Yearly Archives: 2009

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What’s An Economy For, Anyway?

Book Review

Last night I visited a local pub with an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades. He’s in town to talk to college students about his new film, What’s An Economy For, Anyway? It’s a good question. And John de Graaf, the filmmaker, comes up with a good answer. He says an economy is for “the greatest good for the greatest number over the long haul.”

[amazon-product align=”left”]1576753573[/amazon-product]

De Graaf is best known for his film (and book) [amazon-product text=”Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic” type=”text”]1576753573[/amazon-product], one of the first popular works to point out that our obsessive quest to amass more stuff (and the money to buy it) is destroying our communities, our health, and our planet. It came out before the U.S. was confronted with a sudden, drastic cure to its “affluenza” in the shape of an economic meltdown that is seriously crimping the buying habits of the American consumer.

An upside to the downside of the recession?

Over a glass of Merlot, de Graaf told me there’s an upside to the downside of the recession (or “jobless recovery”, as it’s being termed now): health improves during recessions. As people spend less, they have more time for proven health boosters such as sleeping more, volunteering in their community, and getting together with friends and family. They drive less, smoke less, drink less, eat less artery-clogging rich foods – and of course, have less work-related stress. And that’s despite the fact that unemployment has often been associated with higher rates of suicide, domestic violence and chronic illness, not to speak of the potential consequences of losing one’s health insurance.

In other words, maybe “less is more”, at least after we are assured a basic package of goods and services to support our well being: decent health care, housing, education, a living wage job and a healthy environment. That’s what another new book of that title, edited by John de Graaf’s good buddies Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska, says.

[amazon-product align=”right”]0865716501[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product text=”LESS IS MORE: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, A Caring Economy, and Lasting Happiness” type=”text”]0865716501[/amazon-product] brings together a host of writers who have contributed much to the discourse about “what’s an economy for”. Aside from de Graaf, who contributes a chapter with that title, they include Bill McKibben (DEEP ECONOMY), Ernst Callenbach (ECOTOPIA), David Korten (AGENDA FOR A NEW ECONOMY) and Juliet Schor (THE OVERSPENT AMERICAN).

Schor is cofounder of The Center for the New American Dream, a non-profit dedicated to helping Americans “consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.” Her chapter in Less Is More is called “Down-shifting To A Carbon-Friendly Economy.”

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She starts out with an idea she calls the “third rail in American politics”: that per capita consumption has to go down in the US “to achieve sustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions”. To those who claim that sustainability can be achieved simply by increasing efficiency, she points to the paradox that as efficiency rises, so does consumption (e.g. more efficient cars = more miles driven). She also says those who put their faith in such greening methods as “Factor Four” and zero waste are overly optimistic.

But, Schor says, we can “downshift” to an economy that “meets people’s needs”, allows for a “healthy, well-functioning” private enterprise economy, and achieves carbon neutrality. She says that by workers trading money for time, consumer demand falls, thereby lowering the stress on the environment. Employment can actually rise, by decreasing per worker hours and spreading work among more people. Of course, per hour compensation would have to rise, or be compensated for by greater social provision of needs like health care, housing subsidies, and education. Countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are all models of prosperous capitalist economies with fewer work hours and lower per capita consumption.

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Downshifting our economy to reach carbon neutrality is a must if we are to adapt our communities to the double whammy of climate chaos and resource depletion. So says a short but pithy book by David Holmgren, one of the originators of permaculture as an idea. [amazon-product text=”Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change” type=”text”]1603580891[/amazon-product] lays out four options human societies face.

The “Brown-Tech” scenario happens with extreme climate change coupled with a slow decline in fossil fuel use. It involves “corporate fascism” imposing top down solutions to the crises, wringing every last drop out of fossil fuel resources, with authoritarian governments enforcing stability as living standards for the majority drastically decline.

