Saturday, September 25, 2010

Global Human Ecology is Not Neo-Home Economics

Linda commented that her daughter majored in Human Ecology and that my blog is helping to explain to her what that is. But sorry, what I am calling Global Human Ecology is not something that one can get a degree in now. What is called Human Ecology is something else at universities. What is called Human Ecology is a new word for what used to be Home Economics, as it has tried to move beyond its image of baking and sewing and other state fair stuff and even expanded into neighborhood activities.

Here are some words clipped out from a description from Cornell University's College of Human Ecology.

The beginnings of the College appeared in the year 1900, when a reading course for farm women was created. In 1907, the Department of Home Economics was created within Cornell's New York State College of Agriculture. In 1919, the Department of Home Economics became a school within the Agriculture College. In 1925, the school was converted to the New York State College of Home Economics, the first state-chartered college of Home Economics in the country. ... The New York State College of Human Ecology (HumEc) is a statutory college at Cornell University. The college is a unique compilation of studies on consumer science, nutrition, health economics, public policy, human development and textiles, each part of the discipline of human ecology.
Students at the College of Human Ecology delve into biology and chemistry, economics, psychology, and sociology, applying their expertise in fields such as health, design, nutrition, public policy, and marketing. Studies done by professors and students vary from studying the financial impacts of tax legislation to designing safer workplaces and facilitating healthy growth of premature infants.

Great stuff!! But this is not what I mean by Global Human Ecology and that is one reason that I insert "Global." 

What I mean by "global" is a perspective for looking at how human beings function in terms of individuals and societies systems of interactions and patterns of behavior that have global implications, including but not restricted to interactions with the environment. I want to share my efforts to develop a broad perspective on the modern world system and human condition. If there are practical implications, it  is for the individual to figure out how to incorporate insights into his or her personal endeavours. I don't see GHE as something that will prescribe what individuals should "do." It is more like developing study protocols and broadening one's perspectives as self-education continues through one's life. 

I spent many years as a panelist and advisor to  Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  One thing that our panels of experts all over the country agreed to was that American education needed to do a much better job of better opening the minds of students and the public to the ways that bits of knowledge and theories and so on interconnect, and why this matters. Some would phrase this, "students need to think more holistically, that is to be able to see the big picture of causes and effects." We break down knowledge into bits, but we do not develop disciplined habits of putting the bits together very well. My idea of Global Human Ecology is very much in this spirit, though it is not part of Project 2061 or a direct spin off. Rather it is because I think this way that I was recruited by the AAAS to join and advise this project. 

Let add that I think the historical development of patterns of human behavior and of economic and political systems and of patterns of interacting with the biosphere should be part of a complete perspective. Thus my approach to understanding the modern world system includes efforts to piece together its evolution. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Prime Minister’s Secrets. But First, What is a Conservative?

Being new to Canada, I am still trying to learn the history of this country. It turns out to be much more interesting than I had realized, having been schooled in the US and having depended so much on US media for so long. Busy learning some history, and a new culture, I do not yet knowing much about contemporary Canadian partisan politics. 

My eyes and ears are primed, though, to notice news items that illustrate “how things work” commonly in high politics -- thus related to Grand Political Strategy and Global Human Ecology -- just about anywhere in the modern world. Thus some recent news items about Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper caught my eye and are worth some comment here.

First let me be clear though about calling him “conservative.” That is his term and the term they use up here and it seems to be like what “conservative” has come to mean by the man on the street in the US, which is not the only meaning of “conservative.

For example, I think of myself as a conservative fellow. By that I mean I tend to be cautious about making judgments and decisions, and very naturally hold back from “must haves” and fads. No one would call me a trendy!  I believe strongly in individual freedoms and rights and to me these are very conservative US constitutional and indeed world democratically understood human values. I have a very plain automobile, and I prefer to walk when I can. I dress very plainly (conservatively?), and when I have tried from time to time to dress more fashionably I have quickly lost interest.

