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 Post subject: Distribution of energy consumption; technology vs. culture
PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 3:28 pm 
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Someone recently invented/imagined a floor light that worked by lifting a weight up to the top, and then by way of gravity, the weight would spin a rotor that would generate electricity enough to light a LED based lamp. Unfortunately, it is said that the weight needed for such a thing would be immense, given current LED technology. It would be great though, if you could power your devices that way. Potential energy systems that get replenished by way of solar and wind power, and generate energy as needed. I find it hard to imagine though how to communicate the need of the house/enterprise, back to the potential energy system, to dictate its release activation. But perhaps it is easy enough to invent a feedback circuit.

The new building of the WWF headquarters in the Netherlands use a sophisticated system of heat exchangers, IIRC, using water containers buried beneath the ground. Water is pumped deep underground, where in summer, the water cools off, and in winter, the water warms up, and it is then routed back through the building, to take up/give off energy again. I think potential energy systems powered by natural energy is really the most promising development in sustainable energy production.

The average household in the Netherlands spends about 2000 euro per year on direct energy costs. Direct energy consumption constitutes 22% of total energy consumption. source - diagram.

- 36% goes to heating (gas)
- 23% goes to fuel (gasoline, diesel)
- 10% goes to warm water (gas)
- 6% goes to washing machines (electricity)
- 5% goes to refridgerators (electricity)
- 4.5% goes to lighting (electricity)
- 15% goes to other uses (electricity)

According to some figures I found, it appears that by using existing isolation and saving techniques, you can decrease your direct energy consumption to about one third of the average. Proportions stay mostly the same, except for warm water which is hard to decrease. I wonder what percentage of 'other' represents computer use, but I would guess that television takes a big bite out of it. Perhaps 5% or less goes to computer usage.

Another 22% was attributed to indirect energy consumption. Of that 22%, 2.3% was attributed to "maintenance of house and household applicances". I think that would cover the production of electrical devices as well. It would be impossible to deduct from this figure, what part of say computers is spent on manufacture and what part is spent on use, but this 2.3% is less than the 3.32% of total attributed to the 'other (electricity)' category of direct consumption.

In the end, it is hard to pit technology against culture. If we were a culture that would respect environmental limits imposed on the size of human population and economy (which would for instance be reflected in the goal of striving to attain a steady state economy), if such an awareness of optimal size relative to the size of the ecology would be common (it is completely absent from contemporary mainstream economic thought), then I think it would follow automatically that we would easily attain a population size that would allow us to live off of the annual solar energy yield. Reducing population size would have an immense effect on our environmental footprint. There is still a marked absence of the concept of optimal size / our relationship to the earth / attribution of living space to other parts of the ecology other than our ourselves, in mainstream thought. As a consequence, topics as limitation of growth of both population and economy are politically inconceivable. Until such a shift in thought is made, any advances in technology will have to go against the tide of the times, fighting an uphill battle. In Dutch we have a phrase "vechten tegen de bierkaai", to fight against the beerdocks. The people working at the beerdocks were so strong from lifting barrels of beer day in day out, you had better not pick a fight with them, for you were sure to lose. I don't think technology can win against culture.

But when the tide shifts, our new technology will serve us well.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:38 pm 
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On the other hand much of the technology that makes reproductive choices more pallatable is comparatively new. (Less than 50 years for hormonal contraception.) While contraceptive technology is prety hard to beat in terms of ROI for environmental impact reduction, it isn't so surprising that culture takes a little while to become comfortable with it.

In culture, the extream focus on growth/consumer culture is also fairly new. In the USA, 100 years ago commuter rail was fairly common; manufacturing for durability and repairability were also common.
Reduce, recyce, reuse were such common things that didn't necesssarily need special names for them.

So the throw-away/ever expanding society is in many ways the new kid on the block. Sure it has the muscle of big profits behind it, and it has been promoted so much that lots of people don't remember/notice/consider the alternatives. On the other hand, it has been the dominant thought form for only a little while. It is inherently unmaintainable, so it is more a question of how much of carrying capacity/species/etc. we let ourselves destroy in pursuing it.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:16 am 
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Hm, yes. GNP as a metric has only been in use since around 1940. It was in the 50's, if I am correct, that consumption as a major goal was formulated, along with the design principles of planned obsolesence and the like. But I think the present is intricately linked to the past. It is only technology that has made the consumption society possible, because now mass production is cheaper than repair, and the market has been increasingly rationalized. Cheap production (in terms of labor costs) in a highly competitive market pretty much mandates that production takes precedence over repair and maintenance (which is labor intensive).

I think there is not such a clear break between the past and the present, although I am having difficulty obtaining a clear picture. Expansionism has been a dominant force of white culture for centuries, as seen in the conquest of for instance the America's and most other parts of the world. Today, we let nothing stop our economic imperialism, in the past, it was territorial and religious imperialism. The climate has shifted, but we are still doing the same things.

