Now replete with 150 posts and 150,000 words on the predicament of food, ecology and diet, our new sustainably FED website is a brain dump and a call to action to tackle the challenge that will determine if humanity survives itself
Globally, we grow enough food to feed everyone, but not always well, and around one billion people are food insecure. We are scraping through with 8 billion on a depleted soil resource but expect to feed more people with better food for generations to come.
Blind faith is way too risky a strategy for feeding the grandkids.
Threats to humanity
People will say that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity, others the inability to decouple energy use from economic growth, maybe nuclear armageddon will do it, and we agree that any of these or a dozen others could cause collapse.
Humanity’s success has got itself into a pickle of 8 billion souls with rights to existence and needs to meet.
We are in a perilous and precarious state.
But there is a bundle of issues that come together into feeding everyone well that are immediate and cannot be ignored—growing enough of the right food, getting that food to nourish everyone and doing it without wearing out the ecological engine that provides our sustenance is fundamental.
We don’t eat we starve.
Eat the wrong foods for too long, and we get sick.
So we have produced bite-sized thoughts and information on the food, ecology and diet integration where the solutions can be unearthed.
I am keen to get the benefit from the wood at my feet. The tree trunk is enormous, raw, and not in any shape to be used. It needs to sit and dry out. Then I can fashion it into beams to repair the roof of my rondavel.
But the tree is far from my house. I cannot watch over it until it is dry. I have hunting and gathering to do, and maize beer to drink by the fire.
So I leave the tree where it fell.
My neighbour also needs to repair his roof. He could steal my tree trunk while I am not looking, but he doesn’t because we agree with what tradition tells us.
A tree felled belongs to he who felled it.
Everyone in the tribe knows the rule and agrees to abide by it. Break this agreement and there are consequences from the chief and his many wives.
Society is built on this type of contract.
Called the social contract in moral and political philosophy during the Age of Enlightenment — an actual or hypothetical compact, or agreement, between the ruled or between the ruled and their rulers, defining the rights and duties of each — it originated to give legitimacy to the authority of the state (tradition and the chief) over the individual (me and my stone axe).
Through the social contract, individuals surrender some of their freedoms and submit to collective authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights and maintenance of the social order.
It is easy to forget how critical the social contract is to our well-being and the opportunity for personal success in modern times.
Personal and societal safety, efficient education, security of business contracts including the exchange of time for money, ownership of goods and legal entities, access to health care and expertise, all happen through the contract. Everything that makes modern societies wealthy and safe comes from our collective agreement to follow the rules.
That is not to say that everyone is always happy.
There is a constant tension in the social contract as it ducks and weaves its way alongside the development of societies.
A critical source of tension is the actual or perceived fairness in the rights and duties, especially in the difference between how they are defined and how they play out in the real world.
For example, the government decides, on advice from health professionals, that the best way to manage a pandemic from an infectious airborne virus is to tell people to stay at home. House arrest for the masses. I am no longer at liberty to go and find another tree to cut down even though I have a permit from the Agriculture department to cut one.
No problem. It is in the interest of public health, which is a crucial benefit of the social contract.
The pandemic, fake news, authoritarian regimes, and even social media put tremendous strain on the contract even as neoliberalism persuades people to expect less from governing authorities in exchange for greater civil liberties, including individual, political and economic freedom.
The contradiction is enough to do your head in.
Society is so much more complex than it was in the days of the stone axe. But the importance of the social contract grows with it.
Only to protect the benefits, we have to be vigilant. The rulers cannot ignore the rules any more than we can and must not act unilaterally and claim the authority of the state to justify their self-interest.
Still upset about media drivel, claims from fake news, and the deceit that passes for public debate these days? Check out sustainability FED for objective ideas on how to feed everyone well.
I used the analogy of a hammer to drive home a nail.
A carbon offset is a tool we need to deal with the climate change issue, just like a hammer is a tool. If we use the tool poorly and get a greenwash outcome of companies buying credits to make themselves look good. Then it’s hardly fair to blame the tool.