The Green Tech scenario results if climate change turns out to be more benign. A “distributed powerdown” slowly reduces fossil fuel use while increasing conservation of resources and technological innovation. (For a fascinating – and optimistic — exploration of what this could look like, check out Harvey Wasserman’s book, [amazon-product text=”SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030″ type=”text”]0975340247[/amazon-product].)

The Earth Steward scenario involves a rapid decline in fossil fuel use due more to economic collapse and the resulting political “stresses” (wars) than to climate change, which is mild also in this scenario. But the resulting collapse of society engenders a bottom-up renewal, with re-localized economies and a simplified technology base.

The final Lifeboat scenario is the most pessimistic. In it, climate catastrophe and fossil fuel depletion lead to widespread death through famine, wars and climate disasters, with a halving of global population. Human civilization is in triage mode, with oases of sustainable social organization, knowledge and technology preserving the possibility for some future recovery in the long term.

Faced with this dire prediction, perhaps the shocked reader will want to turn to Ralph Nader’s new book, [amazon-product text=”“ONLY THE SUPPERRICH CAN SAVE US!”” type=”text”]1583229035[/amazon-product]. (He’s an upcoming guest on Writers Voice) Maybe the planet’s lifeboat will turn out to be – a yacht.

Web Extras

Web Extra: Chris Hedges On Threats and Hope

Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges

Are you pessimistic about the future? Are economic woes, climate chaos, the capture of Washington by special interests and a host of other nail-biting problems in the reality-based universe getting you down?

Chris Hedges on threats from the Right, but also reasons for hope.

Listen to the full interview and read the article here.

Podcast

Empires of Illusion, Empires of Torture

Chris Pyle
Chris Pyle
Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges

Journalist Chris Hedges talks about EMPIRE OF ILLUSION: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. He says Americans are in thrall to a culture of narcissism, revenge, and fake “happiness” that is destroying our democracy – and our power to connect genuinely with others. And former Army intelligence officer and constitutional scholar Chris Pyle says the Bush Administration is GETTING AWAY WITH TORTURE. He tells us about secret government, war crimes, and the rule of law. Continue reading

Podcast

Meth Epidemic In America’s Heartland and Thoreau’s Bad Day

John Pipkin
John Pipkin
Nick Reding
Nick Reding

We interview Nick Reding about how the methamphetamine epidemic is eating away at rural America. His book is METHLAND: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. And John Pipkin tells us about his debut novel WOODSBURNER. It’s about a very bad day in the life of Henry David Thoreau: when he started a forest fire that burned three hundred acres. Pipkin uses the fire as a starting point to examine the destruction human passions can cause. Continue reading

Podcast

Migraines and Madness: The Upsides and Downsides

David Lovelace
David Lovelace
Andrew Levy
Andrew Levy

Andrew Levy talks about [amazon-product text=”A BRAIN WIDER THAN THE SKY: A Migraine Diary” type=”text”]1416572503[/amazon-product]. Weaving his personal story together with reflections on science, art, history and spirituality, he gives us a surprising portrait of this malady. And David Lovelace tells us why he is “proud to be bipolar” despite the troubles the disorder has brought him. His memoir is [amazon-product text=”SCATTERSHOT: My Bipolar Family” type=”text”]0525950788[/amazon-product]. Continue reading

Podcast

Women Writing Powerfully About Women’s Lives

Chimamanda Adichie
Chimamanda Adichie
Honor Moore
Honor Moore

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about her stunning collection of stories [amazon-product text=”THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK” type=”text”]0307271072[/amazon-product]. And poet Honor Moore reads from and tells us about [amazon-product text=”POEMS FROM THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT” type=”text”]1598530429[/amazon-product]. Our guests use fiction (Adichie) and poetry (Moore) to evoke the lives of women with power, honesty and grace. Continue reading