It is a huge difference with indigeneous North American culture, for instance. The Indians never sought to convert Christians, and respected their religion, but the reverse was far from true. Around the world, white men have sought to destroy the lives of indigeneous peoples, and force them into the white economy and the white way of life.

The consistency of our culture's most deeply held beliefs can for instance be seen in field of agriculture. In our culture, a farmer has always sought to dominate nature. It is his job to eradicate all competitors for food, along the food chain of himself and his crops. The concept, that other forms of life also have a fundamental right to live, a right to share in the living space and yield of the land, is completely absent from our farming practices. In contrast, in other cultures, it has formed an integral part of their vision of life. We seek to dominate, they sought to live in harmony with. This has been a consistent aspect of our culture ever since the rise of settled agriculture.

Daniel Quinn has an interesting take on the origin of the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, in Genesis of the bible, that he relates to a rising conflict between settled agriculturalists (represented by Cain), and pasturalists (represented by Abel). He distuingishes between Giver cultures and Taker cultures, and describes Taker cultures as cultures that consistent violate what he calls the law of competition.

It is a popular belief held today that the competition we see today in our marketplaces, is no different from the competition that we see in nature. After all, in both arena's, individuals seek to obtain valuables in direct competition with other individuals. But there is a fundamental difference.

In nature, one species will not try to hunt down its competitors, or destroy their food, or deny them access to food. The chimpansee may share a food source with the cheeta. The chimpansee may attack and kill the cheeta if the cheeta provides a direct threat to the safety of the chimp. But the chimp will never organize a hunt to kill the cheeta in order to reduce competition for their common food source.

Quinn has coined this the Law of Limited Competition. It states that: You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. Quinn argues that any species that does not abide by the law, will endanger its own survivability by harming the diversity and sustainability of the ecosystem. Break the law, and you will go extinct.

In other words, compete, do not wage war.

It is clear that the agriculture of our culture is engrossed in warfare in addition to competition. Agricultural methods exist of which warfare is not a component.

The underlying theme that unites both our agricultural and present day economical and imperialistical practices and theories, is the relationship we conceive ourselves of having with nature. Our vision of ourselves and how we relate to the world. It is the vision of domination versus cooperation or sharing, of being 'above' versus being an integral part of, of using for our own good versus contributing to the greater good. It is the question of domination versus harmony, war versus friendship.

Thom Hartmann once appeared on a radio show talking about his ideas. A man called to the show, and more or less said "are you really saying that other species have the right to live?" and continued with "we should keep the species that are useful, like cattle and deer, and get rid of the rest. We don't need more species, it's jobs and roads that we need."

That's the sort of attitude I'm talking about. That is the attitude that is promising to be our demise.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 6:01 am 
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sorry, I don't buy into your simplistic "white men are evil and destroy the Earth, indigenous cultures are good and pure and sing to the birdies and the fairies" scenario. is it not the case that it is the indigenous populace who are clear-cutting vast swathes of the Amazon and the Indonesion peatlands with slash-and-burn agricultural practices?

sure, maybe the American Indians lived in harmony with nature, but then that's not difficult when you have a tiny population and incredibly abundant resources (ie American bison). in contrast, with a world population of 6 billion and soon to be 9 billion, you must face the harsh reality that it is not possible to feed such great hordes without inevitably converting a large portion of virgin ecosystem over to the need to produce food.

maybe if the eco-freaks had been a bit more intelligent in the 60's, instead of smoking pot all the time they would have travelled to India and China and stressed the importance of population control measures, then we wouldn't be in this mess.

also, it's a question of survival. if humans as a species cannot learn to match their needs to the ability of the ecosystem to provide then we will go extinct, as simple as that. we won't be the first and we won't be the last, that's the beauty of evolution. homo sapiens evolved a relatively short time ago; in the fossil record we barely exist.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 6:46 am 
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I am not saying that all indigenous cultures are or were Giver cultures. The ones you are talking about may very well have turned into Taker culture themselves, due to the influence and interference of white men. Being indigenous or not is not the key point. At the same time, it is true that for instance the Kayapo were a large culture that practiced sustainable forest-dwelling agriculture for thousands of years, in a large area in the Amazon. There is no way these people would engage in slash and burn agriculture. Cultures that do so have become Taker cultures themselves.

The point is that the native Americans *would not let their population size boom to insustainable proportions* as we have. Inability to control population size is an aspect of a culture that does not believe in environmental limits to population, and that does not believe that other life also has the right to live on the earth. It is true that given our population size, we have no choice but to engage in insustainable practices. But disproportionately high population size is the *result* of an insustainable worldview to begin with, not the cause of the insustainable mindset that is needed to sustain this population. These practices (warfare on nature) would be insustainable even if there were only a thousand people alive on the earth, because in the end, they would lead to the same situation: overpopulation and environmental destruction.

That the western world has functioned for thousands of years without running into real limits, is merely due to the fact that quite simply, the limits were not in sight yet. But the limits have always been there, and we have always been running to meet them. Now is the time that we have finally reached them.

