On Climate Change (was Re: My letter to Obama)

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Paul D. Fernhout

Nov 10, 2008, 11:54:43 AM11/10/08
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Josef Davies-Coates wrote:
> I don't understand this type of thinking as it seems to assume
> on-going business as usual economic growth whilst completely ignoring
> peak oil, climate change and economic collapse.

Climate change is another big inconvenience (or worse, as with Katrina), but
again it is more about politics and what is "fair" than anything. The Dutch
know how to deal with storm surges and have the will to do it, for example.

A related book with some examples of the difficulty defining "fair", like
how to fairly divide a cake when some are hungrier than others or some come
late to the party:
"Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making" by Deborah Stone

Consider Freeman Dyson's comments on global climate change:
"There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the
warming is not global. I am not saying that the warming does not cause
problems. Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it
better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated. They take
away money and attention from other problems that are more urgent and more
important, such as poverty and infectious disease and public education and
public health, and the preservation of living creatures on land and in the
oceans, not to mention easy problems such as the timely construction of
adequate dikes around the city of New Orleans."

Image all the money to be spent on reducing CO2 instead going to "open
manufacturing". Which world would you rather be living in if we had to
choose? One where we still have climate change but just a little slower, or
one where everyone has the capacity to make their own tools and materials to
deal with it? (Though I do not think long term we have to choose, since I
think open manufacturing and local choices will shift away from overly
centralized systems with long supply chains).

Even if stopping global climate change through immediate CO2 reduction was
the biggest issue, none of the seriously proposed proposals to reduce the
increase in CO2 output would do much at this points (even carbon cap and
trade stuff is not enough). Most focus on reducing the "increase" not
removing the extra we have added over the last few centuries. It is, in
short, too late IMHO to do much to stop global climate change by such
measures. We're stuck with worse hurricanes, rising sea levels, ecotone
movement, and so on. What we need to do, IMHO, is say, "This was caused by
pollution, so we need to think about fairness in sharing the costs of
dealing with the consequences". So, how can places like New Orleans be made
more invulnerable from storms? Or maybe in an extreme case, do we need an
sci-fi style array of reflectors in orbit around the Earth to reduce
warming, even if it costs a trillion dollars? And who will pay for this all
and who gets the benefits? (But hey, didn't we in the USA just pay about $3
trillion for a war and about $1 trillion for a banking bailout?)

Anyway, some comments on "thinking big" in my next post.

--Paul Fernhout

Chris Watkins

Nov 11, 2008, 12:44:52 PM11/11/08
to openmanu...@googlegroups.com
On Mon, Nov 10, 2008 at 10:54, Paul D. Fernhout <pdfer...@kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:

Josef Davies-Coates wrote:
 > I don't understand this type of thinking as it seems to assume
 > on-going business as usual economic growth whilst completely ignoring
 > peak oil, climate change and economic collapse.

Climate change is another big inconvenience (or worse, as with Katrina), but
again it is more about politics and what is "fair" than anything. The Dutch
know how to deal with storm surges and have the will to do it, for example.

The Dutch have money. I'm more concerned about countries like Bangladesh.



Chris Watkins (a.k.a. Chriswaterguy)

Appropedia.org - Sharing knowledge to build rich, sustainable lives.


I like this: five.sentenc.es

Paul D. Fernhout

Nov 12, 2008, 2:49:42 AM11/12/08
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Chris Watkins wrote:
> The Dutch have money. I'm more concerned about countries like Bangladesh.

Or the Maldives: :-(
"Climate change drives Maldives to buy land"
"The Indian Ocean state of the Maldives will start to divert cash from its
largest industry, tourism, to buy land in case rising sea levels submerge
the country’s low-lying coral islands, spokespeople for the president-elect,
Mohamed Nasheed, said on Monday. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the
vice-president-elect, said the “worst-case scenario due to sea level rise
would be that some or even all of our islands would become uninhabitable and
we would have to look for alternative places for Maldivians to live.”"