I do not ordinarily call myself a “conservative” however because that word has been taken over ideologically. In some cases it has come to mean for some the very opposite of what I mean. So let me be clear that when I am forced to use Harper’s label for himself and his party it means that they have an ideologically “conservative” social and economic political agenda. He is part of an ideological “conservative” movement of our times in North America and Europe that claims to represent prudence and tradition. 

“Prudence” sounds great to me on the surface. “Tradition” I would be cautious and selective about, because I feel that some traditions are fine and others would keep us all stuck in the mud. I like the tradition of people being polite and courteous to each other. I don’t like the tradition of celebrating Christmas with a mad rush to spend, spend, spend, and then spend.

With both words, however, it really depends on who gets to define them. Certainly I don't get to define them!! What do they actually mean in the world of political fighting and spin? Whatever they “believe,” the ideological conservative politicians and lobbyists tend to side with the interests of business -- and it seems especially with the interests of big business, and even with those of multinational corporations and banks -- creations that don’t want to pay taxes or have to deal with regulations, and that tend to be against consumer protections and rights. 

Thus my own frugal “economic conservative values” and efforts to stay out of debt have conflicted with their “economic conservativism” that has focused on not paying their taxes and indeed on their encouraging of consumer spending. Sorry, that’s just way the cookie crumbles. It’s just me. I enjoy fresh air more than fresh furnishings. I’m just standing here, trying to stay put, trying not to get blown over in their storm and frenzied promotion of “economic growth.” 

When it comes to social conservativism, my values center on respect for individual rights and freedoms – live and let live.  Educate the young so that they can develop the maturity to take care of themselves and become responsible neighbors and parents and so that rationally self-governing communities can form. This is conservative in my mind. In my mind a fellow-citizen, indeed a fellow human being, is a flesh and blood individual and I think it is a preposterous stretch and legal spin to take profit making machines made up of flesh and blood parts, and grant that these are individuals, “legal individuals” or otherwise.

Consumers should expect products to be advertised honestly and people have a right to know what they are being sold to eat and full disclosure if there are risks. Call this consumer protection or whatever, I think this is conservative, though some that call themselves “conservative” would say that this is over-regulation and that I must therefore bear for all to see the scarlet letter “L” for “liberal.”  I think of them as “ideological conservatives,” not true conservatives. 

So this is Phil; and you can see why I am not comfortable about labels. There has been so much political spin put on the language that we use in public discussion that I feel a bit dirty even to enter into the language used in public discussion. Maybe the best I can do is just state this, as I have just done, and then go on and try to make my points using conventional terms of discourse.

What does all this have to do with Prime Minister Harper? I will get to that. But first I wanted to explain that I have problems with the label “conservative” as it has been used in the US, and frankly I am not yet exactly sure what they mean by it up here in Canada. I also want to confess quite frankly that being new here I am in no position to say if Canadian “conservativism” is good or bad for Canada!

For example Canadian economic policy has been good for helping Canada to weather the global economic crisis even though its economy is so closely tied to the US economy.  Business people in the US used to say derisively that the Canadians were much too "conservative" economically, too old fashioned, and they would send lobbyists up here to try to break the economy "open" and "modernize" it. I would say maybe we should say Canadians have been "prudent" and the American go-go loose credit binge was predictably a bubble waiting to pop. In fact left wing governments as well as “conservative” ones supported the prudent economic policies, as I understand it now.  That is, Canadian economic prudence may have little to do with the Conservative party for all I know right now. 

