World War CC

I’ve been alarmed about climate change chaos (CC) since 2016 (before that, I thought it was a distant, negligible threat to me), and I’ve been evolving my perspective on what it means to us.

My first conclusion was that mitigation had failed. So I turned my attention to adaptation, which was easy because it means dealing with a more aggressive water (and thus heat, storms, floods, etc.) cycle. 

In my first vision, I thought of a zombie apocalypse, of great waves flooding unprepared cities, Zero-day events everywhere, etc. I don’t think that any more because I see CC as a series of small cuts that draw a drop of blood per occurrence but, taken together, bleed you out.

Slightly off-topic, but Richard Tol is an idiot if he doesn’t understand that different places with different climates are not interchangable (10K = 10C). Ask a tree, for example.

But what does it mean to suffer these cuts? Can’t we ignore them, as we get richer and thus able to afford the costs of CC? Unlike William Nordhaus or Richard Tol (right), I think not. Indeed, I think that these cuts will resemble World War II in their impact on our lives, but be worse due to their never-ending nature that will build, exponentially, until our descendants curse our blind stupidity.

So what would a perpetual WWII (WWCC) look like?

First, there will be a permanent decline in our standard of living. We will have shortages, disruptions, additional costs, and spend way more time worrying about what we’re missing, what we “really need,” and if things will be better in the future — or not. (One woman is giving up a lifetime of buying new fashion for second-hand clothes.)

Second, the future of “growth/development” will not be hopeful. Our  productive assets will be destroyed. The resources directed to defense and recovery will leave less for production. People will not choose jobs for ideals, prestige or salary, but because those jobs still exist, are protected in some way, or must be done.

Third, everyone will experience a different type of WWCC. Politics, violence, alliances, and migration will vary from place to place, with laws, nationalism, (failing) institutions, and so on. My advice is to make sure you have all your paperwork in order. Many Jews (including Anne Frank) died because they couldn’t get visas to escape the Nazis. Don’t forget the horrors of recent civil wars in Rwanda or Yugoslavia, where close neighbors (and sometimes relations) turned genocidal. Many politicians will make matters worse.

Finally, WWCC, like the war on poverty or war on drugs, will never end. That fact will make it hard to “plan for the future” and depress a lot of people. It will also undermine business investment, innovation, and the dynamism of markets that originates in our basic optimism and tendency to trust. Human society will experience dark ages not seen since the Black Death, colonization, the Little Ice Age, etc. People will die in mysterious ways, strange goings on will surprise people, witches and healers will promise redemption to those who can cross their palms with silver.

My one handed conclusion is that humans will definitely survive in a climate chaos future, but sometimes wonder if it would be better to be dead.

Addendum (19 Oct): “Ultimately, capitalism is going to lose its customers. There won’t be anybody to buy the product because everybody is going to be so poor.

Libraries and revolutions

I was thinking of doing two posts (one each on libraries and revolutions), but I think I found a reasonable way to combine them.

First, revolutions.

Some claim that low union membership in the US is a sign that unions are no longer valued by workers. I think something the opposite, i.e., that unions did such a good job that they were taken for granted by middle-class workers who felt their quality of life was secure from the depredations of “capital” and other “class enemies.” Today, few union jobs remain as a combination of declining membership and right to work laws have undermined the coordinated collective action necessary for unions to represent a countervailing force against employers.

The post-WWII decline in unions has been accompanied by increasing inequality in many countries — an increase that took off under the influence of Thatcher/Reagan reforms in the 1980s and has resulted in the crisis of inequality highlighted by Piketty, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. (Trump has used a version of events to justify his moronic and self-serving agenda. His actions have worsened conditions, as I’ll explain when we get to libraries below…)

These post-WWII inequality dynamics got me to thinking of two ideas: First, revolutions up-end the old order, resulting in short term losses but then medium-term prosperity. In the long run, however, the rich/powerful/elite tend to centralize their control and direct income and wealth to themselves.

Thus, the agricultural revolution occurred ±10,000 years ago, replacing semi-egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies with settled communities. In the “short-run” of the first 4,000 years (!), this system was bad for the individual but good for the group (read my reviews of Sapiens and The Secret to Our Success). After that long adjustment, however, agriculture fed an explosion of human flourishing in which the average person was better off and communities were reasonably egalitarian, at least compared to the late middle ages, when the rich and royal owned most of the land and many slaves as they grew fabulously wealthy. 