The post went to Medium rather than here on Alloporus because there’s a debate going on there. Some people are adamant that carbon offsets are a terrible thing and we must get rid of them and they’re not going to solve the problem.
And to be fair, they have a point, but I wanted to make sure that they understood the point they were making.
If you hit your finger with a hammer while trying to knock in a nail, is it the hammer’s fault?
Along with countless others, I am distressed and annoyed at my inability to change minds.
Of course, this feeling of frustration is a weakness on my part, an inability to realise that others minds are their own, and it is no business of mine to go in there and change anything.
But there are times when the zen-like clarity of ‘what will be will be’ fails me.
One such time occurred recently. I read an article entitled ‘For humanity to survive, we must make Australia’s politicians feel our fear and rage’. And so we should. The article contained some solid statements about how Australia and especially its politicians must wake up to a changing world and the reality of climate change.
My frustration built then boiled over when reading this paragraph that quotes, with great moral fortitude, the words of the school strikes movement.
I agree wholeheartedly with the premise… just do your job.
The source of the frustration was that the article’s author is Peter Garrett AM, minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts from 2007 to 2010 in the Rudd and Gillard governments.
It sounds dutiful and egalitarian, and it also suggests the company must be doing well to make such an intelligent investment in its workforce.
Breaking the numbers down, it is clear that 10% to the lowest-paid workers in the company and even those on the average salary in the company results in far fewer extra dollars in the paycheck received by the CEO; let’s call him Jerry, for his 10%.
The average worker gets, say, $200 extra a fortnight after tax. On his $750k a year, Jerry is looking at an additional $1,700 despite his heavier instalment to the tax office.
Justifications abound because the CEO is the boss and must make the decisions and wear the risk. He is worth the extra pay and has considerably more buying power in raw dollars from his 10% pay rise.
Jerry is an intelligent fellow — not a given — so he chose to put the money from his pay into a unit trust, nothing too fancy, just a rainy day option. He did this each month.
The shop floor worker, Tom, was in debt, and he decided to put the extra money into credit card repayments to bring his balance down. His kids wanted presents for Christmas, which took care of December’s extra pay. His eldest daughter was about to go to college, and Tom wanted to send her off with a small sum to get her through the first semester away from home and used January’s extra pay.
Tom consumed the extra money, and Jerry put it away in a modest investment.
After ten years, Jerry’s investment of $3,600 each month was worth $577,971, of which $132,328 was the result of compound interest at 5%.
He decided to cash out his units and made a hefty downpayment on a property south of Brisbane that he immediately rented to increase his net returns to 7.5% and convert his principle into a more stable asset class. The property doubled in value over the next decade, giving Jerry another $1.5 million property in his portfolio.
Now, you could say that Tom could have done the same thing and matured his salary increase by investing it. His $433 per month in the same unit trust would be worth $67,950 after a decade, including $15,500 of interest.
Making an investment choice might have been a clever play. Tom may have saved just enough through the investment to offer his daughter a deposit on a flat or maybe pay for her wedding that came ten years down the road.
But his material wealth would never reach the same levels as Jerry in his working lifetime.
As they say, money makes money.
But the point here is that wealth also concentrates.
The company has one CEO and a handful of executives with salaries large enough to easily invest their 10% but lots of workers, many struggling to make ends meet. The opportunity to make real money falls to a few.
Of course, the owners were happy too. The major shareholder in the business, Mr Hannah, also enjoyed a 5% share dividend each year. His 2.5 million shares were worth $5 million when the first instalment arrived, a handy $125,000.
Similar dividends were paid annually for a decade, with the money moved into various assets that yielded 5% interest. That initial $125,000 plus the annual instalments grew to $1.8 million in a decade, $400,000 of that in interest. Naturally, the shares rose on a buoyant market to be worth $10 million.
The owner’s wealth accumulated too.
Then there are the super owners. Here is one chosen at random. In June 2021, Bloomberg Billionaires Index listed Dieter Schwarz, a german businessman who built his fortune owning supermarket chains, as the 61st richest person globally with an estimated net worth of US$27.3 billion.
