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I feel that what we are arguing about is similar to how passengers of a slowing down, malfunctioning car argue about which way and what speed they should drive on, but when they look under the bonnet they find that they lost the engine.

Unfortunately today no political or financial leader dares to look under the bonnet, or even if they looked they do not dare to speak about what they found, because they only care about re-elections, or short term effects.

So they try to push the car with all their might and tricks but it cannot be restarted again.

We are continually arguing about how to resuscitate an economic model that has run its course and became dysfunctional for multiple reason, and all those reasons are reinforcing each other making any superficial adjustment impossible.

Both stimulus packages and austerity is based on the belief that we only need temporary adjustments until growth will restart again as if we were in a cyclical process. But this is not a crisis or depression but a system failure as some distinguished experts stated it before on this very forum.

All the bubbles based on the the unnecessary, vastly beyond necessity consumption fuelled by vastly over the capabilities credit, in a closed finite system where constant growth is impossible, producing mostly goods we simply do not need and which are mostly harmful are bursting now one after the other, the seams of our present social and political system (regardless of country or culture) which was created to serve the disproportional profit hoarding and distribution is coming apart.

There are no simple solutions, there is no overnight fix. Our present way of life is falling apart, what we need to concentrate on is how to shorten, and “sweeten” the transitional period, and what we build after.

In this respect austerity is better as at least by not running ahead blindly we are not causing even more problems, and deeper crisis according to the saying “if you do not know where you are going, it is better to sit and do nothing”.

Before we plan or move any further we have to study this global, integral and totally interdependent network we evolved into, and then build new social, political and economical strtuctures based on factual and objective knowledge which is mostly already available around us.

The new world will be based on necessities and available resources instead of false hopes and fabrications, and since we are all interconnected within the same system everything we do will be based on mutuality and true equality which in turn is based on the consideration and acknowledgment of everybody’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

from Zsolt comment in this commentary.

Debt forgiveness here really involves a whole-scale transformation about how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Honoring our debt to nature means that we recognize our pursuit of happiness depends upon our physical sustenance. This will require comprehensive education, re-grounding in natural experience, and recommitment to simple living to pay down the massive debt of ignorant living to which we have grown accustomed.

It will call for an evolution of ideas of the good life that move from physical manufacturing, use, and exploitation of the material world, to one where the material world provides only the bare support needed to explore, expand, and develop our increasingly non-material opportunities and aspirations. I personally find this a heartening and exciting direction, but many are likely to view it as a step down. This will be one of the most important global conversations in the next century.


One of the greatest barriers to enacting alternatives is getting over the false idea that debt is some kind of either natural phenomenon or moral law. Debt is not natural; it is created by humans and can be erased by humans. There is nothing moral about a nation running up its children’s national credit card to the tune of 15 trillion dollars (with another 100 trillion+ in federal entitlements) and expecting the next generation to pay it. Nor is it morally reasonable to expect individual people, who have worked hard and followed the economic rules, to suffer with life-long debt servitude for mid-game changes in the rules and shifts in the global context.

In point of fact, our current “sea” of international debt is merely a very large man-made lake, damned up by ignorance, greed, and exploitation. The only healthy way to manage current debt is to drain this lake completely through debt forgiveness. It is time to take down the dam and let democratic prosperity flow. True, people will not get their individual material dreams and hopes of unlimited riches fulfilled, but they will take important steps toward preventing a war of humanity against itself, and they will be able to engage new opportunities and definitions of the good life involving working together creatively to build a better, more just world.

Instead of the old dream where we impose static past fantasies on a dynamic future, we can embrace a new dream where we create, explore, express, unfold, and reinvent who we are and what we can be through shared, interactive achievement and improvement. The old economic system based on scarcity and false security is thus converted toward new ends—freedom, health, quality of life, creativity, autonomy, and mutuality.

In pursuing this progress in jubilee, we go a long way to clearing out our past entrapments, inequities, and animosities. We also wisely devote our shrinking material resources toward developing a widely shared and exchanged, mostly non-material, experiential and social currency that multiplies in abundance and increases in value the more it is shared.

from this financial commentary.

Also one quote for thought:

Global youth are much interconnected and cooperative.

With God who needs math or physics?

If we go the God path rather than the science path it will get very ugly.

from Tankingthinker’s comment in The Oil Drum.

Also see this post.

