Databiz exposed

Last week i posted my reasons for dumping my Facebook account. Today’s National Observer has a report on the work of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News which gives some further insight into the workings of Facebook and other social media giants.

Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie was among those who addressed the Committee about major Silicon Valley firms and the way they exploit customers: “The current business model is the root cause of the problems you are trying to address​​​​. Its toxicity is unrelenting. It is not a coding glitch that a legal patch will fix. Data at the micro-personal level gives technology unprecedented power and that’s why data is not the new oil — it’s the new plutonium.”

A transition to greater climate justice will depend on reining in the political power of Big Oil, but it may also require reining in the power of Big Data.

Building a world of resilient communities

Living in these rapidly changing times is a challenge on many levels. There are many internet resources that can help us all meet the challenges in one way or another. Today i will just redirect you to one that i consult almost every day: resilience.org, a program of the Post Carbon Institute. Click around there and see if you don’t find something interesting. Then bookmark it, or even better, sign up to get a daily email showing the latest additions to the site.

Green New Deal as job creator

Every part of the world that has invested heavily in renewables and efficiency has found these sectors to be much more powerful job creators than fossil fuels. When New York State made a commitment to get half its energy from renewables by 2030 (not fast enough), it immediately saw a spike in job creation.

The accelerated time line of the US Green New Deal will turn it into a jobs machine. Even without federal support—indeed, with active sabotage from the White House—the green economy is already creating many more jobs than oil and gas. According to the 2018 US Energy and Employment Report (USEER), jobs in wind, solar energy efficiency, and other clean energy sectors outnumbered fossil jobs by a rate of three to one. That is happening because of a combination of state and municipal incentives and the plummeting costs of renewables. A Green New Deal would take the industry supernova while ensuring that the jobs have salaries and benefits comparable to those offered in the oil and gas sector.

There is no shortage of research to support this …

— Naomi Klein, On Fire (p. 281). Knopf Canada. Kindle Edition.

Unfortunately, the recent federal election in Canada shows very little popular support for the Green New Deal, especially in those parts of the country that need it most for job creation. Both the Green and New Democratic Party platforms called for accelerating the transition from oil dependence to renewable energy by eliminating subsidies to the oil industry and redirecting government money to build up wind and solar infrastructure and retrain workers for it. But neither party got many votes in Alberta or Saskatchewan; most of the votes there went to the Conservatives, who are more interested in conserving the profitability of oil extraction than in conserving an environment that is healthy for everybody to live in.

This leaves most of the oil patch workers in dead-end jobs: either those jobs will disappear because the green shift will resolve to keep the oil in the ground, as required to bring down carbon emissions – or climate change will degrade the ecosystems to the point where the economy will collapse, bringing oil workers down with it. Most likely the actual outcome will be somewhere between those two extremes, but the oil patch seems to be in deep denial about both scenarios. Is that because people generally resist changes in how they make a living, instead of embracing new opportunities? Or is it because the Big Oil executives are using propaganda effectively to prevent workers from seeing the reality of their situation? Again, maybe it’s both.

Anyway, neither the Liberal minority government nor the Conservatives show any sign of supporting the kind of “new deal” that would improve the lives of workers in the coming decades. It will take a massive social movement to overcome all this inertia. This is perhaps the major point of Naomi Klein’s new book, which I can recommend to anyone with an interest in the transition we are now going through, and how our lives will be different when today’s teenagers are running the show.

Planting and planning

This afternoon, after the wet snow stopped and the sun came out, Pam and i planted the garlic we’ll harvest next July. If the time between now and then unfolds as it usually does, that is. We’ve been doing this for years, and we know what to expect. But we also know there are no guarantees, and that climate change is increasing the uncertainty that all gardeners and farmers have to cope with. Even if our garlic and other garden vegetables have a good year next year, food security is going to become a problem for us, sooner or later. Man does not live by garlic alone, and we depend on community food systems for most of the staples of our diet.

The prospect is worse for those who depend on industrial food systems. Large-scale agribusinesses, especially the meat industry, are major contributors to global heating, and it is already coming back to bite them in the form of floods, droughts, storms and heat waves. The situation is going to get worse before it gets better, even if carbon emissions can be cut in half by 2030. In the longer term, i think the only question is whether producers and consumers of food will change their habits drastically, or the whole industry will collapse.

