August 17, 2003

Waste, Want and the Material World

David Ehrenfeld in this Orion essay relates the Biblical story of Joseph, who's austere actions saved the Canaanite people during a period of catastrophic changes in their ability to sustain their civilization. He compares Joseph's strategies for survival to modern day choices that we can and must make now, on the brink of chaotic changes already taking place in our energy, security, and biological states. He offers three types of change that we must implement (perhaps apart from and well ahead of governmental changes) if mankind is to avert cataclysmic decline in the best parts that civilization has brought us.

The article is full of carefully reasoned points of action and it is difficult to select only a few of them here. I strongly encourage you to please read it all. Perhaps it is because Mr. Ehrenfeld is a biologist that his logic seems so solid to me. I am biased in thinking that biologists make excellent economists, even if they may lack MBA's and law degrees. They tend to understand the systems that are at work in the world in very different and important ways to Mr. Greenspan et al and their vision of what makes the world go round. I'll clip just a couple of short excerpts from Dr. Ehrenfeld's concluding paragraphs...

... if local communities revive at the expense of centralized authority, we should be ready to deal with a resurgence of parochialism, prejudice, and intolerance -- implementing the transition from excess to moderation will challenge both our ingenuity and our humanity, if the best of modernity is to survive the end of materialism.

THE TIME TO START DEALING with the energy crisis is now, while we still have the resources and wealth that allow us to act. This is the Joseph Strategy. A modern approach will have the three components, each with advantages and drawbacks. A judicious mix of all three -- rationing, investment in technological change, and the voluntary reduction of consumption -- will serve us best and do the least harm. These components can work well together -- for example, in a less materialistic society, wise rationing of energy would not be onerous. And our willingness to jettison gross materialism may well evoke the kind of adroit and farseeing leadership that Joseph provided, but leadership now more by example than by command.

Posted by fred1st at August 17, 2003 09:06 AM | TrackBack

As you've done so many times before, you've provided a much-appreciated link to a hitherto unknown organization/site for me. Thank you. The observations make eminent good sense. We truly need to join hands to accomplish the required miracle. (I keep thinking of the Rome Project's 2020 predictions.)

Posted by: Cop Car at August 17, 2003 01:00 PM

A very interesting article. I would like to hear more about the strategies taken in the U.S to reduce energy consumption, finding alternate power sources and reducing pollution. One of our big issues is water conservation - this drought has been a real eye opener for a lot of us. How do the drier areas in your country cope??

Posted by: jenny at August 18, 2003 03:35 AM

Excellent article Fred. We here in Australia can see the portents of a rise in parochialism, prejudice, and intolerance. For example our government is able to treat refugee boat-people in an appallingly inhumane manner, then shamelessly exploit the issue to further their chances of re-election. They appeal to the idea that the continent of Australia can only support a population not much bigger than it currently does, and that any more will result in a lower standard of living for everybody (in Australia that is - the refugees already have a lower standard of living!). Impending energy supply problems could potentially make such attitudes more widespread, which would be tragic for humanity.

Posted by: Geoff at August 18, 2003 08:51 AM

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