To complicate things more, the Canadians do tax a lot, but they pump money back into infrastructure and general health benefits. There is a campaign back home to convince Americans to call this “socialism” -- but my gosh, it has the effect of subsidizing business up here!! For example the workers do not demand health benefits from employers because workers (all Canadians) have excellent government health benefits. Of course there is grumbling, humans being all too human, but in general the Canadian citizens love their health system. Such social services also lower the production costs for Canadian businesses and helps them to build and to keep them strong, as does good infrastructure. If this is really socialism, it is of a species that also is a huge, huge subsidy to capitalism. Go figure. Scratch head. Again, I need to learn more – and then I will have to figure out what I learn means! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buying Elections, and Human Ecology

I want to keep trying to be clear how my thinking would include politics and economics in a comprehensive science of Global Human Ecology, especially in these first posts on this blog. The point is not easily grasped because traditional academics has divided the pursuit of knowledge into boxes, as it were. Universities set up professional turfs such as ecology, economics, anthropology, political science, and so on where experts are hired and trained because they function well within the turf boundaries and in fact help to defend these boundaries and their specialized perspectives. Here in the article mentioned next is an example of important dynamic links in the modern world system that are not part of our traditional ways of thinking about ecology and in turn about human ecology let alone GHE even though obviously each discipline has something to contribute and will ofter insights now and then into the big picture. 

The article is in today's New York Times. September 20, 2010. Donors’ Names Kept Secret as They Influence the Midterms. By MICHAEL LUO and STEPHANIE STROM. Link includes comments; you will perhaps have to sign in. And yes, of course candidates that are Democrats can also be beholden to Big Money in this system, as well as Republicans. The article could have fleshed that out a bit. And nevertheless ....

Basically, a lot of Big Money is being spent to influence the upcoming US elections and the public has no way of knowing who is bankrolling the organizational and media campaigns that are vigorously promoting mostly Republican candidates with pro-big-business agendas. This is hardly a surprise and the situation was expected to get worse and worse after recent rulings of the largely Republican appointed Supreme Court. It is not a secret that there is a good correlation between campaign spending and electoral victories. In fact it is the scandal of our nation that our democratic system has proved to be so fragile.  But what does this have to do with GHE? 

How does this article make me think in terms of GHE dynamics? The making and administration of laws certainly influence how people behave and form their habits of thinking and acting. Laws and the administration of laws can affect how corporations behave in many ways, including uses of natural and human resources, pollution, promotion of military exploits to advance and protect trade interests, and on and on. Thus laws and their administration help shape how Homo sapiens interacts with its social and total global environments. A comprehensive science of GHE would strive to understand how laws are made and enforced and the electoral process that helps determine laws and their administration and thus it is important how money is used to influence elections. 

Political power should not be a black box, or left to fragmented disciplines each with its own turf interests and perspectives, in thinking about human ecology. We should be asking, what is it about the movements of Big Money and indeed about human nature that cause and allow the dynamics of Big Money flow mentioned in the article below to be important? How conscious is the general population about how media campaigns and the organization of so-called "grass roots" movements influence their thinking and behavior. What is it about human nature that can be so reliably exploited in this regard?

Traditional disciplinary training and turf-defending put knowledge in boxes such that attention to the dynamics of campaign contributions would not be thought of as part of human "ecology" in ordinary academic terms. This in itself involves human psychology and institutional behavior that makes it difficult if not impossible to develop a very much needed comprehensive science of Global Human Ecology within the traditional academic framework. This is to say that the study of academic communities of experts should be an important area of study within GHE. Our communities of experts do not even have a clear idealized conception of what GHE needs to be, and why is that and what does it matter? 

(I really do need to get some of my book manuscripts polished and published!!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Should a Science of Human Ecology Be? --Menus and Food Riots

The food supply relative to human numbers has been shrinking for some time. I hope that I will not have to keep repeating that increasing numbers of people and decreasing availability of farmable land and of fishes in the sea have been contributing to food shortages, hunger, starvation, and even the spread of food riots.

Let’s stop for a minute though to think scientifically about what we mean by “food supply.” Scientifically speaking, people have to eat to stay alive – sure! One issue though is do they have to eat so much mammal meat?  The answer is no!!

An awful lot of our farmland goes to raising grain to feed to livestock. This takes a lot of high-energy inputs like fuel for tractors and shipping and fertilizers and pesticides and fertilizers and so on. And then the darned livestock use up most of the energy in the grain just to keep warm! Then we put yet more energy into shipping and slaughtering them and getting their pieces into grocery stores. And of course there are enormous federal subsidies coming out of your pocket to help all this along. You would think that meat must be incredibly healthy to justify all this cost and ecologically inefficiency. You would think that it must be very adaptive to eat a lot of meat.