Before settled agriculture came into view, every culture, wether hunters gatherers or pasturalists, were limited in size because the land they were living on could only sustain a certain amount of people. They were sure to limit their population size, because to not do so would endanger their comfort of living. The only other option was to conquer nearby lands. Only since the rise of settled agriculture, could we begin to increase our population beyond the normal carrying capacity of the earth. There was no need any longer to contain ourselves. But the need still exists, and it is now becoming very clear.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 5:37 am 
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For anyone who would like a more in-depth (or whatever) view on the white man vs. indian theme, I recommend reading this piece of writing by C.G. Jung:

http://www.xen.dds.nl/files/jung_madness.html

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 11:40 am 
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xen wrote:
I am not saying that all indigenous cultures are or were Giver cultures. The ones you are talking about may very well have turned into Taker culture themselves, due to the influence and interference of white men.


Not hardly. These so-called indigenous cultures appear to be as destructive as others, they just aren't as well documented. Consider the disappearance of horses and many species of megafauna from the Americas seems to correspond to when these 'indigenous cultures' showed up. Consider the Anasazi - one of the theories for their upping and leaving being ecological collapse. Different levels of technology, different rates of change, but hardly fundamentally different.

Quote:
The point is that the native Americans *would not let their population size boom to insustainable proportions* as we have.


Rather they could not have for long (just as we can't). When they could, the population appears to have increased to unsustainable proportions.
Not clear that willingness or unwillingness to let population size grow plays much of a role. Even if the ability to control reproduction is presented - many traditional beliefs and practices (such as desiring a male heir) do not necessarily make for small families.

Quote:
But disproportionately high population size is the *result* of an insustainable worldview to begin with


Sanitation, disease control and efforts to improve nutrition have resulted in the current population increase.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 1:18 pm 
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I do not subscribe to the idea that population increases is merely the result of technological and environmental characteristics. Not all 'indigenous' cultures have been Giver cultures, true, for instance, the Inca's certainly were not. Yet there are fundamental differences between for instance the mindset of the Sioux, and that of our present worldwide culture. (Of course, that includes most of the Asians and most of the Africans as well). To the Sioux, other animals were brethren, and their rituals symbolized this relationship. If population size would have become a problem to them, then the sacredness of the woods and the living places of animals would have been central to their thinking. Do you think western woman thinks of these things when she pumps out another baby?

Of course, it is interesting to know exactly what is the relationship between food supply and population size. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? If we would keep our food supply constant by not clearing more forest for agriculture, and the like, then as night follows day, the world population would not increase either. It is not as if our increasing food stock is ending famine and hunger. The world population will rise to meet the available stock of food, and hunger will ensue anyway. It is popular to say that hunger is the result of the faulty distribution of food, and it is partially true, but as long as woman are giving birth to 6 children on average (as it is in some countries in Africa), no amount of distribution will stop hunger for long. My grandparents had 17 children in total. You can be sure they were not thinking of the earth, when they chose to have that many.

Quote:
Rather they could not have for long (just as we can't). When they could, the population appears to have increased to unsustainable proportions.
Not clear that willingness or unwillingness to let population size grow plays much of a role.


I consider it a fatalistic position to say that man has no choice but to keep growing beyond carrying capacity and self destruct in the end. As if man has no control over how many children are born. If you can keep the same population size for thousands of years, as I think the kayapo did, that kinda proves that it is very well possible to constrain your population.

Nobody knows how, but apparently the evidence still points that way, according to what I've read of Thom Hartmann. I think you are incorrect in saying that all (indigenous) cultures had the same growth characteristics as we have. It would be very hard to prove this. It only takes one example to prove the contrary. According to Hartmann, there are many tribes that have sustained constant population sizes for thousands of years. It is ridicilous to say that this is because they didn't have the technology to grow beyond it. The Kayapo for instance were practicing agriculture. Infant mortality and the like was lower in many indigenous cultures, than it is today in many parts of our modern world.

Perhaps fertility is a function of perceived food supply. It is unclear. But still, they did it.

In the end, saying that everything is just the result of environmental factors and we got here by external factors, is to me a denial of responsibility. It bears strong resemblence to the materialistic determinism that says that life is a freak accident, man evolved by chance, and there is no meaning or purpose to our life or life in general. I consider it a dirt poor philosophy, morally bankrupt, that has nothing to appeal to to get people to make different choices. Why do it, after all? It was a freak accident, and if it disappears, nothing the worse.

I know my argument is still lacking in solidity, partly because there are too many unknowns. But I refuse to succumb to the fatalistic materialistic view that says that we have no choice, man is evil, and is destined to self destruct. I know for a fact that technology is not going to save us from our doom. I also know that there are a few fundamental differences between one type of culture and another. It would be very odd if those differences would not result in different outcomes. That is saying man is fundamentally incapable.

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