Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Population growth and climate change

The United Sates Census Bureau predicts that the population of the United States will grow by another 100 million in the next forty years. In his book The Next 100 Million: America in 2050 Joel Kotkin sketches a mostly positive outlook on how  diverse and optimistic Americans will cope with this population increase

Mr. Kotkin’s text is a serious study and richly footnoted. His anti new-urbanist view is in apparent. He puts forth that even with this new growth the density of the United States will still be many times less than the population density in Europe. His position on the growth of new extra urban mini-metropolises throughout the heartland of America, supports my view that telecommuting and information transfer technologies will make living in major urban environment a life style not a career driven decision.

If we take as a given that Climate Change will be upon us sooner than later, where ill those people live and what will this population growth mean to the rest of us.

While no one for certain, can say what areas of the United States will be suitable for human habitation in fifty years, one thing for certain some places in America will get better for humans and others will get worse. If you read, and fully believe Dianne Dumanoski’s book The End of the Long Summer you might not be so optimistic. However, as I  believe that we are past the climate change tipping point, its a moot point. The population of the United Sates will grow significantly and climate change will shift our industrialized focus.

What does that mean to our future economy. Less consumer spending of scare resources and more group purchases or redistribution of resources through government. We will have to build new infrastructures to support our increased population and new infrastructure to support it where it lives.

Where will the new population go. No one knows for certain, except that it will go where the weather supports growth and to places (urban or otherwise) that provides for the spiritual and physical needs of Americans.

What does that mean?

More Local Everything

New villages, cities and towns that provide green economies in places that have good weather, rational water supplies and the potential for growing crops.

More small city growth where transportation and infrastructures can be funded locally without mega grants from the federal government.

More villages, cities and towns in areas with abundant green power of hydro, wind and direct solar.

More communities that provide local entertainment and opportunities to recreate in the outdo

Where will this take place?

Your guess is as good as any, my guess: the hill country of Texas, interior North and South Carolina, possibly Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Dakotas as well as the Intermountain West. It is unlikely to take place in the coastal states or anywhere with mega city growth has reached practical commuting and social management limits.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A reason for optimism for the United States

I am mostly an optimist. I worry just a little about prosperity for future generations of Americans. As a post consumerist, I might define prosperity differently than a consumerist, but prosperity is a rational desire for either.

The population of Europe is stable or declining. Russian and China’s population are also stable or declining. European Union nations face a need to create prosperity without growth. This is a daunting proposition.

The United States, on the other hand, will grow by as many as 100 Million people during the next 40 years. Much of that growth will be through immigration. Many immigrants come to the United States as an affirmation of hope in the future for themselves, and for their children.

Although the trend is slowing, Americans are much more likely to have children than people in other developed countries. It is my optimistic belief that population growth will drive our economy during the rest of my lifetime (and then some).

Americans are are among the most religious and spiritual people of the developed world. We are much more likely to attend worship than Europeans or Russians. Religions of all types offer a reason for hope in the future and encourage families to have children. Hope and faith in our ability to meet the challenges the creator tests us with are among the greatest strengths of Americans.

The United States can expect that population growth and our hopeful optimism will drive our economy for the reasonable future. Other countries will not enjoy this gift.

We will face serious challenges, but our hopeful outlook will help us to confront those challenges head-on. I believe our spirituality will quickly bring us to a place where we will value human advance over acquisition of plastic goods. Our growth will be shared resources rather than personal acquisitions.

This post consumerist is optimistic about our shared American future, even in these dark days.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blowing ourselves up with non-biodegradable plastic Chinese Fireworks is not the only way to show patriotism!

Now that the Fourth of July celebration has come and gone from our small town in the Pacific Northwest, I am certain of the following.

  • Professional grade fireworks are legally bought and fired off by individuals in the State of Washington, in very large quantities.
  • I love our old fashioned parade for kids.
  • I enjoy watching fireworks with adolescent children.
  • I am appalled that community volunteers have to clean 25 TONS of Chinese made plastic crap off the beaches after the fireworks.


I was interested in finding out how much personal fireworks were sold in our state. I did a web search; I wasn’t able to get a complete handle on that piece of information, but we are talking millions.