Of course meat is nutritious, but experts agree that “modern man” tends to eat far more than is necessary. In fact we eat so much that this contributes to obesity, heart and artery problems, cancer, and reduces longevity.

In short yes we do have to eat! -- But we do not have to eat so much meat, or shrimp cocktails, or cakes and pies, and so on. For some reason the modern world has developed a taste for, a craving for such things. They are luxuries and habits.  

University ecologists are trained to think of humans as animals that have population sizes and metabolic budgets and nutritional needs and to think in terms of tons of available food and tons of food needed to support populations. This is THEIR toolkit. But food is a much more complicated subject than this and in part because of the uncomfortable fact that people eat types of food in amounts that don’t necessarily make sense in terms of the body's energy requirements. When faced with this fact, scientists with ecological training tend to throw up their hands and are not sure what they can contribute -- either because they are not deeply interested in cultural habits in a practical sense or they don’t have time to learn how to think about how cultures develop historically or cultural habits are maintained and spread.  And yet how can we really hope to understand the ecologically significant aspects of human behavior, the attitudes and behaviors that impact the way we live on the earth, without giving due attention to culture? And culture of course includes religions, and the diverse religious mentalities are complicated topics in their own right. 

How is it that have we modern folks developed such a craving for meat? I don’t mean to imply that Hindus and other peoples who are vegetarians or largely vegetarian are not modern, but actually the fact that I have to qualify this helps to illustrate the issue!! A great part of our craving for meat is that our culture has developed the idea that a high-meat diet is progress and a sign of being “modern” and of luxury living. How has this reputation of meat in fact, theories aside, actually happened? How in the general sense do such things happen? With this question we would be getting into the area of social theories, and there are several to consider – and some of those that seem most attractive are actually too easy, too simple. So please expect that we will be poking about a bit, tossing ideas around.

Advertising certainly helps to maintain the craving for high-meat diets and is helping the habit spread around the world to growing economies like Japan and China. Ecologists DO know that this spread, cultural diffusion of values and life styles, means increasing pressure on farmland to produce animal feed, and costs for the various inputs, and reduces the amount of food for direct human consumption. But again, about all they can say about the CRAVING is that it seems unnecessary biologically and has something to do with desires for a more modern life-style, like smoking tobacco with all the risks of heart disease etc.

Wait! -- Advertising! Glamorous images! I will bet that over half of the population thinks that glamorous advertising images don’t influence people’s minds, cravings, or behaviors. So how can I dare to bring advertising in here as something that contributes to human behavior? 

The fact is that plenty of studies show that regardless of what the consumers think, the shrewd businessmen who spend hundreds of billions of dollars and hire expensive designers and promoters are in fact getting something significant for their money. It is like negative political campaigns. Most people hate them and want them to go away. So why do political interests keep spending money on negative campaigning? You would think this would backfire, but in fact the professionals know that even if people hate it, nevertheless it gets results!!

So why do most people think that they are never influenced by glamour in advertising and by negative campaigning?  Why do most people think that THEY are the exceptions? We need to understand this working of the human mind, this aspect of human nature, if we are going to understand human behavior on our planet. This quirk of the mind is something that does influence consumption patterns and whole economic networks and voting patterns and political representation, and even sometimes wars, and of course personal and neighborhood values and behavior.

The short of it is, first of all, that PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE WORKINGS OF THEIR OWN MINDS very well at all. We are taught by mother culture to flatter ourselves into thinking that we are rational and objective. Often it takes a crisis in life for one to realize that this may not be true and then one may turn to a psychotherapist to get help working to sort out what went wrong with one’s supposed rationality and objectivity. Sometimes the person in crisis does not have the guts to really break through into their core and their past. Sometimes they get swept up in cults that offer them emotional support and new ways of thinking and in effect they turn themselves over to a new herd, and all too commonly to a convincing shepherd with a few loose screws.

