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A lot of navel searching has been going on since the credit crunch hit.
What surprised the Old Man is that so many people were caught by surprise. It is relatively easy to see the weaknesses in the capital system as it exists currently, and crashes are an intrinsic part of the process of balancing markets.
So there are a lot of questions about whether there is a better way of doing things; of managing or handling economies, of States, of large political entities.
The assumption being that, whilst the present meme; free-market neo-liberal leaning capital economies, is poor, there is no historic alternative that even looks close to being attractive.
But the generally liberal, non-interventionist, egalitarian principles which are supposed to underlie a ‘good’ democracy need not be abandoned completely.
There is a way forward, of this I am sure, but before a new ideology is framed or built, there need to be solid foundations.
For the Old Man, who has searched navels for a very long time, the foundation of a political, social or economic system must be an ethical system. Without establishing what the state is for, what the purpose of the state is, and what moral basis exists as its primary justification, nothing will be built at all.
That ethical system could be founded on Phenomenology.
Perhaps this is an idea who’s time is coming.
I’ll write more on this later.
Gets in the way of being a dedicated blogger.
You’ll be pleased to know that in the past few weeks I have managed to work out a bit more on the meaning of life. I am now comfortable that I understand what sort of being a human is, or ‘the meaning of being’, if you like. I’ve been working on this for about twenty years now, but understanding isn’t amenable to rushing.
It is possible to derive from a clear definition of the meaning of being, a purpose to life itself, but there are still gaps in the connection process. When it comes to a moral being, the force of the definition is so strong that one is inclined to slide from the IS to the OUGHT, a potentially fatal flaw in reasoning being overlooked thereby.
Two more small points; first, I am reasonably convinced that I now ‘know’ how to be happy (how anyone can be happy, permanently (ish)). I have also worked out a methodology to help fast-track other interested people to an understand of the meaning of their being and the secret of happiness. If you are interested in learning this stuff, I suppose I might be inclined to take on a student or two, but given the intensity and complexity of humans, and the demands of work and life, I don’t know that I could spare the time, tbh.
Nothing to do with climate change, but I’ll come back to that at some point in the near future.
Before getting on to the point in hand today, a hello to my correspondents, Eli, Paul, Students, and other occasional readers who have kept an eye on this space even when it appeared vacant; thank you for your patience.
I’ve been working for an engineering company for eight months now, having left the teaching profession. I’m still working towards the masters degree but the heart attack has slowed things down a bit. Fortunately, there may be the opportunity to study an area where there is a synergy between the job and the philosophical interests.
Since everyone is on the sea ice bandwagon these days, today’s comment is on the development of renewable energy in the UK. Comments, as always, welcomed.
There is no question that renewables are continuing to expand rapidly, though this has little, if anything, to do with climate change concerns. In my experience as a supplier of the technology, the vast majority of decisions are based on purely economic considerations. Developers are following the Merton Rule, in the belief that this will facilitate planning applications; in this case, the renewables are add-ons which are considered to be justifiable expenses against the gains to be made from a successful development. There are a few cases where companies express a concern with addressing climate change, but this is a contingent benefit, not a motive, and in most cases is a fortunate and marketable by-product of other forces.
There is also a real and rapid growth of interest in small-medium sized wind farms, often in the guise of Community Renewables Projects. Three motives appear to exist most strongly; such projects can get a degree of funding, reducing capital costs and increasing ROI; they can attract equity or bank funding using existing, tried and tested ‘bankable models’, making them lower risk, and, finally, they offer the prospect of medium-term energy security for villages and small towns and their businesses, in an environment of uncertainty over the National Grid’s ability to meet expected demand after 2014. For some areas, too, promoting wind energy projects is a marketing opportunity, promoting the ‘green’ credentials of an area and encouraging the all-important tourist/visitor numbers to continue.
The Private user/domestic renewables market is slightly different. Farms and isolated locations are still regular buyers of off-grid technology, though energy prices are critical motivators, too. There are a much greater number of private indviduals who are committed to thinking in the longer term and doing their bit towards reducing greenhouse gases, but even this commitment only remain robust where the economic realities add up: nobody wants to waste their money.