The end of this age is often linked to the French Revolution (1789) but the Industrial Revolution also played a part in overturning power relations and opening up an entirely new set of possibilities based on a different model of production. 

The industrial revolution followed a similar pattern of painful disruption, growing benefits to the working classes, and a resumption of control over income and wealth by the rich and powerful, this time at about 50 times the speed (i.e., “bad times” for 80 years rather than 4,000 years). The beginning was terrible for workers (thus the rebellion of the Luddites), but matters improved as workers unionized, slaves were freed, and the benefits of mechanized agriculture and manufacturing went to the working classes. Industrialization brought globalization (the telegraph, steam ships, migration) but also total war, as seen in the millions of victims in the two world wars. After the Great Depression and WWII, there was a firm improvement in living conditions (from a very low base) that benefitted the “average Joe” between 1950 and 1980. (These benefits didn’t go to poorer countries, some of which were lucky to escape colonial rule.)

The 1980s is seen by many as a turning point of inequality, which I’ll agree to. Yes, there was more freedom for “individuals,” but there was also a massive swing of wealth, from the majority to job creators, masters of the universe, and global tax dodgers.

The information revolution began in the 1960s, but it really took off in the 1990s, as the Internet matured and spread, driven ahead by Moore’s Law and an emerging economics of “winner takes all” platforms and economies of scale. In this scenario, short-term disruption and middle-class gains took only a decade to process before the elites were again collecting the majority of gains. Yes, Facebook is free. Yes, many people spend hours being “entertained” by their feeds. But most of this activity is a distraction from the massive concentration of income and wealth in tech companies based in the US and China (except when it comes to taxes). I’ve complained before about the negative impacts of tech — and its loss of innocence — so I’ll just leave it there.

My one-handed perspective is that revolutions are temporarily disruptive, until the elites find a way to regain control and enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society.

So how does this relate to libraries?

A few months ago, my girlfriend was telling me that her old hometown in Romania did not have a library, as there was “not enough money” to support such an institution.

I went on a rant about how a library is probably more important than a school, as a library provides a public, free meeting space for people to study, talk and cooperate in tackling problems, planning their future or doing their homework. These “public good” services help allow anyone in the community to benefit without payment, unlike private clubs, most schools or cafes. Those benefits are probably radically higher than the cost of libraries to taxpayers, which means that they should be set up as soon as possible in new communities and protected for as long as possible in the face of tight finances. (Read this, this or most anything here.)

Try telling that to Trump voters. In this NYT article, the author visits an Arkansas community that supports Trump but doesn’t see the point of a library — or paying taxes. Instead, they seem to think it’s better for folks to “take care of their own” without funding or support from the government. I see their “go it alone” attitude as the product of a mix of bravery, naiveté and ignorance: They beleive they don’t need help, assume they can survive everything from medical emergencies to natural disasters with their own resources, and believe that taxes and spending represent a zero-sum game. This last point is perhaps the most damaging, as it denies the main reason that we have governments: the provision of public goods that cost some money to provide but provide much greater benefits to people. More importantly, public goods (like the library but also security, information, clean air, etc.) are pro-poor because they are free to users. (This article makes that point indirectly, as students care more about the basics — quiet space, wifi — than the fancy bells and whistles that tech consultants sell to trend-chasing bureaucrats.)

Thus, we arrive at a terrible paradox: Inequality is rising as the information revolution rewards elites but the poor are turning against means of helping themselves (libraries, Obamacare, etc.) due to their mistaken belief that Trump and Republicans — their tribe — cares about them. They don’t.

My one-handed conclusion is that America’s less fortunate are only going to be worse off as the rich and Republicans conspire against them. What happens next? Either they will eat cake or start another revolution — and it won’t be pretty.

 

Participatory budgeting in Amsterdam

I live in the West district in Amsterdam, where the local council has given residents power to allocate €300,000 to projects proposed by anyone.

I welcome this participatory process, but it has some flaws, which I’ll discuss here, along with my recommendations for improvement.

First, let’s clarify that this process is heavily managed. The amount to allocate is a tiny fraction of the total budget for the district, and experts make sure that proposals from the community are “feasible.” 