A second factor is DENIAL, and this can be related to the lack of self-understanding that I just mentioned. But denial is not just a lack of understanding, it is something that the brain does automatically that protects one’s identity and ego from challenges to the way one see’s oneself and/or expects others to see them.   If we are really going to understand the mechanisms of human behavior and the impact of humans on the planet then we have to have a good grasp of human psychology and that includes ego-defense mechanisms and how they can keep us blind to realities, or cause us to rationalize them -- a sub-species of the same problem with the brain. Let’s be sure to keep this in mind when reading posts on this blog. 

Like tobacco, high meat diets are promoted and made to seem glamorous by large advertising budgets.  They have also become cultural habits. A treat for many people is still a steak dinner at an expensive restaurant. I enjoy the ritual of the backyard barbeque as much as anyone else. It tastes good, and it is a fun way to be social and maintain relationships. But lots of meat and ice cream are nevertheless luxuries in my culture and there is no non-cultural, strictly nutritional reason to overdue these as we do. Our culture has come to see such things as “quality of life” -- and in their push to “modernize” the Japanese and Chinese seek to imitate us and to “reach” what our “modern Americanized” society tells the world is the one and only good life profile.

By the way, they say that the Japanese began to ban raising animals to kill them and eat their meat under the influence of Buddhism and with the Emperor Temmu in A.D. 675. There were plenty of fish and so they could get enough protein and developed a rich cuisine without a lot of meat in it, but enough protein. Then around 1854 Japan made plans to Westernize and become a world power and its elite tilted the worship of the masses toward Shinto, which stressed ambition and competition, and the Emperor Meiji began to promote the Western luxury meat and it slowly began to catch on. [But only slowly with regard to meat – and that in itself is interesting.]

What is this drive to imitate all about? Is it simply that “modern life styles” have been hyper-glamorized by television programs, films, and the media? Certainly this is part of it. [For some reason the film El Norte comes to mind, in which a brother and sister in rural Guatemala have dreams of living in the US from American magazines that portray a rich quality of life. They discover that the realities of life in the US for them are far from what they expected. Modern life is a mixed bag.] 

Imitation is indeed part of the workings here, but not all of it. And we cannot drop the original question of why has our own culture defined “quality of life” the way it has, and in such a way that “modern society” leaves what conservation biologists call a huge “ecological footprint.”  I will have more to say about this in future posts.

Questions, questions!! What I am trying to get at right now is to SKETCH THE SORTS OF THINGS that we need to know if we want to understand how and why humans think and behave these days and especially in ways that make us the species on the planet that has the biggest impact on the thin covering called the biosphere. Again, biology, culture, history, and economics would all be part of a true science of Global Human Ecology if it were not for the academic boundaries that tend to keep them apart and to keep cross talk poor. C.P. Snow famously referred to the Two Cultures of the sciences and humanities in intellectual life and in universities. But there are certainly more than two!!

Let’s talk about “political economy.” What’s that? For now, let’s simply say that “political” means power and “economy” means organization and say that political economy books began to be written back in the late 18th century to refer to the ways in which the power of states, kingdoms and nations, was based on the organization of people, national institutions, finances, arms, and foreign relations. “Economy” split off from this integrated way of looking at a state or nation and national power because what we call today “economists” took up and tried to develop predictive powers about certain details having to do with the flow of money through the machine of power, and the flow back and forth between other national machines of power. This is of course important to understand and it is like thinking about a nation as a body and its patterns of circulation and metabolism. But it wanders from the Big Picture.