I discovered:

  • That thousands of citizens on this great country are injured and permanently maimed  by fireworks each year. This year a man in New York lost an arm to fireworks. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that In 2009 there were over 8,800 fireworks injuries treated at emergency rooms and two deaths from fireworks in 2009. (Eight deaths in 2008). With a conservative addition for non hospital treated injuries we are talking some serious damage. 75% of injuries were to men and 39% to CHHILDREN
  • Fireworks manufacturers and wholesalers invariably advertise wit the “Show your Patriotism” motto! They fail to say “Show your patriotism by polluting the environment of America”  These armaments contain millions of pieces of plastic. This plastic is small, never breaks down, and is now in the environment and will enter the oceans, eventually and find its way to your children's plates through that can of tuna fish. I don’t think we should ban fireworks, just may be regulate them back to paper or biodegradable pieces. We are not talking lost jobs in the USA here. Fireworks sales in the U.S. is a $1 Billion dollar industry, but less than 10% of the sales are from U.S. manufacturers.
  • In our state, and judging from the fireworks manufacturers and wholesalers web pages, most fireworks are sold to consumers through non-profit fundraising. So while the church youth group gets to have a fellowship trip, the concerned citizens get to clean up the mess made by the buyers. Now I have no quarrel with the sellers, but maybe they ought to be on the forefront of the cleanup.

I am certain that fireworks will continue, but maybe we can hope they change to biodegradable, and the industry should consider this before the EPA gets into the act.

I am also certain there are many ways, other than blowing ourselves up with small armaments made in China, to show patriotism.

I suggest that patriotism is shown by ACTIVE involvement in community. That can include voting, being a church volunteer, making donations of time and money to local and national service organizations, being a scout leader, or just going out and helping clean up the mess that the self described “super-patriots” made on your beach.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Looking for little signs that mark the way to post consumerism.

As observation and positive feedback is rarely a bad thing, I am always looking for large and small signs that we are emerging from the economic doldrums in the direction I have predicted.

When I was much, much younger, I learned that you find interesting things when you turn over rocks and logs in the woods. I rarely look for the obvious with my head up.

Today is June 26, Hands Across the Sands Day. Saying no to continued offshore oil drilling and yes to renewable energy sources. The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico might have awakened us. The former Shell Oil executive John Hofmeister’s book Why We Hate the Oil Companies, is a good example of a rock to turn over.

Mr. Hofmeister makes no bones, that extracting oil is a nasty dirty business, that most of us do NOT want to know about how it is done. We want our cars and heat and light, but we do not want to know where it comes from. The oil spill in the Gulf is forcing us to to take a hard look at our addiction to oil. Mr Hofmeister states that while many oil companies are interested in renewable sources for fuel for the personal mobility industry (cars), it is up to Government to make the hard decisions, (forced by we the people, my comment) and set the policies that will take us towards renewable energy.

We just might be seeing the start of a small shift in the government in reaction to our changing outlook.

In a past blog, I predicted that everything will become local again. That also means that we will see changes locally first.

In my small home town of a few thousand souls, we hold a few touristy type “fairs” each year. I attended one last weekend. The turn out was as good as ever, and the number of vendors seemed to be stable from years past. Those would be signs of a stable local economy. However under the surface I noticed something different.

Fewer non essential type vendors, more clothes sales, utility items, more “green” items, more cash sales, with fewer vendors accepting credit cards. I asked a few vendors, if they had used credit in the past and they said they had. I asked why they didn’t now. COST and return. They believed that the cost of offering the credit was greater than the return. So these smaller than small entrepreneurs have returned to a cash basis economy (they did accept checks).

The most recent indications to me that we are inching away from a credit and consumer based economy.

  • An awakening about the fossil fuel economy.
  • A change towards thoughtful purchase of useful items rather than impulse no need consumption.
  • Fewer credit card purchases.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The season of dashing our children’s hope!

Now that the college graduation season has just ended. it’s the season to dash the next generations hope.

I didn’t start out my work life in an academic career, I ended up there because of night of drinking (but that’s another story!)

For parents of recent graduates seeking careers in areas such as: global finance, international aid work, urban planning, architecture, sociology, history, etc., etc. and for teaching (this year). If we, the teachers, cannot perform simple mathematical equations, how can we expect our students to do the same.

If there are 500 corporations in the Fortune Five Hundred, how many CEO’s positions are available. 500 right!

How many business degree students do we graduate every year? In 2007/2008,  335,300 individual bachelors degrees in business were granted in the United States, that number does not count the tens of thousands of MBA granted.

Factoring that we graduate that many each year, and that CEO jobs come up about every five years or so, the realistic probability that your son or daughter will even get a chance to read that the CEO position has been filled for their Fortune Five Hundred CEO job sometime in their career is about .00007 or 7/1000 of 1 percent.

You can do the same math for most industries, and for many industries the question is not CEO positions, its just getting a job. In today’s economy, where approximately 50% of practicing architects are un or under employed, the chances of even finding a paying job as an apprentice architect are pretty slim.