Even still, the voting process is flawed. Last year, I was surprised to see that I was asked to allocate the total budget of €300,000 among proposed projects. This process gave far too much weight to big projects, since projects were selected based on the number of votes they got from residents.

For example:
1st place: €50.000 project chosen via 12,839 votes = €4.03/vote
2e place: €5.000 project via 12,367 votes = €0.40/vote

As you can see, the way to win is to have a big budget, which will crowd out other projects (by absorbing the vote budget) as well as benefitting from voter fatigue, since it’s easier to choose one €50k project than choose ten €5k projects. (I’m pretty sure city bureaucrats also prefer to administer one big project over ten smaller projects, since per project set up costs are probably similar.)

Luckily, there’s an easy solution: give voters a “personal budget” of, say, €300, and then let them put 0-100 percent of that onto as many projects as they can afford. 

Thus, I can vote €150 to project 1 (€50.000, meaning its now 0.30% closer to happenings) and €150 to project 2 (a €5.000 project that’s now 3.0% to funded).

My one-handed conclusion is that voters will get better value for their taxes if they vote a personal budget. 

Addendum (19 Oct): The local bureaucrats in charge of this initiative clarified that this process will allocate 21% of the budget (good!) but they like their current method (sad!).

Climate chaos is like Brexit

I wrote the headline for this post before I decided to add more content (below), but it’s good to start off with the Brexit parallels.

Climate chaos, like Brexit, combines uncertainty, missing leadership, and wild promises into a realistic scenario of enduring disaster and regret.

But climate chaos is also not like Brexit, which some interpret as a game of “chicken” between the EU and BoJo, each trying to force the other side to swerve (to avoid a messy crash) and thus win. Although BoJo is doing a terrible job, the climate chaos game is more like a game of Bambi Vs. Godzilla in which humans (Bambi) don’t do so well.

If you’ve taken the 20 seconds to make it this far, then here’s the next bit:

Climate chaos will make us poorer and undermine our futures. 

We will be poorer because we will need to spend more and more of our income and wealth in defending ourselves against the massive forces of Earth’s climate systems.


I’ve had a number of guests on my podcast discussing various dimensions of climate chaos. Here’s the playlist, but I recommend you listen to the most recent episode with Femke Gunneweg, a 19-year old who’s suspended her studies to join Extinction Rebellion. Our chat was quite interesting.


Have you heard of Imelda? It was a tropical cyclone that dropped 40 inches (about 1 meter) of rain on the greater Houston area last week. Perhaps you heard of Dorian? That Cat-5 hurricane tied in first place for the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, with winds of 285 kph and a storm surge of 8 meters. The US was lucky to miss most of Dorian, but the Bahamas was hit hard, with over 1,000 people presumed dead. The hurricane season has just begun.

Our futures will be up in the air because “only a few degrees” can topple governments, undermine accepted wisdom, and reorder social norms

What’s to be done? Here’s a quick primer:

Climate chaos drivers

The Industrial Revolution was driven by coal and later oil power. These fossil fuels allowed us to multiply our wealth by burning the condensed energy of millions of years of sunlight and photosynthesis, in a decidedly non-renewable way.

As a result, we’ve had an explosion in population, from roughly 1 billion in 1800 to 7.7 billion today. These people are also wealthier, on average, than all previous humans, which means that each person’s “footprint” is bigger and more damaging. Technology has helped us do “more with less,” but there’s no sign of reducing the rate of fossil fuel consumption (and thus GHG emissions). Record and increasing deforestation reduces the absorption of GHGs, besides bringing many other problems.

Note the irony that it’s the middle class that is the main driver of climate chaos. The rich consume way too much, but they are too few. The poor just try to stay alive (sometimes causing environmental problems), but the middle class, with their desire to spend their disposable income on more,  cheaper stuff that’s really driving this process. Marx would be annoyed.

Climate chaos facts

1. Mitigation (reducing fossil fuel consumption) is failing due to greed, political distractions, and weak global mechanisms for collective action.

2. Many politicians accept this status quo because elections today are more important than survival tomorrow (ask Bahamians).

Take Germany, for example. Most of you know about Germany’s solar panels and wind farms, but did you know that its energy transition has cost nearly $1 Trillion, that the Germans are shutting down safe functional nuclear plants (due to an accident in Japan), and that Germany’s renewable energy production, despite reaching around 20-30 percent of the total, is still in the bottom half of EU nations? I’d say that this slow progress (contrary to press releases) reflects domestic political priorities, such as the those of the German car industry. And Germany is one of the good guys. Australia, Canada, and the US are shameful laggards.