Similarly, “political scientists” split off their specialized studies and writings from political economy because narrow specialization was thought to be important especially where there was voting (to try to understand voter behavior). And after all, somebody had to talk about theories of formal government in the abstract and where democracy might fit in, and how other national machines of power could be formally classified. And so on. This is the easy stuff, of course. You’re not going to get tenure and promotion trying to study and teach general principles about back-room deals, the Mafia, bribes, lying or crooked politicians and bureaucrats, voter ignorance, arms dealing, psychopathic ambition, and so on. These are all very real dynamics in politics and power, but there has not been much if any of a job market at universities for scholars who might like to focus their studies on these sorts of dynamics in the system.

So anyway, the entire kingdom, including the entire population, was thought of as the king’s house or estate, and economy meant the way his house was organized. Think of political economy as the study by his staff of how to make and keep him powerful and help him to get to be even more powerful. And keep in mind that as Plato and other great thinkers have pointed out, running a state is all about managing herd psychology.

So how does the king’s system inspire people -- his herds -- to be ambitious so that they will serve their roles in his machine and with determination? His advisors set up a system of rewards and social levels. Some writers call this “a prestige system.” The system gives out ranks, titles, medals, awards, salary increases and bonuses, and perks, perks, perks! These are distributed so to define the workings of his power machine.  The idea is to make “a machine that will run of itself.” Then the king can sit back and play croquet and still be powerful. This even works for systems where there are no kings or dictators.

Thus, people work hard to get status symbols, and because of the particular system of rewards, in doing this their energy and ambition serve the system and the machine spins along generating power for the guy or guys at the top.

Back to meat: Meat has been a status symbol in a lot of cultures for a very long time. It is indeed nutritious and has been harder to come by than other foods whether it is hunted or raised. In many societies livestock were currency used for bride prices, land sales, reparations, and so on. Look at all the religions in which people were supposed to sacrifice animals to their god or gods, and then the priests got to eat them -- and this perk was a dramatic sign of the high status of the priests. This was true for the Western religions in the days of Moses and Abraham, and only threatened to go out of vogue around the time of Jesus and Paul when some followers of Jesus gave up eating meat and Paul had to argue that they should not be self-righteous about it.

"One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:5-6)

Thus when the Emperor Meiji broke many centuries of tradition and made an example by officially serving meat he installed an expensive status symbol into his system of power, along of course with others. In a few decades Japan industrialized and became a world power, and meat may have played a small role in this vast project.

Food habits decidedly have an impact on the use of land, trade patterns, human misery, and even political stability and war and peace. The causes of food habits should be something that citizens and scientists should seek to understand for insights into global human ecology.  This will require broad rather than narrow perspectives that fully respect an understanding of culture as well as agriculture and nutrition, and history as well as economics, and sociology as well as population growth, and how the mind works as well as how brain tissue is put together, and religions as well as mathematical formulas.

James Thurber once gave us some words to ponder -- "The brain of our species is, as we know, made up largely of potassium, phosphorus, propaganda, and politics, with the result being how not to understand what should be clearer and clearer is becoming easier and easier for all of us." 

Monday, September 6, 2010

World Hunger, Starvation, and Riots

≈World hunger seems like a good topic to begin this blog. Let me explain. Back in early 2008 the press began to report a sudden jump in the numbers of food riots in many parts of the world. Suddenly more people were starving than might be expected simply from population growth and poverty alone!

This jump in numbers seemed like an interesting incident in the history of global human ecology and so I began to try to learn why it was happening. I began to bounce my findings and ideas off of colleagues and soon people were suggesting that I start a blog. But I did not start one until now, after more urging regarding this and other topics. So here we are, you see entry #1! Now back to early 2008, many months before the world economic crash. What I was finding out one could say predicted the crash, for my looking into the food crisis began to reveal to me that the world economy was a house of cards. Maybe I should have known earlier, but apparently most educated people and even economists did not then understand this. Apparently most of them still do not, or don't want to discuss it. Everybody is focused on the immediate problems.

Okay, in 2008, and before and after, the obvious contributions to world hunger were and are climate fluctuations and population growth. But these will only explain part of world hunger, and of the 2008 spike. Another factor is ecological degradation of farm land and again that will only explain part of world hunger and of the spike. So we keep looking -- right?

