Birding NZ – Double Standards

Birding NZ – Double Standards

I’m not writing with my Hutton’s hat on, nor with my Zone Water Committee hat, but just as me, and I do chair both groups, and have both sets of perspectives.

I find human behaviour fascinating, and extremely complex when you actually take the time to look at it in detail.

I find it odd that we tend to see our own self interest as enlightened, and everyone else’s as “greed”.
I just see people doing the best they can in often difficult conditions.

In the recent 7.8 quake here in Kaikoura I watched one farmer put himself in hospital with stress as he worked around the clock trying to repair shattered “effluent disposal systems” (which should more accurately be called nutrient recycling systems). That was one farmer I knew well, and many others were very similar.

Yes we have real problems around water allocation and use, and around the ways in which we manage our environment for human welfare.
I have a background in ecology and biochemistry, and have run a software business for over 30 years, so understand a little of the complexity of the systems involved, and the inadequacies of our current systems to our needs – at many levels.

Just at the physical level, we know fairly well what is going on in the ground, and how to manage nutrients in particular environments, but the complexity of reality is beyond existing technology. The difference in soil structures in the their limits for water or nutrient application can differ by a factor of 10 or more over just 1 meter of ground. Our current water and fertiliser application technologies tend to be worked out on a per hectare average. To manage things more effectively, more micro-management is required. It is coming, and it is not yet economic (actually, it is economics itself that is now our greatest issue – more on that soon).

All of us are at cause in this.
We all drive our cars.
We all go to the supermarket for our food.
We all flick on a switch and expect power.

Very few of us look deeply at the systemic linkages in all parts of the systems that sustain us, from the subatomic quantum mechanical, up through the levels from cosmology to geology to chemistry to biology to culture and technology to complex adaptive systems.

I love the natural world.
The complexity, the beauty of nature is amazing.

Most people have been taught about the aspect of evolution that involves competition, and most of our economic and political systems are built on that competitive basis, but few people yet understand the even more fundamental role of cooperation in the emergence of the many levels of complexity present in us and the wider ecosystems around us.

Reality is so complex (and our models and understandings of it so simple in comparison), that it is very true that we usually see what we expect to see.
It is actually extremely difficult to get any real idea of the complexity and diversity that is actually present.

I have come to see the very idea of using markets to measure value as the single greatest threat to us and to the environment.

The reason for that is that markets must value anything universally abundant at zero (like air, arguably the single most valuable thing to any of us, yet of no market value).
When most things were genuinely scarce, that wasn’t a significant issue.
Now that we have the technical capacity to produce fully automated systems that can deliver an exponentially expanding set of goods and services in universal abundance, the incentives of markets and the needs of humans and ecosystems become diametrically opposed.

Humans need abundance of the basic necessities of life.

Markets cannot put a positive value on any universal abundance.

Therefore, structural poverty (all dimensions) is a fundamental feature of any market based system.

We have the technology to address the issues facing us, but our prime systemic value measure (money and markets) has a set of internal incentives that prevents us doing so.

We need to move beyond markets and market measures of value.

And there are real dangers in that.
Markets have provided many valuable services other that simply exchanging goods and services.

Markets have provided a powerful system of distributed information sharing and governance – we all get to vote with our dollars.
That should not be underestimated.
The dangers of centralised governance are huge.
We must be able to decentralise and distribute governance, in a way at least as effective as markets have achieved, and that isn’t a trivial issue.

Markets provide powerful incentives to innovate, which counter the tendencies to conservatism present in most social groups.
Again, that is a very real issue, and far from trivial in the way one constructs alternative systems that are fully decentralised and distributed, that maintain effective communication and cooperation.

Markets are great tools for risk sharing, and for tolerating diversity.
We can develop technological alternatives, and again they need to be decentralised, diverse, open and tolerant, while maintaining the system as a whole within the necessary minimum set of constraints required to support such complexity.

All new levels of complexity require constraints to survive.
A cell wall constrains the freedom of molecules, and it gives form and function to cells.
Take away cell walls, and all that is left is ocean.

Every new level of complexity has a minimum set of constraints required for its survival.

At higher levels of systems, morality is a necessary set of constraints required for the survival of human beings, which is not to say that any particular morality is actually such a minimum set (most probably have a few components that are not actually required, but are “along for the ride” due to some set of historical accidents).

So restoring our waterways to something we can safely swim in is going to require some fundamental change to our dominant social systems.
It is going to require cooperation at the highest levels.
It is going to require awareness, and tolerance of diversity at the highest levels.

I do think it is possible, and it is far more complex than most people have any conception of at present.

As a “systems geek” I am confident beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that there is no stable “market solution” to the sets of issues present.

Creating a clean and abundant natural world, alongside the world of individual security, abundance and freedom (inside responsible social and ecological contexts), is what I am about.
It is something I am committed to.
It is something I am working towards.
It is something that I see us having the technical ability to construct.

And the only way we can possibly get there is by all acknowledging the many ways in which our unthinking acceptance of existing systems contributes to the outcomes we see.

The systems will change only when we individually demand such change, are such change, at the personal level, consistently.

[followed by]

Hi Jim,

As I read the current double exponential progress of our ability to automate systems (current doubling time under 10 months), we are expanding our ability to do more with less far faster than we are increasing our numbers as human beings.
It is the demands of markets, capital, and profit that are the greatest barriers to the implementation of technical solutions, not the technology itself.

There are minimum energy requirements for a reasonable standard of living, and we are a very long way from them as yet if you actually do the numbers on what is possible with a plant based diet and distributed solar power and distributed systems.

So I see the possibility of technical solutions, though not the certainty of their instantiation.

Agree that if you simply look at existing technologies, then the issues seem beyond solution.
You need to look at the foundational trends in technologies and look at their intersection with issues over time. Ray Kurzweil (engineering director at Google) is great at that.
Once we achieve molecular level recycling, most pollution and resource issues disappear. It isn’t actually far away. I was at the 25th Foresight conference on nanotechnology and the future at Google’s headquaters 5 years ago. Sure we aren’t there yet, and we are on track for 2030 delivery.

It seems possible to deal to most of the issues, and it does require going beyond many of the conceptual boundaries that most have implicitly accepted.

And yes – this is a bit more than simply a birding issue, and it is a foundational set of issues if we want to give many of our indigenous birds a reasonable probability of survival (which I do). That includes species like Hutton’s Shearwater, and the Bittern, and wrybill and B dots and a host of others. Those birds are at the sharp end of the consequences of our cultural drag, the unwillingness of most to challenge the foundational presuppositions of their current world view, perhaps highest among those the notion of value we derive from using markets as a measure.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
This entry was posted in Ideas, Nature, Our Future. Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s