3. Scientists have been very conservative in building their models, interpreting data, and projecting future harms. This conservatism (taken to its limit at the IPCC, where nothing is published without a consensus of all contributing nations) means that the news is always worse than we expect, since projections are based on best case, rather than average scenarios. The Paris Agreement, for example, requires “yet-to-be-invented” technologies to suck GHGs from the atmosphere to even meet Nationally Determined (voluntary) targets. Where’s the Manhattan Project or Apollo Project when you need it?

4. The denial industry has been very successful at scaring politicians and driving scientists into further timidity. Oil and gas companies have millions to spend on lobbying. Most humans are busy with life, but others have decided that “climate” is a political concept rather than a scientific fact. Their belief will not keep them from drowning, burning, starving or whatever element of climate chaos kills them. Economists — with William Nordhaus at the top of the list — deserve some blame here. 

5. All of these impacts were predicted decades ago, but scientists made the mistake of talking about rises of 2C and impacts in 2100, which led many to the unfortunate conclusion that impacts would occur after they were dead — and who doesn’t like a little more warmth, anyways? As it is, the hippie doomsayers of Population Bomb, Small is Beautiful, and Limits to Growth were right, just around the time I was born. But not enough people listened 🙁

Climate chaos dangers

We’re already seeing higher sea levels, record temperatures, powerful storms, and bigger fires in unexpected places. People will die in “accidents” at a greater rate.

Chaos means uncertainty instead of risk, so insurance companies will withdraw from the market, leaving people to face 100% of their losses.

Tipping points are coming fast. The Arctic is warming at alarming rates. Icesheets in Greenland and the Antarctic are sliding, rather than melting, into the sea. Massive forest fires are adding to warming by releasing more stored carbon. Fifty percent of corals are dead. This sad list is getting longer.

Humans are barely prepared. We’ve depleted groundwater that we’re want  when drought hits. We’ve built in flood zones that will soon be underwater. We’re more excited about electric cars, reusable bottles, and banning plastic bags than cutting air travel and meat consumption by 80%. People are more worried about “decluttering” their excesses than losing their lives to the results of over-consumption.

We need to act. By diverting resources from vacations to fortifications. By building political alliances rather than attacking others who also like living. By giving the youngest people among us hope for a decent future rather than “fuck you, I got mine.”

My one-handed conclusion is that we’re on a Highway to Hell, and it’s going to take a rebellion to stop this emergency. What are you doing?

Economics, capitalism and social progress

HH, one of my LUC students, wrote the following comment in the discussion board for my course Social and Business Entrepreneurship. I think it’s worth reading:

I think there is one area which is going backward – ‘Democracy.’ Due to tech advancement, now we can access information easily, but it is hard to verify whether it is reliable or not. Just like we had seen the American Presidential election in 2016, fake news dominated the Internet. On top of that, the same thing happened in the UK, the Brexit referendum. As Huff also mentioned in his article [PDF link], people tend to become less critical if there is too much information. It’s just out of our capacity to process everything with accuracy within a certain amount of time. Thus, people tend to go for an easy choice, believing what they want to believe, rather than evaluate information more thoroughly. Also, echo chamber effect makes it even worse. I think this is another critical challenge we are facing now – fake news on social media and the crisis of democracy. Check out this article, if you are interested in this topic: 

Also, on the discussion about poverty alleviation and progress, I agree with what A___ said: the world is focusing more on growth than achieving equality. But often what I found uncomfortable is a somewhat disparaging view towards profit-seeking companies, especially in the LUC community. I am not sure that I am the only one who felt this way, but from my perspective, money is neutral, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing it. The reason why capitalism is more successful than communism is that it understands the power of motivation and incentives. These are the foundation of innovations that make the world a better place. I believe, if they are not involved in illegal activities, purely profit-seeking firms can contribute to society by increasing productivity, investing in R&D, creating jobs, and so on. In addition, we all benefit from the products and services they sell. Only the way people use money determines the value of the money. I hope that many LUC students in the future become “successful entrepreneurs” and earn a lot of cash “ethically” and become “philanthropists.” I think it is way better than demanding the rich to share what they have. You can be the rich, and use it for the right thing.