I am not in the business of discouraging an individual’s hopes and dreams, but I am in the business of setting realistic expectations and goals for ourselves.

When I graduated from college with a Masters Degree in Engineering, I “hoped” to find a job (not a career) in the construction industry somewhere in the United States. I sent out 200 resumes, got three interviews, and then three job offers. I accepted the one with the best location: Flint Michigan. (The others were serious backwaters.) I was living in Massachusetts at the time, it was almost a 1000 mile move. I was happy to have work.

Yes, I know it was colder then, and we walked up hill both ways to school but: we as parents and educators have an obligation to encourage our children to reach high, but take a gentle slope, and for our children to be open to what opportunities the world presents them with (good and bad).

In our over enthusiasm, during the last decade, we have created a culture of unrealistic expectations for what the work place can bring us. For the most part, work is hard, mostly boring and does not pay much. The chance to strike it rich is still a possibility, but a small possibility. It is much more likely that we strike it rich by taking advantage of what is offered us and doing our best year over year. Seeking out opportunities for incremental advancement to our ultimate goals. Even with the recent disruption in the economy, incrementalism worked positively for many of my generation, and will work at for our children.

We need to remind ourselves and our children that our lives are incrementally lived and that we can continue to pursue our dreams as we stay open to new possibilities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some small prognostications

Change is coming, as it always does. Just look back 26 years. In 1984 Canon introduced the digital fax machine and everything changed. We began to expect perfect information instantly. Within a decade we had the internet, and now fax machines are becoming harder to find than an honest politician.

As I work more and more from home, I have become a little more conscious of some of the good things that technology is bringing, which help us to become less “thing” oriented. Just a few things: no more massive stereos; music is electronically downloaded not shipped and stored in piles of vinyl or acrylic; no more need to shop for stuff, you can do it on line, and not buying something is easier.

Things to expect to go away within a generation:

  • Books, bookstores and libraries (as we know them today).
  • Cash money and checks.
  • Wrist watches.
  • Music companies, CD’s or any non-internet delivery of music.
  • The US Post Office.
  • Land line telephones.
  • Keyboards of any kind (voice recognition is coming soon to you)
  • Broadcast television.
  • Free unfettered news.
  • Daily commuting to work.
  • Travel agents.
  • Real estate agents.
  • Investment advisors (no money no need!).
  • Garage door openers and other remote controls (replaced by iphones).
  • Nearly free internet and broadband access.
  • The desk top PC.
  • Privacy (already gone)

Things that we can expect to decrease as a part of of “self evaluation” factors

  • Constant travel. (It becomes a seldom used luxury).
  • New gasoline powered automobiles.
  • Useless consumption.
  • $8 Lattes.
  • Our real estate portfolios.

Things that will never go away

  • A good pair of shoes.
  • The little black dress.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Cats and dogs.
  • Beer, wine and whiskey.
  • Movie theaters or their descendants.
  • Death and taxes.
  • Sunrise and sunset.

This has been a fun game, and I will play it again some time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prosperity without Growth

I have been gone awhile, mostly doing optimistic things; like setting in gardens and starting up a new business venture. During that time lots of awful things have been happening to make one a little less optimistic for the future. (Oil spill, tornados, earthquakes, foreclosures) However there is one thing I am certain of: The future is always better than the past.

Human beings are pretty resilient; the future will bring the answer to our most complex questions.

To build consensus and begin to solve some of our non sustainability issues, an essentail questions is: “How can we have prosperity without growth”.

One of the sides in the U.S. political debate is focused on growth of consumption as the only way to create wealth. Those folks are well know for their mantra “Drill baby drill” and selected ignorance of the causes for global climate change.

For individuals, who use science as a rational guide to making decisions, it is clear: we are over accelerating the consumption of scarce resources in an accelerating way. The world wide economic slow down may be a good interlude to think about what we are doing to our grandchildren. The oil spill (certainly human caused) in the Gulf of Mexico just might be the unifying call to stop and think and maybe reset.

We can have prosperity without growth, but several things must happen, among them:

  1. Have an honest and generous discussion about economic social justice issues.
  2. Reset to a fully “green” economy, without fossil fuels.
  3. Accept some reallocation of wealth from the very very rich to jump start a “green economy” (This cannot be done on the back of the least among us)

Being a loaves and fishes sort of person (see my post January 18, 2010, “Giving your home away……”), I don’t see any downside for the haves vs the have not’s. When wealth is created it always favors the wealthy.

My advice for everyone in the United States, focus on our future and make the personal and political changes that favor our grandchildren. If we continue to bicker, we will bicker away any possibility that the 21st Century will be good for Americans.