This is a test for scientific thinking, a test for what our education have achieved. Have they overcome our tendency to ideology/faith/emotion? Have they strengthened our scientific thinking / critical thinking / reasoning / wisdom enough?

What is the percentage of scientific thinking people in our total global population? What is the percentage of people consider themselves as global citizens in such a globalized/interconnected world today? The larger the percentage, the larger the chance.

One of the most valuable things, and very easy to forget, is relationship. Social cohesion of the global society is a key stock, on a par with physical capital stock and natural resource and sink capacity. Just like damage of nature will affect the economy, damage of society will also affect the economy. Changes in each of them will change the other two significantly. Unfortunately, the invisible property of social relation compared to the other two makes it easy to be forgotten (and thus vulnerable).

It is a bit like Morale in an organization. Hidden, but important to survival of the organization.

Social cohesion is strongly affected by distribution (relative wealth). Wider and wider rich-poor gap (rich gets richer) hurts social relation; decreasing the gap so that weaker people can survive strengthens social cohesion. The problem of current system is that it does not internalize 2 major externalities enough – nature/environment and society/politics. There is social capital but it is not yet defined and entered the mainstream.

The social cost will need to be paid by one day. Society with low social cohesion is very vulnerable to shock. Conflicts make it even weaker. Survivalist who is aware of the crisis but just prepare for himself or his family is likely failed to survive because lack of community support. Human is social animal, don’t underestimate the importance of society.

Of course, it needs not be the case of collapse if we value the cohesion of global society. In this age of globalization, we are actually very interconnected and inter-dependent. We now have the common future (命运共同体).

Currently global community is dominated by international and inter-MNC (multinational corporation) relationship. These are very fragile and better be diversified to many types of relationship, such as inter-regions, inter-cities, inter-NGO and even inter-individual among different nations. The creation of internet and social networking web services is actually opportunity for sustainability, if we know how to utilize them.

Note: When measuring social relation, consider quality besides quantity. Various metrics in social network analysis may be helpful.

Just aware of these four laws:

  1. Everything is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.

  2. Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.

  3. Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system.”

  4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch / Nothing comes from nothing. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

I am not certain that de-automation is the only way to go, but it seems inevitable, to solve both huge young unemployed populations and peak cheap oil problems. Either we do it proactively or be forced by it. To do it, migration barrier needs to relaxed so that huge young unemployed populations in the trapped Least Developed Countries can find jobs elsewhere and this may allow them to escape the poverty trap.

The obstacle of this policy, as European Union demonstrates, is culture (includes language and religion). While the globe is more and more interconnected to share the common fate, people’s ethnic group mentality is still slow to change. This is probably the root of the collapse, if any.

There are several good points about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in this paper:

  • the notion of linking knowledge, values, perspectives, and skills/bahaviour (the head, the heart, the hands)… It [ESD] must connect the head to the heart to the hands [I would rephrase it as “connect the heart (value) to the head (reasoning, knowledge) to the hands (action)”].
  • Ultimately the benefit [effectiveness] of ESD must be measured in terms of change behaviour.
  • Education is not sufficient, but it is certainly necessary… reject the notion that either we educate or we use regulation and economic policy instruments.
  • [Some discussions about funding and political setback. It seems to me that the top-down approach of UN Decade for ESD failed to create sustainable commitment to ESD in individual nation or local level. Some things to do.]
  • It would be serious error to ignore the profound shifts in culture and social structure that are already underway in all parts of the globe. [People tends to overlook culture/paradigm shift because it is invisible / less salient, although the accumulation is ongoing and will create surprise when it is large enough to create visible shift to new state. So actually what we educators do is to keep accumulation, speed up the accumulation.]

His presentation is also inspiring:

ESD must:

  • be experiential, inquiry-based, place based, and action-oriented
  • teach students to think in systems terms
  • explain inter-relationships between ecosystems and social systems (including the economy, culture etc)
  • inspire concern for fellow humans and for the biosphere (which makes all life possible)
  • strengthen capacity to think and act for the future and not only for the present

These should be should familiar to System Dynamics/Systems Thinking educators.

Technologies for sustainability leadership

  • facilitation (leader as facilitator)
  • collaborative decision making
  • vision-based strategic action thinking and planning
  • scenario planning (including computer modeling of future scenarios)

I like the idea leader as facilitator, while facilitation for envisioning, scenario planning and collaborative decision making are basic elements of group modelling building.