Being more energy efficient, in particular about heating, is still the biggest and most effective way of reducing a carbon footprint. On a commercial scale, replacing old oil-fired boilers, steam boiler systems, or inefficient old air-conditioning systems, are both cost-effective and successful greenhouse gas reducers. Of the renewable energy technologies in the UK, wind is the most efficient in both financial and productivity terms, in a large proportion of locations, but arguably still the most controversial, as it is visible in a way that solar pv, for example, is not.
In very few cases do people in the UK opt for renewables purely on the grounds of contributing towards reducing our carbon footprint. Do I think this is a good or a bad thing? I feel that it shows that, in most cases, the climate change argument is known but not well-understood, or that people are unwilling or unable to look at our world and our problems on a large enough time or geographical scale, or probably both. There may be a parallel in the global leisure clothing market; many people express a desire to avoid exploitative practices in manufacturing, but this does not stop them from buying the product. There is an interesting moral comparison here; many people are keen to sypathise with the suffering of others (like the 200 million displaced Indians who hace barely hit the headlines this week), but their actions and decisions are in contradiction to their expressed desires. Perhaps this is a demonstration that, if there is a perceived conflict of interest between one’s own wealth/comfort and the very survival of distant and unfamiliar others, the others still lose out.
So, if there is to be a real change in the UK, a change which gives hope that the world is not sliding inexorably towards meltdown in the coming decades, we first need to have courage. People, commercial and private, need to actually do the things they think matter, rather than finding excuses not to, or waiting for someone else to pay the price. The British are well-known (even though this is a racial stereotype/cliche) for our pluck, phlegm or spunk. I’d like to see more evidence of it in the climate change and renewables debates.
Surviving a threat has a way of focussing the mind. For the past few days, the question of priorities has been uppermost. What is important, what is not needed? What and who do I care enough about to invest time in, having been made aware that time is the defining resource limitation?
The heart attack has served to remind me of what might be considered my core philosophy, the essential, buck-stops-here points. Which, at the same time, serves to remind why I thought, a year or so back, that pursuing the questions posed by climate change, and switching occupations, were worthwhile.
Being enagaged in an enforced idleness at home, sat on a day bed contemplating the options of computer chess or daytime TV, I am reminded that, for me, the meaning of being, the purpose of existence, is tied intimately and inexorably to the well-being and happiness of others (you, if you like). A person’s life in and of itself, self-contained and complete (all false imaginings, I promise you), is a very little thing, of small significance. What makes a life big, what makes it full, what gives it meaning and value, is the manner and extent of its interactions with other people.
And here is the connection with climate change and the current state of discussions. Notwithstanding the few who insist otherwise, by and large we are aware that there is a sickness, a malaise, a problem with our world (our home). Whilst one or two will dispute the causes, of more concern is the disagreement over the solutions; how should we treat the patient?
I suspect that it is going to be difficult to decide the best treatments, though, unless we first establish the priorities for governments and industry. Beyond that, we need to establish the priorities for communities and social groups; beyond that, the priorities for families and micro-communities. Which also means establishing our own, individual priorities.
I have established, to my own satisfaction, my list of priorities for a happy and fulfilling life. It goes: People (here and now and present); people future; place/world (environment)[home] and all that it contains; the Future; the rest.
Here is an arrogant suggestion, then. Let’s try this as a template for good decision making about climate change, about adaptation and mitigation, about policy, ,investment and cost.
First priority goes to the problems which need dealing with now; Darfur, Timor, Zimbabwe, poverty, unnecessary death, AIDS, water, food…
Then there are the problems which need dealing with to secure the future for people; food, water, medicine, peace, justice, liberty…
The next priority are the problems which, if they have not already had to be addressed because of the above, relate to the environment, the world, etc; conservation, preservation, protection from exploitation, biodiversity… (though, not unsurprisingly, many of the problems of the first two sets of priorities also involve an attitude to the third set).
The next priority is to resolve the potential longer-term problems; sea levels, water supply, agriculture, resource exploitation…
And, finally, we can invest time, effort and money into to dealing with the other shit.
This set of priorities should be usable to guide us to making first decisions about where effort is needed and how important it should be compared to other issues.
More on that, later.