Saturday, July 29, 2006

On Journalism

On Journalism…

This summer Kara (my wife) and I went to hike the Grand Canyon.  On the way down we past a small town and it just hit me like a ton of bricks, it was one of those epiphany moments.  Democracy isn’t working.  It is stuck behind jargon and sectioned off for the elites that understand it and are involved in it.  There are so many barriers to being involved in a town council meeting.  Added to the jargon is the fact that they can just be so damned boring.  

Democracy can be exciting!  Imagine if a town council meeting was a debate about things that mattered to the community instead of, for example, the typo in section two paragraph four.  

Conspiracy theory: (take it or leave it) they hide the corporate agenda behind typos and boredom because if they debated the real issue then maybe their big polluting plant wouldn’t be given approval, so they discuss the technicalities of the law instead of the meaning of their action.  

Solution:  Put town council meetings into context and language that people can not only understand but get excited about and feel in control of their own community.  

Al Gore read a quote in his movie “The Inconvenient Truth:” “It is very hard for a man to understand something his salary depends on not understanding.”  With that in mind I am tired of old white men telling me just to be entertained and let them take care of all the boring things of running the town.  It is just really boring stuff that I am not interested in anyway.  

The old white man runs the corporations that are killing the planet – but I should be greatful for the job – ha.  They have screwed things up enough, their turn is over,  it is time for the people to decide what is good for themselves.  Not in the Marxist sense where another old white man takes over claiming the will of the people as legitimacy, but where people are aware of the issues that are affecting them at home.  

When Wal-mart is proposing to come into a community the town council shouldn’t put a public notice in the paper asking what people think of rezoning this piece of land for Wal-mart.  The question is a foregone conclusion.  Maybe there should be a town meeting asking if we want Wal-mart or a new development in the town at all.  There has to be a discussion to see if it is good for the town.  Maybe it is good for the town, I don’t know, but I sure would like to weigh the arguments and actually have some thought put into it instead of having every tide of boom and bust decide the economic and social well being of my community.  

A newspaper could do this, instead of being sensationalist.  A newspaper could broach the issues that matter to the community and provide context and a forum for left and right to meet, but not the abstract left and right, but the left and right that belong to a town.  Where both parties see things differently, but both care for the community and each other.  

A newspaper could provide a place for discourse.  

It is the revolution on a community scale.  Being aware of how we spend our lives, beyond the walls of our homes.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The End of Suburbia

The End of Suburbia

The world oil supply isn’t like a gas tank, it doesn’t just run out.  Production of an oil well is much like a bell curve.  The light crude is on top and isn’t worth much because it has to be refined so much, then once the light crude is sucked up there is the “black gold” which is causes the production level of an oil field to go up quite a lot.  But at a certain point the oil companies have to start pumping things down the hole to displace the gas so they can extract it.  Or, extract it under high pressure, which doesn’t work as well as displacement.  The point is that once a certain level of production is reached it plateaus for a while then it starts to decrease.  

So the good news is that we have only used about half of the world’s total oil supply.  The problem is that the next half will be exponentially difficult and expensive to extract.  What is the consequences to a global oil economy?  
Well, the US supply of oil hit this plateau in the 1970s and 80s and there was a recession that affected most of the world.  This sent the US hunting the world for oil.  The thesis of this movie is that in about the next five years or so we will be hitting the plateau for the global oil supply.  

One quote that struck me was “Without oil we will lose seven trillion dollars out of the economy.  There will be no more middle class.”  I thought that this is a bit of an exaggeration, there will still be a middle class but everyone will be a lot poorer, but it gets the point across.  A little more accurate prediction was the prediction that for a couple years after we start to decline we will have a recession then we will recover for a little while, but the recessions will keep coming and their intensity will increase and the time between them will decrease until we are left with a Great Depression.  It will happen this way because the government subsidizes the suburban lifestyle (gas prices compared with Europe where they are twice as much) and for a while they will continue the subsidy, but it will get harder and harder until they can’t do it anymore.  

The movie also looked at alternatives, the argument was that we could probably think about replacing 25% of our current use with wind or hydro electric or nuclear if we had another fifty years, but we don’t.  And everyone brings hydrogen up as a solution.  Their response was that hydrogen doesn’t generate energy, it just stores it.  It is created using water and electricity, but where does the electricity come from?  

The title is the End of Suburbia because after the industrial revolution cities were just big slums and the wealthy started moving into acreages a little ways outside of the cities.  Once the second world war was over the US decided to spend its post war wealth on moving its population into suburbs to “return to country living”  the idea was great but it didn’t deliver on its promise.  Now houses were still built close together and the benefits of living in nature weren’t really enjoyed, but now they added a commute to getting to work, so basically the suburbs were a place that enjoyed the worst of the country (the commute) and the worst of the city (crowding) without the best of the country (nature) or the city (community).  

North America is designed around the consumption of cheap oil - getting from the suburbs to the city and back again.  In Calgary this point is particularly poignant with the example of Deerfoot Meadows.  It is a shopping mall so huge that you have to drive from one store to another, there isn’t even walkways between the stores.  What will happen to our economy when it costs one hundred dollars to drive for an hour?  Especially when all our consumer goods are trucked.  Imagine a world where it costs fifty dollars to pay for gas to drive to the grocery store to buy your weeks worth of groceries for fifteen hundred dollars.  And you are only making six years worth of pay raises.  It just isn’t going to work.  We are going to have to get a whole lot more local in how we live.  

Maybe this is the end of economic globalization and the beginning of social globalization as we help each other through the tough times ahead.