Monday, December 24, 2012

On Organisation

It may be tautologous, or if you like nonsensical, but our future on this planet depends on not getting organized.  Or maybe on becoming unorganized.

My argument goes as follows:

Whenever men or man or humans collectively recognize that something needs to be done then an organisation is put in place to realize that shared goal.

I don't think it matters what the shared goal is, as long as a goal is deemed a worthy thing to strive for.  Thus the building of the pyramids, or of Stonehenge required a group recognition that the "thing" should be done, and an organisation had to be put in place, planning had to be done.  Similarly when planning a grape harvest and producing wine; when prosecuting the second world war; when creating the mafia; when introducing a new widget to the market; when running the Boy Scouts, an organisation has to be put into place to achieve the stated goals.

And boy have we been successful!  Without organisation we would not have the global civilization we have today.  Nor would we be about to destroy what we have by the wasteful proliferation of our species with its thirst and hunger for material things.

Implicit in an organisation is structure, and hierarchy.  There is a division of labour perhaps fairly according to those best suited to each of the different tasks needed to succeed; though also perhaps by fiat according to some elected or privileged director, or directrice.

For the organisation to succeed in meeting its goals, it then develops infrastructure.  In order to get together to discuss plans and progress meeting spaces are needed; in order to pay the bills counting houses with counting machines are needed; in order to communicate within the organisation, networks of communication paths need to be established.

And these places and things and networks need access to materials to build them.  Houses need bricks or timbers.  Communication networks, if roads, need stones, and if telephonic need wires and computers.  And all of them need labour.  And cooperative societies.

Once a structure or hierarchy is established, it tends to become ossified, and to resist change.  The privileges that are accorded to each level in the structure become expected by and of the people in those positions.  Without a continuing input of materials and labour an organisation cannot sustain itself.

Organisations then enable our progress, but become self-perpetuating and resistant to change.  The larger an organisation the more resistant typically they become.  A large organisation has difficulty in facing a new small competitor: it has difficulty adapting to the new challenge.  The same is true of large societies: we have difficulty adapting to new circumstances.

But it is the organisation that consumes resources.  Its size directs the need for more consumption in order to keep it running.  Its existence requires the continued input of resources to keep it alive.  this happens, and will continue to happen independent of the people running things.  They become the dupes and slaves of the organisation.  Often their jobs and livelihoods are dependent on the continued running of the organisations of which they are part.

Yet, it is this very consumption that has to end.  There is insufficient space or material on this globe to sustain a continued growth in consumption.  There is some considerable concern that even a zero-growth civilisation will continue to need additional raw materials that will be unavailable.

So if consumption has to come to an end, so too do the organisations that depend on that consumption.  We either need to create organisations that do not consume, quite likely an impossibility, or we need to dismantle our organisations, also well nigh impossible, if not highly undesirable.

Whither goeth us?  I'm not arguing for an anarchic future.  We see in the Congo what unlawlessness means.  I could not do what I am doing now without considerable hidden and very desirable organisation.  The computer I am using for which parts were assembled from places throughout the world.  The power supply that is needed to keep it running, which has come from all points of North America, though mainly Ontario.  The food that keeps me with a quasi normal heart beat.  Without many organisations, societal and corporate, none of this would be possible.

And I think it is desirable that I continue to be able to do what I am doing, among many other things, and for you to continue to do what you do, whatever that is.

Unless our organisations find a way to become unorganised, to be become radically different, a-consumptive organisations we will not be able.

(I don't feel that I have captured the essence of the idea I had on the greed of organisations and their immortality.  Maybe you my dear reader can add to or refute my simplistic incoherence.  I look forward to your comments.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Attitudes to Global Warming

I have been thinking about the breadth of attitudes towards global warming.  The topic has been under public discussion for thirty years or more, yet still does not appear to provide us with definitive direction.

There are deniers.  Deniers fail to accept the indisputable science that there is human induced global warming.  Whatever evidence they look at, does not present to them the view that the world is warming.  I make a distinction between the claims of science and any mitigation proposals.  Deniers deny the claims, and therefore the need for any substantive mitigation.