Our local community is fortunate in that we can at least grow some of our own food in our own gardens, and even supplement it with hunting and gathering. Millions of other humans are not so lucky, and before long may be joining the flood of climate refugees. This is part of the reason why a practical response to the climate emergency calls for something like a “Green New Deal.” But I’ll save that subject for another post.

The flood

An article in the New York Times yesterday, based on a new study reported in Nature Communications, says that previous estimates of the effects of sea level rise due to climate change have been far too optimistic. ‘The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury’ – many of them in large cities such as Bangkok and Shanghai. This is not a worst-case scenario but a most-likely scenario based on the current rate of carbon emissions.

For those of us relatively unaffected by flood, drought, hurricanes, wildfires, extinctions and other effects of global heating, news about them has become a virtual flood of information, and sometimes we feel as if we’re drowning in it. How are we supposed to respond?

With anxiety about our children’s future?

With guilt, because we’ve played our part in the consumptive economic system that is causing it all, and we haven’t done enough to curb our emissions, and we know that the worst effects of this accelerating catastrophe are suffered by those least responsible for causing it?

With rage against the wealthy oligarchs who buy off politicians and flood the media with toxic progaganda so they can continue to profit from their ownership of the economic engine?

With despair because there’s nothing we can do about all this?

By “changing the channel,” distracting ourselves from a painful reality?

With commitment to the cause of changing the system into something more just and ecologically sensible? That seems to me what a good citizen of the world would do – perhaps motivated by some combination of anxiety, guilt and rage. But i doubt whether such a commitment can be sustained by those feelings. Rather, the sustenance of commitment has to be something more like love. Hope helps too, if it’s something deeper than optimism. But the core of it, i feel, is not the fear of losing what we love, but the inconceivable joy of its presence to us and with us now.

Can that kind of joy be invoked or evoked or expressed with words? I don’t know. It depends on what kind of practice follows from the words. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Antisocial media

One of the habit-sets we all need to rethink in these transitional times is our use of media (such as this one). Pam and i have both decided recently to close our Facebook accounts. Facebook has become one of the forces undermining our democracy, most obviously through its role in recent election campaigns (as documented in, for instance, the Netflix movie on Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack). Mark Zuckerberg apologized for that, sort of, and promised to “do better,” but we see no signs of improvement.

The problem with Facebook is systemic. It’s grown to its dominant position among “social media” by selling its users’ attention to advertisers, while leaving it up to the users themselves to provide the content that makes it worth paying attention to. We refuse to support that, even though we haven’t been targeted with a lot of fake news and political attack ads. If you are on Facebook, even though you are paying no money to it or to its advertisers, you are supporting it.

When we mention this to friends – I mean real friends, not Facebook “friends” – they protest that they use it to keep in touch with family and other connections. But there are other and less addictive ways to do that. Email is no harder to use than Facebook, once you get into the habit, and it doesn’t pull your attention in all directions when you write or read the same things you would see or say on Facebook. I refuse to use fb for the same reason that i refuse to “monetize” this blog: I consider your attention a precious gift that should not be abused.

OK, end of rant. And if you still find Facebook worthwhile in spite of its complicity in the decline of truthfulness, i will think no less of you. You make your choices and i make mine, and we can still be friends. Real friends.

Spiritual revolution?

My ‘transition time’ post (which is below, if you are reading this on the weblog) referred specifically to solar power and electric cars. But it’s clear to me that technology alone will not save us from the mess we’re making of the biosphere. Public policy, set by governments at every level, will have to change radically. But many of our political systems seem to be dragging their feet on this, and some (such as the current president of the U.S. and premier of Ontario) are actively obstructing the transition. Partisan politics generally are not up to the task. We need some kind of revolution, in a more-than-political sense of the word.