To this, I replied:

What worries me is that some LUC’ers (and many people) take the old world view of profit as theft (zero-sum game) when the “magic” of economics is its revelation of win-win dynamics. This was why Smith (1776) was so influential.

Some people mistake economics for capitalism, which it’s not. But, worse, they also misunderstand capitalism as “=evil” when really:

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.

This definition and discussion doesn’t get to the important role of government, in creating the conditions for capitalism and also regulating its functions (competition, transparency, etc.)

These failures mean that those LUC’ers oppose institutions that create gains from trade and pt capital assets to good use: two main sources of our prosperity.

There are problems with markets (externalities) but there are also many problems with society (poverty) and government (corruption), so let’s keep all these issues in mind when seeking targets.

My one-handed conclusion is that many people blame capitalism for political failures.

An (ig)nobel tragedy

In my most recent newsletter, I wrote:

I was surprised and upset to hear that Marty Weitzman, a Harvard environmental-economist of 77 years, killed himself recently. Weitzman brought, in my opinion, the right perspective to the costs and benefits of acting on climate change, and it was his work that motivated me to start the Life plus 2 meters project. I initially assumed he killed himself in despair over climate chaos, it seems that he was upset to not win the Nobel. (A third possibility is that the award of the Nobel to Nordhaus, who deserves zero respect for his highly flawed model and its recommendation to leave action to future generations,* convinced Weitzman that his work would not get the attention it deserves, thus sealing the miserable fate of our civilization.)

* I want to add more on that comment, which is based on two of Nordhaus’s assumptions. First, he assumes that it’s a good idea to use “market” discount rates to discuss (decidedly non-market) costs and benefits from climate change chaos (CC). I prefer Lord Stern’s view, i.e., that low discount rates (which make future damages from CC more salient in making sacrifices today to avoid CC) are more appropriate for discussing a existential threat like CC. Second, Nordhaus assumes that GDP captures the costs of CC when GDP misses many “ecosystem services” that CC will destroy (e.g., 2/3rds of our oxygen from oceanic phytoplankton). You can read his 2018 Nobel lecture in which he sticks with these flawed assumptions. Weitzman did not.

[Addendum (22 Sep): The lecture link returned a 404. Here’s a copy.]

When comparing these two environmental economists, I would have preferred that Weitzman get the Nobel and Nordhaus get the Ignobel prize, which is “devoted to people who’s research makes people laugh and then think.” Nordhaus’s work is worth thinking about (and laughing at once that’s done), but it’s instead taken seriously, which explains (partially) why the world has taken no substantial steps to slow CC.

How about an example of the dangers from CC? Last week, Hurricane Dorian slapped the Bahamas with winds of up to 300 km/h and a storm surge (more or less instantaneous sea level rise, or SLR) of 8 meters (24 freedom units). That much sea level rise would devastate many coastal cities, and the Bahamas were unlucky. 

The Netherlands (where I live) is planning for 1.2 meters of SLR by 2100. What would happen if a 5.5m surge arrived? The whole country would flood, as the country’s famous “delta works” is really only configured to storms bringing a 3m rise. (Listen to my discussion with Ties on this.)

Why is this an emerging (and uncertain) threat? Because SLR is predictable but storms are not. The warming Arctic (see this month’s National Geographic) is making such conditions more and more likely.

My one-handed conclusion is that Nordhaus would be surprised at  the Netherlands getting flooded while Weitzman would not. These reactions explain (to me) why the Nobel went to the wrong guy and my sorrow at losing a real visionary on the dangers of CC.

R.I.P. Marty Weitzman.

Addendum (12 Oct): Tim Hartford shares my views

Advice for a graduate student

DA emails:
I’m currently a graduate student/candidate for a Masters in Urban Planning. My interest are in water equity, efficiency, and conservation. My goals are to work in developing countries on water access, sustainable management of water resources and improving the water quality for existing systems. I’m contacting you in hopes of acquiring some advice or contacts in which I can further my knowledge and experience. 
 
If you have any advice or could point me in the right direction on possible research projects or must reads for this field I would greatly appreciate it 
DA’s interests (water equity, efficiency, and conservation) and work goals (work in developing countries on water access, sustainable management of water resources and improving the water quality for existing systems) suggests a two broad themes (aspirational and operational) and thus the different ways of engaging these themes:*
 
  • Equity and access (aspirational): Laws, regulation, outreach, and subsidies
  • Management of efficiency/conservation and quality (operational): Incentives, reporting, engineering and regulatory policy

From these themes, I can give some ideas on work (experience) and readings (knowledge). 

