Monday, March 29, 2010
A podcast of Erik Assadourian, Senior Researcher at Worldwatch Institute and Director State of the World 2010, speaking with Diane Horn about report is available here.
Highlignts among the online chapters are The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures, a discussion of Engaging Religion to Shape Worldviews, a look at education's role in supporting sustainability by Rethinking School Food, and a look at how social marketing can be used to shift the media From Selling Soap to Selling Sustainability.
An interesting example of the latter is found in The Story of Stuff.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
quite a few of today's business forms and business cultures existed in ancient times. Globalization, multinational enterprises, commercial partnerships, foreign joint ventures, and embryonic forms of mass production all had their precursors or prototypes in the very remote past.My reaction to the content is quite schizophrenic. On the one hand, the book brings together a wealth of information on business practices in the ancient world (i.e., the 3000 years before Christ). Here, as summarized by a review in the Globe and Mail, is the book's discussion of the collapse of Ur:
By 2000 BC, the Mesopotamian city of Ur (referenced in the Old Testament as Ur of the Chaldees) was the largest city-state in the world (population: 65,000), a metropolis of extraordinary prosperity in the fertile land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in modern-day Syria and Iraq.
As it happened, the most ancient of crashes followed the collapse of the world’s first mutual fund, a distinctly capitalistic financial innovation that had enabled ordinary people (among them, shopkeepers, farmers and labourers) to invest in enterprises previously limited to the rich and the powerful. In this historic meltdown, the investment that went wrong was in copper. For the first time, investors in a publicly traded pool had experienced the excessive optimism that former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan would famously describe as “irrational exuberance.”
Share prices soared. Investors spent anticipated profits before they earned them. Ur never recovered from the credit freeze that followed the calamity of history’s first public offering.
This is just one of many fascinating stories in the book. More importantly, at least from the perspective of ecological sociology, the book calls "for today's globalizers to 'make the world safe for diversity.'" In other words, it argues against an interpretation of globalization as homogenization. There are obvious parallels between this position and the biologist's claim that complex and diverse ecosystems are more resilient than simple, homogeneous ones.
On the down side, the book interprets ancient economic practice in terms of modern management theory, specifically the Dunning's eclectic paradigm. As such, it suffers from a serious case of presentism -- that is interpreting the past in terms of concepts from the present. For example, it is impossible to have 'multinational corporations' without having nations. But, as conventionally understood by historians, nations didn't exist until the 17th century. Thus, it is hard to understand how multinational corporations in anything approaching the modern sense existed in ancient times. While full of wonderful stories and significant insights, the books larger argument suffers from an inattention to historical perspective. Moore and Lewis take an objectivist position, claiming they can identify the similarity between various economic actions based on the characteristics of the action itself. This is the equivalent of saying Priestley discovered oxygen, because that is what we call the substance he isolated. But, neither Priestly nor historians of science make that claim. They know he discovered pholgiston. Ever since Weber, sociologists have recognized it is not just the action/object itself, it is the conceptual understanding and meaning given to the action/object by the actor that is important. In short, while Moore and Lewis do an excellent job of opening our eyes to the diversity of economic activity in the ancient world, the attempt to draw explicit parallels between past and present economic behaviours seriously misrepresents things.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Thus, it is refreshing to find someone like Joel Kotkin who makes a well articulated, if ultimately unconvincing, case for a rosy American future. At the heart of Kotkin's vision is the projection that the US, in contrast to other western countries, will increase significantly in population over the next 40 years. And, like Simon before him, he predicts the combination of this brain power and America's adaptability will create by 2050 the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history.
Unfortunately for individuals interested in realistic scenarios of the future, Kotkin's book is notable more for what it leaves out than for what it incorporates. It is, largely, a book that focuses on the US economy in isolation -- there is little consideration of the world system as a whole or of environmental matters. Indeed, in many ways the title misrepresents the real thrust of the argument. This is not a forecast of the future based on consideration of a wide number of complexly interacting factors. It is, rather, a very thoughtful analysis of demographic growth and its consequences (e.g., the geographic distribution of the expanded population and its cultural impact in terms of increased diversity, etc.). Kotkin's earlier work dealt with cities and the geographic impact of digital technology. The current work is best seen in that light, as an argument with Richard Florida over the kind of cities that are most likely to foster economic development in the future. Individuals looking for a surrogate Julian Simon, someone who articulates an optimistic vision of the future based on scenarios that incorporate multiple factors and presume a fundamental continuation of the status quo, had best look elsewhere.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
|Title:||Forum on Environmental Politics|
|Description:||The department of political science invites you to attend a Forum on Environmental Politics on Thursday, March 18, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., in Tilley Room 223. |
We will have research talks by Dr. Rusty Bitterman, Louise Comeau, Dr. Tom Beckley, and Janice Harvey, followed by a public reception at 5 p.m. in Tilley 28.