There was a recent article in the Financial Post, actually an op-ed, claiming that Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, was grossly negligent in claiming that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) has happened and is happening.  One hundred and twenty-five scientist signatories (few of them with climate credentials) claim that there has been no evident warming in the last fifteen to twenty years.

The web site published a rebuttal in which, for example, it claimed that whereas a simplistic view of the last fifteen to twenty years suggests no substantive warming, the trend line going back fifty years and more is clearly upward, with the warmest years on record occurring in the last ten.  Further the overwhelming force of scientific opinion, 99%+, is that man is to blame.  Numbers alone do not make it true, but as with any scientific claim, the probability of it not being so is now vanishingly small.

And there are alarmists.  Alarmists fully accept the claims of global warming, and are horrified of the implications, to the point that they are seriously alarmed that the impacts will be if not terminal to human life, certainly devastating.

The forecasts are of considerable change to our biological sustaining systems.  We, humans, are dependent on a sustaining environment.  We need water and temperate living conditions.  We need food.  We need a planet that refreshes itself in such a way as to keep our living conditions tolerable.  The forecasts that have been made are alarming in that they forecast dramatic changes in these conditions.  Temperate bands move northward in the northern hemisphere, and southward in the southern.  The tropics may become inhospitable not only to human life, but to many many other lifeforms.  We are losing, and will continue to lose corals from our oceans through acidification of the seas.  We will lose crop lands, through desertification.  The rise in temperature will give us both a loss of ice and a corresponding rise in sea levels.  Together these will result in large swaths of many low lying countries being submerged with loss of both habitat for people as well as livelihoods.  Let alone loss to and of our fellow-travelling biota.

These forecasts may be extreme.  We have no way of knowing.  There is reason behind them.  There is evidence of similar periods in earth's history, when dramatic changes in climate forced major species extinction events.  We know we are losing species at a rapid rate today.  But this alone does not give certainty to the extreme forecasts.  Perhaps Sandy and Hazel will convince some.

And there are also fatalists.  Fatalists are not necessarily alarmists, though they may be close.  A fatalist, accepting the science of global warming, basically says OK, dont lets worry about it.  Yes, the planet may be going to hell in a hand basket, but so what?  Let's enjoy the ride while we may.

Neither the alarmist nor the fatalist approach seems particularly constructive.  The fatalist approach, by not developing any explicit mitigation for AGW may actually accelerate the destruction we have begun.

Then there are climate optimists: yes we are ruining the planet, but we can survive the changes and will exuberantly do so.  I think of Sir Richard Branson in this context: unremittingly optimistic that we will find the solutions to the challenges which global warming presents.  We do not need to mitigate since we can and will adapt to the change.  We may need to curtail our profligate ways, we may in fact be forced by other factors to do so, but it is too late to reverse the changes and therefore must adapt in order to survive.

I dont know.  Perhaps we will be forced to adapt, but even then I dont know if we will succeed in maintaining our current lavish civilised style.  I like to think I am a realist, and certainly wish for a sustained existence for homo sapiens.  But I see some serious constraints that will soon impose their limits on our civilization:

1.  There are too many of us.  Already, 7 billion people and counting.  Forecasts are that we will have between 9 and 15 billion by late this century -- unless things change.  They will have to change since there is not enough arable land to feed 7 billion today, we have exhausted the resources of the sea, and we cannot destroy more forests without impacting the overall climate we depend on.  So while there are too many of us today, there have to be fewer of us in the future.  While that may be realizable, I do not see enough of us joining Jim Jones communities, and drinking laced KoolAde.  Without serious strife, our global population as too big.

2.  Growth is actually impossible.  Our global economy inextricably depends on annual positive growth.  The use of money requires that more is produced each period than the one before.  Our stock markets depend on quarterly improvements in revenues and profits.  We are critically dependent on growth to the point that economic depressions are cause for serious problems.  But any binomial growth exhausts the available resources.

Thus with a finite resource continual growth is impossible.  The earth is finite in size, though for most of our history this has not been evident.  There has always been a new world into which we can expand.  Whenever a mineral is mined, there is less available to be consumed later.  The more that is mined the sooner we will run out.  If we run out, we cannot produce any more, and growth will stumble and halt.