DA can work inside a water-delivery organization on all of these themes. This experience will be hands on, but perhaps not very progressive, given the inherent caution of water firms. DA can also work for the regulator or an advocacy organization. With the regulator, leverage for change is high, but most of the work involves fights over information and interpreting laws and standards. With an advocacy organization, all topics are ready for radical improvement, but leverage for change is low.

When it comes to developing countries, DA will not be able to get a job as a local unless they have local connections, language skills, passport, etc., so the work is likely to be directed at projects (“we have money for this project but not the one you might want”) or building capacity (“this is how we do it in X, you should too”). In either case, it helps a lot to have operational experience on top of theoretical knowledge and passion (read my paper), thus, see above on work.

The best knowledge will come from practical experience, so I recommend that DA look for internships that offer it. In terms of readings, I could come up with dozens of papers and books, but I’m going to draw from the archive of recent episodes from my Jive Talking podcast, i.e., 

Be sure to look at the show notes for links to further reading.

Still want reading? Then I recommend two of my papers on evolving water management in the UK (where meters were more ideological than useful) and the Netherlands (where it took decades and massive public subsidies to build a reliable safe system). 

My one-handed opinion is that you will learn more in the trenches than in the library.


* Note that “sustainable” is superfluous when talking about a well-managed system.

Catholics, fascists and populists

I have two unrelated thoughts on these groups…

First, the catholics and the environment

The Catholic Church knows how to sell indulgences. I suggest — in line with the Pope’s Laudato si’ (Care for Our Home) that the Church sell climate offsets (as indulgences) and then enforce their impact by calling upon members of the flock to enforce environmental laws. God knows how many believers are in countries experiencing environmental harm. God knows when they are working to protect — or harm — the environment. Let’s get God’s believers involved, as someone needs to act on what God knows!

Second, the fascists and populists

I throw around labels like “fascist” and “populist” when talking about political failures. It just occurred to me that populists tend to promise something for nothing, giving away stuff (or pride) in ways that are ultimately unsustainable (e.g., national pride turning into war).

Fascists, OTOH [go further and] take from people. They take freedom but also wealth, and they justify their theft via state needs or ideological purity. Theft is also unsustainable, as people at some point rebel or flee.

What’s interesting (terrifying) is that these populist and fascist tendencies complement each other (theft to fuel gifts), which would seem to be more sustainable, except that they reinforce each other (gift recipients are more likely to support pogroms against “enemies of the people” whose property and freedom are being stolen). We’ve seen these patterns in religious fighting, nationalist fighting, and now we’re seeing it in many populist-authoritarian states (Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela) and leaders (Trump, AMLO, Orban, Salvini, et al.). It’s a bad time for property rights — and human rights.

My one-handed conclusion is that an interest group’s ideology can be good or bad for the rest of us.

Five-oh!

Enjoy the colors you earn.

Today is my fiftieth birthday, so this post is about the big Five-O (age-appropriate 1970s theme song), i.e., some unsolicited advise and opinions from someone who’s made it this far.

  1. Age gets better to the extent that you internalize your experiences as wisdom. Failure to learn from your mistakes means that aging is only about approaching death, so learning can offset that decay by helping you make better decisions and accept reality with more patience. 
  2. Life begins when you leave school and your parental home to make your own decisions (good and bad). For some people, life began at 10 years old while others are still living with their parents at 30. In either case, those decisions can be scary but also liberating. 
  3. In my life, I’ve found a lot more fulfillment in working for a mission instead of a wage (i.e., teaching rather than financial services). If you’re waiting to enjoy your life @ retirement, then you’re waiting too long.
  4. Kids change everything. Don’t have kids until you reconsider the next 20+ years of your life. Also make sure you have a partner for raising kids, as it’s a lot of work. I’m glad I haven’t had kids, as it’s allowed me to do many other things as well as reduced my financial anxiety.
  5. It’s really important to sleep well. After that, exercise and good nutrition can mean the difference between “old 50” and “young 50”.
  6. There’s no one path to success, and success is what you decide, not what your parents, peers or influencers decide.
  7. Retirement (living without needing to work for money) is a luxury attainable to anyone who can save while working and spend modestly while living. I plan to retire from my job in the medium term, if only to work on my hobbies and create more “public goods” to give away.
  8. My only real worry is climate change chaos, as it’s going to upend nearly everything we take for granted (weather, food supplies, national sovereignty). A large part of my retirement “plan” is to avoid the worst of these impacts. I don’t know if it will (suddenly or slowly) shorten my life, but I do know that there will be problems — especially when “the masses” realize how much we’re losing.
  9. When you’re fifty, you don’t need to worry about following norms, like making 10-point lists.