Or more generally:
"Five nations under threat from climate change"

As is pointed out here:
"Faced with rising sea levels, the Maldives seek new homeland "
"If this happens, the Maldives would be uninhabitable. But Maldivians
wouldn’t be the first population displaced by global warming. That
distinction probably belongs to the half million residents of Bangladesh’s
Bhola Island whose homes were swallowed in 1995 by rising sea levels. In
2005, the 1,600 residents of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands began
evacuation, as the advancing sea contunued to destroy gardens, sink homes,
and contaminate freshwater supplies. Also that year, 100 residents of
Vanuatu’s island of Tegua had to be evacuated as their homes became
permanently flooded. Other low-lying Pacific islands that could disappear in
this century include those in Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and
Fiji. Were these countries to be evacuated, the legal status of the global
warming diaspora would be unclear. The same goes for that of a submerged
country’s sovereignty. No nation in recorded history has peacefully
relocated its entire population and remained intact, and, as National
Geographic pointed out in 2005, environmental refugees are not recognized by
international law."

They are paying the price for the CO2 pollution that has been going on for
centuries using a web of manufacturing technologies that I would think most
here would like to replace with something more sustainable. Is it fair that
these people have to pay to deal with others' pollution? And really, no
amount of money will make up for the dislocation and social disruption.

Around where I live, people are still upset about a dam that was built and
caused the destruction of communities and a way of life in a pleasant river
valley -- seventy years later after the dam was built. They suffered, even
as some people downstream get flood control, and some owners of the rights
to the hydroelectric make a lot of money, and others who speculated on
property that was on the edges of the new lake got wealthy. But most people
who actually lived in the river valley were socially harmed in a sense even
if they got some compensation for their land at market value, since social
and spiritual capital of having roots in a specific place are not so easy to
put a price tag on. Of course, one might say the same about the Native
Americans who were forced off the land before them.

As Eric Hunting has pointed out, as a variation of the LUF proposal,
countries can build more living space in the oceans. It is just expensive --
but then where is ocean front property cheap these days? It is my hope that
open manufacturing may make these options more affordable for poor (in cash)
people or poorer countries, by fostering innovation and new ideas and new
options. For places like Bangladesh or the Maldives, *if* there was a
coherenent body of technology they could draw on to envision an alternative
of building their own land, like the Dutch did with polders, or as has been
done in Singapore
"The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) launched another 8 infill sites for
residential use today. "
or in Japan.
"Megafloat -- Floating Runway Built on the Ocean in Japan"

You are right that the Netherlands and those other countries are all in some
ways monetarily richer countries. However, one reason the Dutch are rich
today (beyond Dutch participation in the slave and drug trade) is that the
Dutch built a lot of their own land. That experience also helped shape their
social mindset of cooperation and expectations of people upholding social
and contractual obligations. See for example:
"The Low Sky in Pictures: Understanding the Dutch "
Or from Wikipedia:
"A third explanation refers to a unique aspect of the Netherlands, largely
consisting of polders, land regained from the sea, which requires constant
pumping and maintenance of the dykes. So ever since the Middle Ages, when
this was started, different societies living in the same polder were forced
to cooperate because without unanimous agreement on shared responsibility
for maintenance of the dikes and pumping stations, the polders would have
flooded and everyone would have suffered. Crucially, even when different
cities in the same polder were at war, they still had to cooperate in this
respect. This supposedly taught the Dutch to set aside differences for a
greater purpose."

People are regularly relocated for big things like hydroelectric dams, as
happened near where I live now, or small things like a new bridge over the
lake about to be built and needing land for an access path where a few
houses now sit. It's a messy social process, and I'm not necessarily for dam
building (there are many horror stories obviously, of natives displaced
without even any compensation), but it has happened and people have tried
(and perhaps failed) to come up with approaches towards relocation with some
sense of fairness. What's going on with rising sea levels connected to CO2
pollution can thus perhaps be thought of in those terms. It's a complex
issue; the notion of any sort of private or even public land ownership is
always problematical if one considers ethical ambiguities related to
histories of invasion and various first comers claiming special rights (why
should primacy be the highest deciding factor?). One always has to make
assumptions in talking about what is fair (including, sadly, the assumption
of what role threat and intimidation and violence plays in all that). There
are lots of ways to think about the fairness of climate change from CO2
pollution (again, see the book, "Policy Paradox: The Art of Political
Decision Making" for general ideas). What is unfair about the current
situation is these people losing their beach front property (and related
livelihoods) are paying the highest costs for the benefits of CO2 pollution
which are mostly going to other people. But, the process is effectively
irreversible in the near future. Short of some very radical plans which may
have other unforeseen side effects (dumping freighters of iron powder in the
oceans to create algae blooms which then sink?), these low lying lands will
disappear under any politically likely approach to CO2 reduction. So, rather
than emphasize slowing climate change, I think it is more important to talk
about dealing fairly with climate change (whatever "fair" means to different
people) and advancing our culture to the point where it can do what needs to
be done to give everyone an abundant life despite climate change.