Podcast

Looking at New York City, Before and After 9/11

Max Page
Max Page
Patrick Radden Keefe
Patrick Radden Keefe

Host Francesca Rheannon talks with architectural historian Max Page about [amazon-product text=”THE CITYS END: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction” type=”text”]030011026X[/amazon-product]. And journalist Patrick Radden Keefe tells us the story of China’s outmigration to New York in the 1980’s and the “snakeheads” who facilitated and exploited it. His book is [amazon-product text=”SNAKEHEAD: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream” type=”text”]0385521308[/amazon-product].
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Podcast

LIFE, INC. and Washington Sex Scandals, too

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff
jeff-sharlet
Jeff Sharlet

Media critic Doug Rushkoff talks about LIFE, INC. and Jeff Sharlet, author of THE FAMILY, returns for another interview, updating us on how the sex scandals in Washington are splitting the Christian Right.
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Podcast

Human Spaces and Liveable Cities

Rutherford Platt
Rutherford Platt
Colin Ellard
Colin Ellard

We talk with scientist Colin Ellard about [amazon-product text=”YOU ARE HERE: Why We Can Find Our Way To The Moon But Get Lost At The Mall” type=”text”]038552806X[/amazon-product].

And urban geographer Rutherford Platt tells us about [amazon-product text=”The Humane Metropolis: People And Nature in the Twenty-first Century City” type=”text”]1558495541[/amazon-product].

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Podcast

SO SEXY SO SOON, Jean Kilbourne & HOLD LOVE STRONG, Matthew Aaron Goodman

Jean Kilbourne
Jean Kilbourne

Writers Voice host Francesca Rheannon talks with Dr. Jean Kilbourne about [amazon-product text=”SO SEXY SO SOON: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids” type=”text”]0345505077[/amazon-product]. Also this week, Francesca speaks with Matthew Aaron Goodman about his debut novel [amazon-product text=”HOLD LOVE STRONG” type=”text”]1416562036[/amazon-product].

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Podcast

Richard Wilbur: Great American Poet

Richard Wilbur
Richard Wilbur

We speak with former U.S. Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur about new poems and old, the art of translation, and his evolution as a poet.  Richard Wilbur is one of America’s greatest living poets. He earned the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, once in 1957 and then again in 1989, and was named the U.S. Poet Laureate in 1987. Wilbur also reads from his work for us.

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Podcast

Food Security and Insecurity

Robin Wheeler
Robin Wheeler
Sasha Abramsky
Sasha Abramsky

We talk with journalist Sasha Abramsky about his new book [amazon-product text=”BREADLINE USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It” type=”text”]0981709117[/amazon-product].  And sustainability expert Robin Wheeler talks about her book, [amazon-product text=”FOOD SECURITY FOR THE FAINT AT HEART” type=”text”]0865716242[/amazon-product].

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Podcast

Les Leopold and Barney Frank: Wall Street and THE LOOTING OF AMERICA

Les Leopold
Les Leopold
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA)
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA)

Everything you want to know about instruments of financial mass destruction — but were afraid to ask! Les Leopold explains the financial meltdown in plain English — and what we should do about it.  Also, Representative Representative Barney Frank talks about the TARP.

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Podcast

THE BROTHER GARDENERS and OUT OF SIGHT

Sara Felder
Sara Felder
Andrea Wulf
Andrea Wulf

We talk with design historian and writer Andrea Wulf about THE BROTHER GARDENERS. Also, playwright and juggler Sara Feldman tells us about her new play OUT OF SIGHT, playing at the Ko Festival of Performance in Amherst from July 24-26. Continue reading

Podcast

Curious Garden & Arecelis Girmay

Arecelis Girmay
Arecelis Girmay
Peter Brown
Peter Brown

Francesca Rheannon talks with children’s book author and illustrator Peter Brown about [amazon-product text=”THE CURIOUS GARDEN” type=”text”]0316015474[/amazon-product] and Katy Lorah of Friends of The High Line. Also, poet Arecelis Girmay talks with guest host, Christian MacEwen.  Continue reading