My one-handed conclusion is that I am happy to be fifty, glad that I have learned something in my first half-century, and interested in making the most of my remaining time alive.

My present to you: I’m going to have a series of discussions with other fifty-somethings, to get their perspectives, wisdom and bad jokes. The first FiveO-themed episode of Jive Talking, with my cousin Dave, went up today. Listen in 😉

 

Sleepwalking into the Matrix

I saw that movie in 1999. It was fantastical. I knew it was SciFi, but I couldn’t deny that it could have been a self-aware picture of our reality: living in the Matrix.

Putting that remote possibility aside, I think we might be walking into a version of the matrix, one that we create as our personal decisions clash and mingle in our social interactions.

Here’s what I’m thinking…

Skies on fire are coming: Atmospheric warming (the result of retaining green-house gases and the driver of climate change) means more energy in the skies, and thus more energy to dissipate via lightning and stronger storms. Will the future bring skies on fire? “We don’t know who struck first, us or them, but we know that it was us that scorched the sky.” — Morpheus, in The Matrix. There’s a very interesting discussion of whether The Matrix, which takes place in the future, is actually a prediction based on our current polluting habits, which are burning the skies and thus making outdoor life  uncomfortable, via heat, storms, angry people. 
The point: We are burning up the earth, so perhaps we will retreat into a Matrix

Machine control: The 1 Percent (more properly, the 0.1%) have ridiculous wealth, and thus power (via corrupt institutions), meaning that a lot of us lack control we think we have. I’m sure some people are living 100% free, and I feel about 80% free, but I think that many  people — people in debt, with poor health, and/or insecure from any of a dozen fears — these people are somewhat controlled by the 0.1 Percent. How many people or countries does this apply to? I’d answer in the negative by saying where it does NOT apply: In maybe a dozen countries with 500 million citizens, where politicians work for citizens rather than the rich. For the other 6.7 billion people in the world (including Americans), control is lacking.* This reality, I think, underlies some of the attraction of video games and social media. Those “apps” allow people to “succeed,” via (own paced) effort and (algorithmically-stimulated) skill.** 
The point: Lost control is more acceptable when you have some other means of feeling in control, and the virtual worlds deliver that feeling.

It’s sustainable: As more citizens escape into AI landscapes, there is less pressure on resources, which is good for the planet’s recovery as well as making it easier to maintain the Matrix. It also makes life better for the 0.001% who are paying for all this, via universal basic income [for people plugged into the Matrix]. Turning from fiscal to ecological sustainability, we know that water, food and shelter will be very basic due to exhausted waters, soils and air. Habitats will supply recycled wastewater and lab-grown food in a personal space of 4m2 (40 freedom units2). Small habitats reduce costs and footprints. Since nobody will need to commute, vacation or move (why bother when you live online?), many transportation resources will also be saved. Note that people will not necessarily physically plugged in (like in The Matrix) but mentally so.

This family is already plugged in…

My one-handed conclusion is that a large percentage of the world’s citizens are mentally checked out or preoccupied by fear and need to survive. These people will be happier checking into the Matrix of fantasy internet lives. On the “supply side”, the increasing need to live in climate controlled spaces, eat and drink manufactured and purified food, and lack of options due to inequality makes moving into the Matrix more attractive. I see a lot of zombies walking around these days, lost in their fantasies. Will they opt in — or have they already?


* George Orwell’s 1984 is ever more relevant: “The crucial issue was not that Trump might abolish democracy but that Americans had put him in a position to try. Unfreedom today is voluntary. It comes from the bottom up.”
** Note that those apps also take more of our time, leaving us with less time “out of the bubble,” which is a crucial input to working with the complexities of people — and thus why it’s not always the point to get your way.