But, as with reparations for other past misdeeds by large societies
(slavery, mountaintop removal, groundwater pollution, desecration of sacred
spaces, etc.), it's not clear to me how the mix should go between direct
reparations to the people involved (or their descendants, like for slavery)
or if this should instead spur us as a society towards more general social
investments that benefit everybody (like creating a general and cheap
technology to build new land in the ocean like Eric Hunting mentioned in
"Re: Land and Capital; Invention and Automation"). Probably some mix of both
would be fairest, but unfortunately often now under current economic and
political ideologies we have neither reparations nor broad public investment
in open and sustainable technology to any great degree. :-( But, we may see
that change eventually, especially as the globe generally gets wealthier and
various sustainable industrial activities get easier.

Here are some surprising ideas about poverty in the world and how it has
been changing over time, powered by computer graphics and a database
(reminds me of some of the ideas in Bucky Fuller's World Game):
"Gapminder - TED 2007 - Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life
around the world"

A related blurb:
"Researcher Hans Rosling uses his cool data tools to show how countries are
pulling themselves out of poverty. He demos Dollar Street, comparing
households of varying income levels worldwide. Then he does something really

There is a "dollar street" view of the world, and at the end there is very
politically challenging graph of "means" versus "goals".

The key point of that short video is that the world as a whole is getting
richer, and that many relatively cash-poor countries are as materially
prosperous now as the USA was 50 years or so ago per capita, and have as
good health statistics per capita as the USA had then, and are often
exceeding the USA back then and even now in the degree of distribution of
that wealth equitably.

I think those statistics show that globally, there is a lot of physical
wealth and it is growing, and so there is enough to go around to at least
begin to address the issue of the consequences of CO2 pollution with some
sense of fairness if we wanted to as a globe. Many, many countries have the
level of resource per person the USA had around the time of WWII or
approaching the time that the USA landed a person on the Moon.

Anyway, I mainly went into this issue (and the others, like peak oil) to
share my sense that there are solutions, and open manufacturing can play a
part in implementing them (starting with educating about alternatives). So
there is no cause for deep despair over them, no matter what is in the news.
Short of the always possible nuclear war or biological war over resources
for short term political reasons, a movie like "Mad Max" is unrealistic even
if oil were to disappear over the next ten years (we'd burn coal and suffer
the consequences, like mercury pollution). A movie like "Waterworld" is
equally implausible if the sea levels rose even 10 meters in the next ten
years (people would move inland, and yes there would be strife,
but seven billion people have enormous resources in their hands if they want
to make things to help each other, though they still need to know how, which
is where open manufacturing comes in). There are real people who are getting
a very unfair deal from the external costs of fossil fuel use like in
Bangladesh and the Maldives and New Orleans -- but nothing likely over the
next 100 years regarding oil or climate change is so extreme by itself
(outside of a foolish war touched off by it) as to threaten our society IMHO
on its own merits, even assuming our technology does not progress somehow.

Consider the IMHO relatively easily manageable (if painful) worries of some
tens of millions of refugees needing relocation from rising sea levels over
the next 100 years, talked about as likely here:
contrasted with, say, the unknown of dealing with the "Technological
Singularity" which would just about any human unemployable (compared to an
AI-powered robot who might be better, cheaper, and faster). See:
"However, a sudden proliferation of humanlike machines would likely cause a
net drop in wages, as humans compete with robots for jobs. Also, the wealth
of the technological singularity may be concentrated in the hands of only a
few. These wealthy few would be those who own the means of mass producing
the intelligent robot workforce. On the other hand, everyone would benefit
from radical price drops of most goods and services."

That idea is from a continued playing out of the trends mentioned in the
"Triple Revolution Manifesto" of 1964.
And those trends are playing out faster than climate change and faster than
running out of fossil fuels and faster than the accumulation of pollution.

