Outsourcing morality

We offer only a small thought or ‘re-framing’ this month.

One of the things the modern world has done is to outsource morality to the price system. Because we in the United States can afford to consume 22 barrels of oil a year per capita (plus natural gas, plus coal, plus our share of the fossil carbon inputs in products we import, minus a similar accounting for exports), we assume that it is okay. But it’s not okay: it’s deeply problematic.

We should be honest enough to acknowledge what is happening, even if there is no clear path available for slowing down the runaway train.


Coming of age

If you’re fond of English novels of a certain period, you may have encountered the theme of the young man who inherits property while still under the age of 21. Typically, he will not actually assume full control until his coming-of-age: the property itself will be managed by trustees, who will pay him the income while keeping the principal safe. (If the heir is a woman, all too often her property will remain in trust until she marries: sexism at work.)

On turning 21, the heir is supposed to be mature enough to have control of the property, but if he is prudent he will still hold fast to the maxim “Don’t spend principal.” The way to preserve a comfortable middle-class lifestyle is to live within one’s income.

Homo sapiens has inherited (or at least laid claim to) a huge store of carbon and hydrocarbons, the product of many million years of photosynthesis, reduced to concentrated form by geological forces. But we haven’t behaved like prudent heirs. We have squandered this wealth on current consumption that we should have been paying for out of our (solar) income.

It’s time to turn 21, or the last volume of the novel will be seriously depressing.

Welcome to Tikkun conference participants

A short post to welcome anyone who hears about this site at the Tikkun 30th anniversary celebration and conference, happening this weekend in Berkeley, CA. There is a great deal of high quality analysis and aspirational strategy at www.tikkun.org; we will post links to specific documents when we have time.

The premise of turn21.org is that it is high time for as many human beings as possible to ‘put aside childish things’ and, metaphorically, ‘turn 21’. Some may choose to use the 21st of each month as a day to bring this to mind and, more importantly, a day to strive to educate others (sort of like Earth Day, but twelve times a year).

Turning 21 means living in the real world, however painful: recognizing how different reality is from the stories we’ve been telling each other over the last few decades. Here are the two main features of reality that most people fail to recognize:

[1] Civilization as we know it today is entirely dependent on a depleting, and polluting, resource: fossil carbon and hydrocarbons. Economic growth will not continue much longer, because it cannot. We will enter a ‘time of troubles’ such as the world has never seen on this scale.

[2] Collective action – shared sacrifice – offers the best hope for getting through this period. So we somehow need to recover a feeling that government is ‘us’, not ‘them’. And the first step, for those of us in the United States, is to recognize that the institutions bequeathed to us by the Constitution and subsequent tradition have proved to be complete disasters. We need a ‘democracy movement’ just as much as any country.

Site work ahead

Over the course of the next month or two we intend to rebuild this website in the form of many (mostly) small pages, heavily interlinked, which will attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of what you need to know to be a responsible human in the 21st century. Allies are hard at work on a book, to appear (probably both online and in print form) sometime within the next ten months, which will tell the story more colorfully and in much greater depth, and when that effort reaches fruition we will publicize it and create links as appropriate.

After the rebuild, blog-type posting will largely cease, and it will be up to you to use the turn21 concept (actions taken on the 21st of the month), or any other strategy that works better for you, to spread the knowledge of where we, and the other species that share the planet with us, are headed.

Perspective: Three Brilliant Short Videos

Evolution, which tends to build organisms that are “just good enough” to get by, has left us ill-equipped to deal with spans of time longer than a human lifetime. We need some help in this visualization exercise, and help is just a click, or three clicks, away.

First up, this 3-minute animation maps the 4.54 billion year history of our planet onto a great circle arc from Los Angeles to New York City. Hat tip to Rob for this one!

Next, Population Connection brings us this 5.5-minute video with a dramatic rendering of the last 2000 years of human population growth.

And finally, 300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds talks and sketches us through the last 200 years of our incredible journey—the industrial revolution—and asks us to think about what’s next. Created by Post Carbon Institute.