Maybe it has to be a spiritual revolution. But that’s a loaded word; and even people who value the “spiritual” side of life often take a dim view of the organized spirituality we call “religion.” This is not surprising, given the history of oppression and mutual hostility we’ve seen from religious organizations. Still, how can people work together toward social change without being organized in some way? What can motivate people deeply enough to carry forward that kind of change, if not religion? Greta Thunberg has been called a ‘prophet’: if she’s not a spiritual leader for our time, who is?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are the kind of questions we hope will spark a deep, open and honest conversation among our guests at the movie night we’re hosting tomorrow, at the Honora Bay Free Theatre on Manitoulin Island. The conversation will follow a movie called The Gate, about the prophetic figure who led a spiritual revolution in 19th-century Persia that prepared the way for the Bahá’í Faith. This is part of a worldwide celebration marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Báb (whose name translates into English as “the Gate”).

Another question is: in what ways does the Báb’s spiritual revolution connect with, or differ from, the kind of movement we need almost 200 years later, in 2019-30? The film shows how violently the Báb’s movement was resisted by the religious/political establishment of the time, and we can probably relate to that. As for the religious aspect of it, at least one blogger, Adrian Ivakhiv, argues that going forward from our time, some kind of ‘ecological religion’ will need to come together, uniting the various forms that now exist into a global movement that can ‘connect with social, political, economic, and other conditions/needs/movements.’ Religion as he defines it is ‘something like a system of symbols’ encompassing beliefs, deeply held values, and practices ‘by which people, in a more or less structured community, actively locate themselves in a world of power, meaning, and value that transcends yet includes them.’ We need to talk about how this can happen.

Our movie nights on Manitoulin are strictly local, of course, but i’d be happy to hear from other readers of this blog any comments they have on these questions.

Transition time

I think it’s about time i repurposed this blog, from mainly theoretical to something more practical.

The question on my mind now is how we humans can make the transition to a more ecologically sound civilization, one that values all the inhabitants of Planet Earth and not just our species. The transition needs to happen at every level, from local to global, and it needs to happen fast. According to the IPCC, we have only about a decade to avert runaway global heating which will make life difficult, if not impossible, for most of us. Humans will have to radically transform the dominant culture of consumptive capitalism, or else the present climate emergency will become an irreversible catastrophe. The situation is already dire for many millions of humans and other earthlings, and will get worse before it gets better – how do we cope with that?

None of us really knows much about the answers to these questions. We have a general idea of what needs to be done and have the technology to do it, but the entrenched resistance to such radical changes is still a major obstacle. Maybe an ongoing conversation about the transition will allow for us to learn from each other’s experiments and experiences, and i hope this blog can contribute something to that. I’d like to turn the blog into something more like a forum that will make it easier for others to contribute, so please let me know if you’re interested in doing that! I’m looking into the WordPress options to open it up to more discussion.

Now for the local news. Yesterday my wife Pam and i took a carload of friends from Manitoulin to Sudbury, the first time we’ve done that with the Chevrolet Bolt EV we bought a few months ago. And another first: we used fast DC chargers in both Sudbury and Espanola to power the trip back to Manitoulin. These were recently installed at Petro-Canada stations, and more of them are going in across the country, according to Petro-Canada. It’s good to see that at least one oil company is actually helping out with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles – especially considering how much oil money is going into desperate atttempts to delay the transition.

Our Bolt EV is an experiment in managing our energy consumption, which has been a priority for Pam and me (and gnusystems) for many years. Our home is off the electrical grid and mostly solar-powered now (though we are still partly reliant on propane). I’ll be reporting and commenting on this as we head into our first winter of relying on an EV for transportation. But there’s much more to report on, so i hope you readers will “stay tuned” and share some of your own transitional thoughts.

gnot

I only post something here when i feel i have something important to say. But sometimes, before i post it, i notice that i’ve said it before. Or somebody else has, long ago. Why say it again?
If only I could say it as if it had never been said before! Or in a way that would make it feel new!

Had l unknown phrases
Sayings that are strange
Novel, untried words
Free of repetition
Not transmitted sayings
Spoken by the ancestors

I wring out my body for what it holds,
Sifting through all my words;
For what has been said is just repetition,
What has been said has been said …

— translated from the hieroglyphics of Khakheperre-seneb (Egyptian Middle Kingdom, 19th century BC), as quoted by Guy Deutscher (The Unfolding Of Language, p. 96).

Writers have been wringing like this for 4000 years. This is nothingnew.