To make a long story short there were two other big possibilities; I will deal with them briefly for now. The first was that biofuels made from food crops were being promoted by governments and by the "life science" biotech and seed companies and the scientific community that is involved in this sort of thing, and of course by stockholders and the banks that are betting on these sorts of companies. There was a lot of awesomely powerful lobbying behind this! Legislation to mix ethanol into fuel and subsidies of course stimulated farmers to grow more corn for biofuel and less for human and animal consumption. They put less land into alternative food crops too. So, less food was on the market because it was more profitable to grow for biofuels. Farm land prices were shooting up too because of the market that was being stimulated by legislation and subsidies for biofuels. So this further drove up the prices of grains and other foods for both domestic consumption and the export markets, A lot of big farmers and investors were very happy about this. But there were complications, to say the least, for certain types of farmers and for world trade in food and for poor people. Perhaps more about this later.

Right now I want to get back to my "house of cards" claim. Where was all this money to invest in land, farm equipment, processing plants, etc. coming from? Moreover, as food prices were going up speculators were jumping like mad into the commodities markets and buying up grain futures for example. Huge amounts of money were being spent to bet that biofuel grain and food prices would go up. Think of a sort of bidding auction, where rich people are willing to pay more and more trying to own the rights to some grain and this competition drives up the price of the grain, much as competition can drive up the price of a Picasso to crazy heights. This sort of effect means that most of us cannot afford an original Picasso, and likewise many people at the economic margins could rather suddenly no longer afford to buy even as much food as they had. Thus, panic. All this is simple enough to understand, right? How much of the problem was caused by this? We still cannot put a precise figure on it for various reasons, but it is generally agreed by all but the special interests that biofuels and speculation were significant factors. And keep in mind that despite the world recession/depression and tightening of money the structural issues here have not really gone away!

I am still not quite to my "house of cards" claim, but almost. Sooooooo. The next question is where did all the money for investing in commodity futures come from? There seemed to be no shortage! Most was coming from big hedge funds. And where did they get the money? NOW to the house of cards: What I began to learn is that if you are one of the big boys you can borrow a tremendous amount of money without much real value collateral and THIS SUPER-LEVERAGE WAS GOING ON ALL OVER THE PLACE!! What that meant was that there was a tremendous amount of money in circulation without anything solid behind it. If simple loose credit was not bad enough I learned that if you are one of the big boys you can take the money that you have borrowed that has very little real value collateral and use THAT leveraged borrowed money as collateral for yet another round of loans. Regulations had become so loose that this could go on and on, and has done so! And moreover this sort of thing had become such common practice that many other countries were allowing this as well so that their wealthy folks could stay in the global competition.

Basically the world of high finance, that for some decades since the Reagan Revolution policies of deregulation had been developing, had been allowed to print their own money -- maybe call it "e-currency."  This all seemed impossibly reckless to me, not to mention unfair to little people who are not allowed to "e-print" money. My younger friends in business said "You are only concerned because your thinking is old fashioned. The world is prospering with these new creative types of financing." That was before the crash began a few months later and the big institutions began to freeze up because not even they were sure of the true value of anything.

My knowledge of history told me that economies went into great troubles when for example, kings diluted the precious metals in coins so that they could have more of them to spend on their wars and castles. Think about it this way -- why not just allow you and me to print our own money? Why not make counterfeiting legal? In a sense the US governments since the Reagan Revolution have allowed businesses evermore to print money. So let's say for the sake of discussion that there had been a good amount of economic growth around the world -- but how much new capital had been bought by "counterfeit" (in this sense) money? Apparently no one is sure. And apparently no one is sure what to do about it even today. But lets save these sorts of questions for later.

One point I want to make just now is that human ecology cannot be simply about how much biomass an acre of land can produce and how many calories X numbers of people need to survive. It must take into consideration laws, politics, the real world ins and outs of moving money around, and indeed the public ignorance of the world that helps to keep voters from making informed decisions.

And why is there public ignorance? -- Let's save that for future posts.