(As I write this I had to go get my wife to deal with a iRobot Scooba floor
scrubbing robot which was having problems ("check tank") as I don't know how
to operate it yet. I am getting pretty good at getting dog fur out of a
Roomba's brushes though. :-)

See also:
"Through generous private investment and philanthropy, Willow Garage has the
resources to maintain a research lab of 60 people indefinitely. Our sponsors
have charged us with developing autonomous artificial devices that operate
in unconstrained environments without human intervention to perform specific
tasks. Our mission is to go beyond state of the art and make a positive
impact on the world. We are enabling computers to operate in the real world,
in unconstrained human environments where they can help with repetitive
tasks. Our initial set of projects involves personal robots, cars, and boats."
(And I like them as they talk about free and open source software for
robots; if I lived in California I'd have sent theme a resume, and maybe
interlink the OSCOMAK idea with more on building robots and their software,
assuming they'd agree the results were free and open source -- they still
seem to have a bit of a proprietary mindset in some of their plans, sadly.)

Anyway, that Willow Garage project of 60 full time engineers working on
robots indefinitely is just one aspect of the previously mentioned facts that:
"A flow into foundations of $55 trillion is expected over the next few decades"
"TV watching is consuming 2,000 Wikipedias per year"
Clearly, money and time are not limiting factors for "Humanity's Option for
Success" -- even for issues like dealing with relocating millions of people
or building them new artificial islands in the ocean.

Let's use Eric's figure of $1000 per square meter for artificial land on the
ocean. Even if maybe these people may someday do it for less:
If people need, say, 1000 square meters of ocean front land per person to be
happy and grow most of their own food near the tropics (given the ocean as a
playground too), then that's a million dollars a person to build someone
land for anyone displaced by climate change. That figure is not that out of
line with, say, a "cruise ship condominium", but you'd presumably get more
and have lower operating costs with Eric's suggestion:
"Cruise ship condos"
If global warming leading to sea level rises removes the land from 100
million people, then it would cost 100 trillion dollars to build them all
artificial land to live on working from that figure and that assumption. But
$100 trillion is only about twice the charitable dollars expected over the
next few decades. The global economy itself is about US$60 trillion annually
as a gross world product (GWP),
so that (extreme) cost is about a year and a half of world output, or over
100 years, about 1.5% of world output annually. That's really not that much
to pay for the previous benefits of fossil fuels giving us an advanced
technical infrastructure if we want to address the cost of pollution with
some sense of fairness to the people most directly inconvenienced -- though
I would rather have used more solar energy. So clearly, there are enough
resources to go around to deal with this issue even in a brute force way of
just building new land in the sea the most expensive way we know how. The
question is, will everyone worldwide be willing to pay this 1.5% tax going
forward for 100 years? Or is there a cheaper way?

Or if you were going to spend $100 trillion, maybe there are better ways to
spend it to bring about abundance for all? I'd suggest free and open source
space habitations might be better for most people than ocean habitations (or
any place on the surface of a planet) for a variety of reasons I won't go
into now, but you could see:
"O’Neill posed the question during an extra seminar he gave to a few of his
students: “Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an
expanding technological civilization?” His students’ research convinced him
that the answer was no."
And LUF develops that theme in newer ways.
So with maybe $100K per person for launch costs with advanced rockets, and
the space habitations built for free by self-replicating robots using lunar
and asteroidal ore, I'd be saving the world $90 trillion dollars, for maybe
a $1 trillion up front investment in OSCOMAK and OpenVirgle and open
manufacturing today. :-) Well, if the banks and auto companies and
warmongers can put out their hands for trillions of dollars, why not open
space manufacturing? :-)

But sadly, Marshall Brain's terrafoam idea appears a bit cheaper: :-(
"As the robots took over in the workplace, the number of welfare recipients
grew rapidly. Manna replaced tens of millions of minimum wage workers with
robots, and terrafoam housing became the warehouse of choice for them.
Terrafoam buildings were not pretty, but they were incredibly inexpensive to
build and were designed for maximum occupancy. They clustered the buildings
on trash land well away from urban centers so no one had to look at them. It
was a lot like an old-style college dorm. Each person got a 5 foot by 10
foot room with a bed and a TV -- the world's best pacifier. During the day
the bed was a couch and people sat on the bedspread, which also served as a
sheet and the blanket. At night the bed was a bed. When I arrived they had
just started putting in bunk beds to double the number of people in each
building. Burt was not excited to see me when I arrived -- he had had a
private room for 10 years, and my arrival was the end of that. At least he
was polite about it. ... Because no one had a window, they could really pack
people into these buildings. Each terrafoam dorm building had a four-acre
foot print. It was a perfect 417 foot by 417 foot by 417 foot solid brown
cube. Each cube originally held exactly 76,800 people. Doubling this to
153,600 people in each building was unthinkable, but they were doing it
anyway. On the other hand, you had to marvel at the efficiency. At that
density, they could house every welfare recipient in the entire country in
less than 1,500 of these buildings. By spacing the buildings 100 feet apart,
they could house 200,000,000 people in a space of less than 20 square miles
if they had wanted to. At that density, they could put everyone in the
country without a job into a space less than five miles square in size, put
a fence around it and forget about us. If they accidentally dropped a
nuclear bomb or two on us, we would all be gone and they wouldn't have to
worry about us anymore."