Some people (optimists like some economists) are confident (overconfident?) about human . They think that human can solve any problem as long as there is a need. This perception formed may be due to the industrial advancement (standard of living, science and technology, better institution) since the last few centuries. But can we attribute it solely to the human ingenuity? Why human did not achieve the great leap earlier (note that human has already been evolved to this current form since at least 50,000 BP, before the last fews centuries human history keeps showing rise and fall of the civilizations)? Some other people argue that rising of current civilization is mainly due to high EROI of fossil fuel. I cannot judge because I think it is hard to identify the root causes in an unrepeatable process like this.

While I have no plan to talk about reasons of rising of current industrial civilization in this post, it is a good example to show that how poor our knowledge be. While we can send people to the moon, we cannot eradicate war, hunger, AIDS, traffic jam; we still struggle in developing technology that can recognize people’s face un-intrusively and flexibly under natural environment like human does; or we cannot even predict how the water level of a bathtub change. There are lots of examples you can think of about what human still cannot do presently, even there is a will (e.g. forecast direction of winds that bring the volcano ash).

The most critical evolutionary constraint on human is to understand complexity (complex means difficult to understand, so a thing will not be called complex if we can understand it). For example, no one know for sure what will happen in the current Euro financial crisis. What if we let Greece bankrupt? What is the consequences (especially unintended consequences) of current decision to bail it out? We grow our civilization to this state of complexity but we don’t know how to manage it. In a world of changing faster and faster and becoming more and more interconnected (interdependence), we just realize how poor our ability to control it to achieve the vision we want.

This is my thought after reading this post:

The ultimate challenge for humanity, then, is to figure out how to make insight about complex systems evolutionarily successful.

At least, we need to recognize that we still ignorant of many things. We should be more humble. We should be more careful. We should be watchful about where our current direction leads us to be, and rethink the actual relationship between economic growth and human development. So I think the first step should be raising awareness about our poor ability to learn complexity (especially dynamic complexity).

If you think this is not an issue, then ask yourself: Are you happy? Do you feel your life is full of happiness? If not, why? Do you think you are happier than people before the industrial civilization? Or more simple question, happier than people who died before the internet has invented? You enjoy so many modern innovations, you should be much happier than them. If not, this is a sign of unhealthy development. Development should increase people’s happiness, not less. Let’s think about it.

After all, it could be argued that centuries of Western political/economic systems from colonialism to globalization were/are no less destructive, if not always overtly, then at least in their impact on the lives in other parts of the world. I happen to be painfully familiar with that pattern. In the 1960s, I played a minor role in moving a mountain of iron ore from West Africa to a steel mill in Baltimore under the guise of “economic development” and “trade”. In reality, it was more to subsidize American cars and washing machines with 5 cents/hour labor and next to nothing for the commodity to a conveniently corrupt government. A generation later, that “exchange” helped trigger one of the ugliest wars in Africa, killing 300,000 people. Because all the people killed were black, Westerners conveniently call it a “civil war”. Which is asinine to put it mildly.

1. There is nothing civil about any war.
2. The weapons had been supplied earlier by one American President’s zeal to keep the Soviets out, hardly a local, African issue.
3. The mountain would not have moved, had it not been for Western ideas about “the market” and “consumer demand”.

In a more bizarre twist of irony, a good chunk of that mountain ended up in the steel structure of the Twin Towers in NYC, crushing 3000 people to death on 9/11. It turns out, the main reason for those 3000 people to be in those towers was the business of moving mountains of stuff someplace else, mostly to subsidize more consumer goods for Western shoppers. You go figure how it all works.

Unfortunately, most Americans have no clue that their lifestyle actually kills people elsewhere. Yet some of them cheer, when one vice president declares that their lifestyle is “not negotiable” and another president says, he “won’t apologize” for it.

As far as I can tell, it’s not easy to tread lightly on the earth without nasty side effects. Maybe the coming shortages will teach us to be more mindful. I am concerned, it may do the opposite. If so, the side effects may end up right on our doorsteps.

I recently read a quote, forgot who said it: “The hallmark of a civilized society is the ability to care for others”. Maybe that’s what we are trying to learn. Do I dare hope that we will?

from rumpelstilzken’s comment in The Oil Drum.

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