Some will say, ah but we can always find an alternative.  True, but that alternative is still subject to the same law of diminishing returns.  We are seeing this with the so-called shale oil plays today.  It appears that we have discovered vast new reserves of oil and gas in the shale deposits of the world.  They will run out as the traditional oil fields have run out, and maybe faster.  What we forget is that the oil shales are harder to extract than oil from traditional fields.  That is the cost of extraction is such that we are closer to the a nil net return: it will cost a barrel to extract a barrel.  Therefore it costs us more of what is extracted to extract what we get, such that the resource depletes faster.

Without a net increase in the input of primary energy we cannot grow.

3.  Human nature is against us.  In all the discussions of global warming, of carbon taxes, of additional resources, of asteroid mining etc, it seems to me that we forget about our fundamental nature.  By far the majority of us couldnt care less about global warming.  If we dont care, we will not be engaged (let alone enraged!) to do anything about it.  Its not that we dont care, we are unaware.  It is not relevant to our daily lives of working to earn a living to survive another day.  We are stuck in a groove, be it of commuting to a miserable menial job, or commuting to run a gigantic corporation.  The status quo is what is important.  And will always be.  We are fundamentally selfish and cannot see beyond the end of our noses.

So I dont know if that's a realist position or a pessimist position.  Its mine.  I will continue to drive my SUV and go on deep southern cruises.  Its what I enjoy doing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Nexen

There is talk of approving, or not approving, a massive foreign investment in a company called Nexen. The price of the acquisition is several billion dollars.

What I do not understand is how this is seen as a good thing for the country.

When you buy a company, you, whoever you are (in this case the Chinese government's oil giant, CNOOC), acquire the assets of the company for a price, ie you pay some money and then you own the assets, they are yours.

The trouble is that the money you pay for it is gone, it is no longer yours.  Once spent it then belongs to whoever were the shareholders or previous owners of the asset.  The asset itself does not benefit from the investment, since its value is transferred to previous owners, who then have no interest in it; and the ownership passes to the new owner who now has less money to enable further improvements to the asset!  (Though if you are chinese, you have no shortage of greenbacks!)

A new owner can only be interested in what he (or she) can get out of the asset he (or she) has acquired.  He may think, in the case of CNOOC, that his proprietary interest in the oil properties of Nexen gives him better access to those energy reserves, better being cheaper in that he will not have to pay world prices.  Typically, a new owner will look at his purchase, and ask, what can I sell to recover my investment, or where can I save money to reduce the operational costs of my new asset.  Neither of these last two strategies produces new investment.  He may also say, where can I reallocate the resources I have acquired to generate more revenue.  Again, this is not investment, but rather new management, which some may call better management.

Whatever new investment will come from the re-investment of the monies paid by CNOOC for Nexen.  And who knows where that will be.  Some I'm sure of the shareholders in Nexen are Canadian, who may be willing to plough their proceeds back into Canadian ventures.  Many, given the fragmented nature of oil sands ownership, are not Canadian, and may be only too delighted to receive a return on their oil sands "play" for investment back home where ever in the world that may be.  If the enthusiasm shown by the Nexen shareholders for this deal says anything, it is that non-Canadians are the majority shareholders.

Anyway, what do I know.  I only ever ran a small business that went bankrupt.  Noone ever let me play with a billion dollars.  But I dont see where a net benefit exists for Canada in this deal.

Riding Redistribution

This sounds to be the driest of topics!  Yet some 60 people showed up at the hearings in Cobourg on November 12th to present their views on the reallocation of the boundaries of our political ridings.  And 100% of them were against the changes proposed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission for the riding of Northumberland Quinte-West.  Change, I guess we do not want.

The challenge of course is that change has to come.  The allocation of ridings in Canada is revised every 10 years following the decennial census.  Attempting to keep populations within ridings to about the same -- 107,000 people, inevitably means an increase in the number of ridings and the parcelling of some into others.

