need to wade through all that high-falutin, intellectual discussion; jump straight to the trash talk! Weak rhetorical technique, I’m afraid. I won’t bother with deconstructing the analogy Mr. Perkins presents, Tim Fernholz did a good job at that on Quartz. I do, however, want to explore the main point: the growing discontent at our income disparity.

Mr. Perkins statement brings to mind a misconception that’s paralyzing the income inequality debate. “You’re just jealous of our success”, generally rattled off defensively. Now I’ve grown weary of this. It’s simply knee-jerk defensive justification that serves no purpose. Simply, it’s folks’ like Mr. Perkins way to avoid dealing with the larger issue. And, of course, the role they play both in the causality of the situation and any solution.

There is a growing groundswell of discontent at the ever widening income disparity gap. From the Occupy Movement to efforts to raise the minimum wage, we’re seeing a populist swelling of “dislike” for the current status quo. There are a number of articles on the subject of the income disparity between CEO and Average Worker pay, some stating it’s as much as 400 times more.  But let’s take a more conservative number, From Bloomberg, “Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204…”. What’s more telling, though is that this is growing, “…up 20 percent since 2009”. Economic growth is concentrating in the hands of a very few, while the work is done more broadly. That’s the root of the discontent. And, with that, I don’t feel there’s a great demand for a Robin Hood-eque income reallocation. To take the campaign to raise the minimum wage as an example, the statement really is that more of the profit from that burger (or whatever minimum wage product is being produced) needs to go the cook, and less to the CEO (and other executives) of burger company X.

Personally, I have no issue with some income differential. And I imagine that most people in the US, at least, don’t. However, there comes a point when the rewards of work and initiative are not shared justly that people rebel. It looks like people are feeling these rates are exploitive, and hence morally reprehensible. That’s, ultimately, what needs to be addressed. Whining that progressives aren’t being nice to you adds nothing the debate, and, actually, makes the 1% look crass and uncaring. Mr. Perkins’ op-ed comes across as a temper-tantrum, which is sad. The larger, and more critical, debate will now be lost in the Twitter backlash. At least, for now.

Thoughts on Capitalism

Can capitalism respond to our various global crisises?  Can it respond to global warming, income gaps, etc? Or is it’s very nature corrosive? By us all being competitors, does that destroy out ability to collaborate? Or are we able to find that third way, a path where we’re all equal, not undercutting and seeking for everyone to benefit? Is there a way for win-win to be globalized, scaled across cultures, countries, et al? 

Food and Food Systems

I just finished “The Wisdom of the Radish“, by Lynda Hopkins. Once working in business practices and environmental affairs for a large coffee company in Seattle, sustainability is part of my ethos. Thus, this work connected with me. Additionally, I have been reflecting on our food system. Concerned with how much poverty one finds interwoven; about the “additives” into our food system, enabling us to transfer food across the globe, wondering if that’s good or ill; and about our ability to sustain the rapidly growing population on this planet. I must write about such soon.

A different type of insight than you get from Michael Pollan’s works, yet still very insightful. Lynda’s book takes you into the mind of the farmer, one trying to implement sustainable and humane practices. For a nerd like myself, I enjoy the deeper dives into practices and issues they face. The poet in me delights in her stories, word style and structure and wit.

If you are a fan of farmer’s markets, care about ways to make our food system more sustainable, then you should block time to read this. Local farming will take on a new look, and respect.

*You can read my Amazon review for this one here.

Sustainable Computing Systems

A few years back, I came up with a project that sounded fun: build a Linux system focused on older hardware. It pained me to see operational machines made non-functional simply due to software-side demands. Wasteful. Now, though, I’m not convinced of it’s practicality. Is the problem with the older machines simply due to OS creep, or could the OS expansion be due to user demand?

Most users have increased their demands on their machines. So many Internet apps, for instance, are video and image rich. An older machine, even with a lean OS, will still be taxed by the demands of Flash, et al. My goals would only be realized by refining all the apps, too. Then those those refinements would ripple back to the mainstream systems, giving them performance gains. Upon which new apps would be built utilizing the freed resources. Thus, everything would revert back to the previous state. Assuming, of course, that I was able to overcome such other challenges as security.

So, how do I look at my original goal, now? I’m refining my vision. My concern was waste. How do we maximize these obsolete systems? Perhaps we could look at a more basic level. Look at the computer as a series of pieces, then apply the cradle-to-cradle lifecycle approach. Perhaps dissembling the machines and returning those components to the manufacturing stream.

A truly sustainable economy has zero waste. Every item, at the end of it’s life becomes a building block for something new. That’s my underlying vision. The task is both simple and massive.