Open manufacturing is one way to try to avoid Marshall Brain's dystopia
related to using advanced robotics in a capitalist society. If you know how
to make things from raw materials, and you have some advanced robots to help
(made by other robots, of course), then you can always be somewhat
self-sufficient if you have access to land or ocean. Obviously, the
government would have more robots and could still tell you what to do on
that basis,
"Slashdot | Packs of Robots Will Hunt Down Uncooperative Humans"
so the idea of self-reliance only goes so far without some sort of social
protections enshrined in a Constitution.
"Shredding the Bill of Rights" by Gore Vidal, November 1998
More realistically, I would hope a continuing open manufacturing movement
would balance some other trends in our society as automation and AI
continues to be increasingly deployed in manufacturing, to keep us from ever
getting to the "Terrafoam" stage for dealing with people whose land has
disappeared or been taken away from them. Of course, that is extremely
hopeful considering the history of the USA and what happened to the natives
whenever their land looked appealing.
"National Museum of the American Indian"
One might at least hope for a reservation with some autonomous decision
making for the poor in the USA (99%+ of the population, if wealth only flows
to those with the most robots early on).

I've been wondering if we might be able to choose what virtues are dominant
in any future technological singularity we are heading into? A list of many:
I've been wondering if a person's view of the singularity reflects their own
values or ideologies (for example, I see in Ray Kurzweil's view of the
sigularity a heavy emphasis on capitalist values in approaching it.) I think
the virtues of openness and sharing and collaboration (even indirect via
stigmergy) have a lot going for them. But if you look at that Wikipedia
article on Virtue, there are a lot of other virtues to choose from to
emphasize in the future. Would we rather have a singularity that emphasizes,
say, "cleanliness" as opposed to "loving-kindness" for example? Well,
judging from how much people mow lawns in suburbia and spray chemicals to
achieve the "perfect" clean looking lawn with not a dandelion (or child) in
sight, maybe cleanliness is going to win? :-( By the way, while there is
still time: :-)
"How to Make Dandelion Wine"
"Joan Baez 'Rejoice in the Sun' - Silent Running"

But in any case, with so much money and time sloshing around, can't we could
do better than drifting into a proprietary future where stuff like
proprietary military robotics are the major focus of technology investment
and what many engineers are working on? Maybe not. But at least the world
has us and others interested in open manufacturing. :-)

Anyway, sorry to clutter up the list with this thread is it drifts offtopic
from the practice of open manufacturing (and I myself really want to get
back to my coding -- the code has just reached the point of doing some
interesting multiuser things). For me, I personally can't do anything
significant financially for the people in, say, the Maldives who are about
to lose their beautiful homes for CO2 pollution which I've helped cause (as
have we all). Similarly, I can't do much for the descendants of Native
Americans which (presumably) Dutch ancestors directly or indirectly
slaughtered to take their lands in New York and elsewhere. Likewise, I can't
do much for the descendants of Africans who (presumably) Dutch relatives
enslaved and transported and sold. (Well, I'd rather see trillions of
dollars from the US go to CO2 pollution reparations than war, of course, and
I've voted that way.) And the Singularity is a big unknown. But, just
because I can't help very directly in any significant way with addressing
any of those past unfairnesses, and because the future is uncertain, that
does not mean I can't indirectly help everyone with an effort like open
manufacturing in my spare time. That's not the major reason I am interested
in open manufacturing (my interest started from wanting to help build
self-replicating space habitations someday), but those Earthly social
aspects are a consideration (and perhaps a bigger and bigger one as I get

--Paul Fernhout

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