I too am against the proposed changes, and made the following submission:

"I represent myself more than anything else. I am a member of the Green Parties of both Canada and Ontario, and have been active politically in that context. The thoughts I am going to present have been shared with members of both Green Parties in our existing ridings. My own riding is Northumberland Quinte West (NQW). Discussions have been held, largely telephonic, with party members, and with members of other parties, in the adjoining ridings of Prince Edward Hastings, Oshawa and Durham. However, the views are in no way, formally endorsed by any of my correspondents.

"I want to say at the outset that I am a relatively new resident of this riding. I moved from Ottawa to Brighton in 2007, and thus have no first-hand knowledge of riding geography in the area prior to that. Having moved to Brighton, I take advantage of the services available throughout a day’s drive from my home. We shop locally, and in Cobourg and Trenton, at opposite ends of NQW. We shop further afield as well, in Belleville, Kingston, Ajax and Peterborough, as well as Toronto. We take advantage of entertainment facilities similarly, so that in no way do we consider ourselves constrained to our political boundaries.

"Having said that, I find it hard to understand why Northumberland County should be split in the proposed scheme of things. I want to argue strongly for the retention of the County as a political division.

"The Green Party has found it particularly hard to find party members in Trenton, as well as in Prince Edward County. Most of our activity and members in NQW come from the western end of the riding. From a selfish point of view, aligning with the County (Prince Edward County) will make our life more difficult.

"But that is selfish. From a more social perspective, my judgement is that residents of Brighton do not consider themselves PEC residents. Clearly, there is some overlap, but they are not us. There is a dividing line between residents of the County and those of Northumberland. Including Brighton (and parts further west) as part of the County does not make sense.

"Excluding Trenton from a Northumberland riding though does make sense. Not only have we found it difficult to recruit members in Trenton, but there is a substantial difference in social context between Trenton and the eastern parts of Northumberland County. Largely because of the military base there (and in the County), while there are dormitory features of eastern Northumberland, these differences will remove cohesiveness from a new riding incorporating both.

"There are those who I know disagree with me. There is even a move to alter the local council structure to incorporate Brighton with communities to the east. I do not share this view. We came to Brighton to live in Brighton, not to be part of a larger Trenton/Quinte city. As I am against the idea of incorporating differently, I am clearly against a riding redistribution that lumps Brighton in with areas to the east.

"It has also been pointed out that an alignment of the western parts of Northumberland County with communities to the west, will draw those parts of our county into a closer ‘big-city’ alignment, and would recognise a greater association with the conurbation of Toronto to the west.

"But this will belittle the interests of Northumberland as a whole. Northumberland is largely rural. In my experience a delightful rural environment, of beauty not found elsewhere in the province. Its beauty is not only in its farmland and hillsides, but in the communities found within it. Without doubt these communities benefit from the surrounding economies, but nevertheless have a character that will, given a continued existence of the Northumberland County Council, be diminished in a split representation.

"I recognise that this is an enormous jigsaw puzzle. You need to adjust boundaries as far as possible to produce ridings of about the same size, 107,000 people. You may need to recognise historical associations as well as contemporary alignments.

"Historically, there was substantial north-south interaction as the lumber of the hinterland was shipped out through the lakeshore ports. There was immigration from the County into the regions further inland. More recently, there has been an east-west association as the railways and road systems were built.

"NQW is also split by telephone area codes: 905 in the west, 705 in the north and 613 to the east. None of this history and geography is part of your proposal. And I would agree with that: I do not see them as polarising influences on our communities that should be reflected in our riding boundaries.

"In our case, NQW, if you can keep Northumberland County intact both in geography and name, you will earn I know the gratitude of more than myself. If not already, I know you will be hearing from the County itself, as well as others both political and social at other levels.

"In particular, recognising that NQW is currently about 17% over the desired size, I would urge you to consider allocating those parts of Quinte West in NQW and those parts north and east of the Trent River, to a more eastern riding. If necessary reduce those parts of Kawartha, now allocated to KPHC, in order to accommodate the retention of all parts of Northumberland in a single riding.

"I wish you wisdom and patience in considering the merits of all our submissions."

The strength of the views was not lost on the commissioners, who commented that this meeting in Cobourg was the best attended of all the public meetings they had held, but we will see if they are able to accommodate our feelings in their final report due later this year.