At 5:30 p.m., in Tilley Hall, Room 5, Dr. Andrew Biro, Canada Research Chair in Ecological Politics and Environmental Political Theory at Acadia, will give a public lecture entitled 'Water Wars' from Global to Local: Violence and the Production of Scarcity.
All are invited to attend. For further information, please go to www.unb.ca/fredericton/arts/departments/politicalscience/index.html
|Times & Locations:||Thursday, March 18, 2010, 15:00 - 17:00 at Tilleu Hall, 223|
This has two interesting consequences. First, the ability to store data has exceeded human capacity to capture 'useful' information since the origins of writing. Thus, for the first time in ages we are entering a period where that isn't the case. Second, the capacity to extract knowledge from 'big data' becomes the limiting factor. In some sectors this isn't entirely novel. Thus, for example, what Derek de Solla Price labeled 'big science' -- large scale collaborative research with big budgets, big staffs, big machines and big laboratories like the human genome project or CERN -- has been a major factor in scientific knowledge generation since WWII. What we now have is the spread of this focused ability into the wider society with the resulting ability of mega-corporations (think Wal-Mart and their ability to collect and manage information about store sales, product delivery, etc) as the only ones with the resources necessary to store and extract the relevant information. A similar example is found in Goldman Sachs' use of 'flash trading'.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
More recently, Cleo Paskal has written Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map
Guy Stanley describes the book as follows:
The Cold War was never this hot! We live in interesting times. The biggest western economic institutions are crumbling, what were once marginalized voices are now dominating international negotiations, and touchstone climate events, such as the monsoon, are failing. Everywhere you look economic, geopolitical and environmental assumptions are being shaken to the core. The world is changing. Fast. Global Warring examines these trends by combining insightful economic and political analysis with the most likely environmental change scenarios. It identifies problem areas that could start conflicts (access to water and resources in Asia), economic trends that are shifting the balance of power (China’s policy of nationalistic capitalism), and geopolitical realignments (the burgeoning strategic partnership between the United States and India). Award-winning writer and geopolitical expert Cleo Paskal makes sense of this overwhelming topic by dividing it into five sections: how seemingly impervious western nations, such as the United States, are shockingly vulnerable to hurricanes, storm surges and rising sea levels, and what that could mean for their internal stability and economic development; how the thawing Arctic is opening up a whole new arena for power politics as some of the world’s biggest countries wrangle for control over vast resources, strategic shipping routes such as the Northwest Passage and geopolitical leverage; how changing precipitation patterns, extreme weather and water shortages are creating severe disruptions in India and China, and how that could affect their relations with each other, and the world; how rising sea levels may shift borders and alter the very notion of statehood, potentially challenging international law to the breaking point; and, finally, what could happen in coming decades, and how to avoid the worst of it. Paskal combines ten years of research; the latest findings from the Hadley Centre and the United Nations; and interviews with top political, security and economic strategists with her own extensive travel as a foreign correspondent. The result is a penetrating, accessible, compelling, and chilling reminder that Global Warring is not only coming, it’s here. "In a clear, comprehensive and alarming analysis, Cleo Paskal underlines the geopolitically disruptive potential of climate change. Arguably this is the biggest challenge to human society since the Ice Age or the Black Death and it is not clear we are any readier to respond adequately to ours than were our unfortunate ancestors to theirs.
Another review is available here.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Thus, we have WalMart's plan to make its supply chain greener. In essence, WalMart is using its buying power to force its suppliers into examining the carbon lifecycle of their products. While it is the suppliers, not WalMart, that will bear the costs of modifying the product, general estimates place about 33% of energy efficiency gains as cost effective. Thus, in many ways, WalMart is only using a stick to get companies to make changes that are already sensible -- such as reducing packaging -- but require some sort of incentive to get the manufacturer to make the effort to change.
The press release claims that the plan will cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain by the end of 2015 -- the equivalent of taking 3.8 million cars of the road for a year. You can read more about it here.
We'll see. But on the face of it, this initiative makes sense for both WalMart and the suppliers. The carbon reductions will come from situations where efficiencies are cost effective and, hence, allow WalMart to further reduce prices at the same time that the suppliers are reducing both their carbon footprint and their production costs. The down side? In ten or twenty years, when all the economic efficiencies have been weaned out of the system, we end up with even more corporate concentration and a less resilient system at the time when hard, uneconomic reductions in carbon are necessary. At that point, all that corporate concentration, actively lined up against making the necessary changes, will come back to bite us in the butt.