The discussions in the US this week surrounding the constitutionality of health insurance payment mandates and the fact that my terminal degree is in health policy helped me to choose a topic for this week’s post. The US Supreme Court question that the Justices are examining this week has to do with the issue of insurance payment mandates for individuals—is it constitutional? The goal of Obama’s The Affordable Care Act is a goal of healthcare for all within the existing system. One primary argument of those supporting the plan is that, while not perfect, the plan is a good start in transitioning to a universal healthcare system. Yet the plan and the current discussions make a number of unstated assumptions about a healthcare system embedded within a capitalist, free market economic system of the wealthiest country on the planet. These assumptions need to be exposed in order to view the problem systemically. I would suggest that these assumptions are not even correct to begin with for the existing system, and that the assumptions will become even less true in a permanently declining economy associated with peak oil. Rousseau said, “Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad laws bring about worse.” In my opinion, creating bad laws now that assume that the current system can grow infinitely only lead to further catastrophe. Continue reading Healthcare for All in the U.S?
Alaska has a long and interesting history of agriculture, including a government-sponsored relocation of 200 Midwest farm families in 1935 to establish the Matanuska Valley Colony near present-day Palmer. Today a modest number of commercial agricultural operations are successfully operating around the state. Nonetheless, commercial agriculture, even when combined with subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering, supplies less than 5 percent of the food consumed by the 720,000 residents of the state.
In recent years home vegetable gardening has seen rapid growth in popularity nationwide. The local foods movement and a growing interest in sustainable and self-sufficient living have at least in part fueled this interest. In the Anchorage area, ornamental and vegetable gardening is popular. Our long summer days are a big plus. Our short growing season and naturally cool air and soil temperatures are our biggest challenges. Anchorage gardeners typically reserve Memorial Day weekend to plant most vegetables outdoors. We enjoy harvests from mid-summer until the hard frosts and first snows of mid-October bring the outdoor gardening season to a close.
At our Anchorage home we have had a successful vegetable garden for several years. Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and Swiss chard do well here. Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and turnips also thrive in our long days and cool soils at 61°North. However, if you lust for a good tomato, cucumber, or pepper, regardless of season, you must create more conducive growing conditions or accept the imported fare that spends weeks traveling from farm to market.
A previous post explored the cognitive dissonance that occurs when we fail to recognize the true energy basis for global problems such as climate change. This week’s post follows up with another example of cognitive dissonance in the sciences; the disconnect in relating the energy basis of ecosystems to that of economies.Soddy (1926) describes the essential nature of understanding the energy basis for society: Continue reading Whatever Happened to Hierarchies in Ecology?
Professor Dave Tilley suggested a review of Richard Sennett’s new book, Together; The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. The book was thoughtfully written. Sennett traces the nature and evolution of cooperation in society, and examines the reasons for the lack of cooperation in current society, and how we can reclaim it. He examines the relationship of cooperation to solidarity, competition, and ritual. Sennett views cooperation realistically; he understands that cooperation is not innately benign, and has its own problems, as people who are bound together can then do harm to others. He discusses the need to rebuild cooperation using the metaphor of repair work embodied in a social workshop, as suggested by the book’s cover painting at right, Making a Staircase by Frances Johnston. He makes a number of fascinating points; for example, he describes the institutionalization of cooperation in the form of solidarity as the Left’s response to the evils of capitalism. Sennett ends the book with a quote from Jacob Burckhardt about modern times as an “age of brutal simplifiers”. Sennett suggests that: Continue reading Cooperative Culture–Energy Characteristics
H.T. Odum spent formative years interrupting his undergraduate study during World War II as a tropical meteorologist in the Panama Canal zone, which helped him to develop understanding of the energetic basis of global systems. He was generally less disturbed about the threat of climate change than he was about our coming bottleneck due to peak oil, proposing that the greatest and most impacting effect of climate change would would be greater extremes and wider swings in weather. On the subject of climate, he was
unsure about whether heating due to greenhouse gases would cause significant rises in sea level or not; one early hypothesis of his in the 1980s was that if heating caused more water vapor to go into the air, then more snow and ice could form in polar regions at high altitudes. Glaciers might melt at their toes at sea level, but might actually accumulate in ice fields, perhaps counteracting the relative rise in sea levels. While there is accumulating evidence that sea levels are rising, and the jury is still out on glaciers at high altitudes/latitudes, there are certainly greater extremes in weather. I ponder these questions as I write about the intersection of climate and peak oil this morning, looking out my window in Anchorage, a weather sample of n=1. We are victims of the polar jet and La Niña here in Alaska this winter, and I’m wondering when it’s all going to melt?!? Continue reading Thinking Like a System about Climate Science