Should Mr Schwarz earn 5% interest on his assets, he receives $3.7 million a day before tax.
It is hard to figure out how to spend that kind of money.
Of course, most of the time, these people do not. They invest it after paying clever accountants to minimise their tax. Then, on occasion, they give some of it away.
Annual returns after ten years on a 10% pay rise or 5% dividend compared to the cumulative returns from Mr Schwarz’ existing assets
The pattern is clear — capitalism creates wealth that concentrates into a few individuals or entities. Over time this opens a wide gap between those who have and those who do not.
None of this is new nor much of a revelation. Accumulation and concentration are how capitalism works. The reason for revisiting the basics is that there is a lot at stake should this pattern continue.
Poverty and excess make each other very uncomfortable, and history tells us that resolving such disparity is ugly for everyone.
Better not to let it get out of hand.
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I suspect that most people believe that the primary job of a bank is to look after their cash.
Deposit your money and, at any point in time, you can rock up at a branch or a hole in the wall and receive your cash up to the amount that you put in, minus a few fees.
The reality is that banks only provide a haven for our cash because it allows them to leverage the money held into investments. They borrow against their available capital and invest funds into a wide range of assets that they expect will yield more than what they’re giving you for the privilege of looking after your money.
It’s a fantastic financial model.
It’s the reason that having conquered the world of futures trading, capital gains, and hedge funds, Bobby Axelrod, the megalomaniac character in the Stan thriller Billions, played by Damian Lewis, decides he wants to become a bank.
Essentially it’s a license to print money.
Banks are always looking for assets that will yield investment returns in the shortest space of time. Their mantra, indeed their requirement under the law, is to profit, and they are ‘in the pound seats’ to do it, literally.
They have the scale and capacity to invest in projects that your average Joe couldn’t dream of, from skyscrapers to industrial plants, freeways, and airports. The kinds of investments that require tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to see them to fruition.
Banks have the advantage of using other people’s money and the advantage of scale. They make huge sums from investments that yield high returns for long periods, partly on the fact that no one else can invest in them.
And so it is and has been.
The banks make money, but the projects they fund often deliver utility.
It is not always good.
The pursuit of profit is relentless and ruthless.
Goldrush mentality attracts the most ardent and most skilled as well as the opportunist. Money gives banks the very best people with a sharp mind and a ruthless attitude. They quickly find the best ways to reduce costs and maximise returns.
No surprise that banking can support projects that have severe externalities and direct impacts on the environment. Recall an externality happens when the cost of an activity is not absorbed but shipped out. The commons are excellent dumping ground because no one person or entity gets hit with the liability.
Capitalism degrading the environment is profound. Development has to happen, but it becomes pointless if humanity has no safe place to live.
So who is to blame?
The reality is that we, the people, want roads, skyscrapers, and industrial plants that deliver raw materials for all of the stuff we want to buy.
We are the ones that live in large houses with more bedrooms than you could ever need, more luxury than you could ever really afford. And yet, everyone wants a better life, and it is forever the human condition to want betterment.
In other words, the consumer is ultimately responsible.
Instead of blaming the banks, what if we blame the consumer?
Maybe get consumers, us, to give up our desire for stuff, our emotional and mental drive to better ourselves and provide for our families. Quosh those innate biological feelings to make more that is in all of us.
Well, good luck with that one.
Perhaps there is a compromise position where both individuals and the finance community begin to work together to look long and prosper.
Currently, we do this through regulation.
Governments curtail the riskiest financial behaviours through legislation limiting the amounts of money banks can borrow, their financial ratios, and their ability to exploit customers, in itself a significant ongoing task.
Governments are in a difficult position. They see growth as a political necessity and are reluctant to curtail development activity or the banks that finance it. Yet, all the while, development activity is damaging the planet.
If we can’t blame ourselves or the banks for doing what we want them to do, humanity has a problem.
We do have a choice.
We can accept that consumption and more-making has an impact and try to do something about it. Even a little is better than doing nothing. Light bulbs, anyone?
But fiddling just puts off the inevitable. Instead, something dramatic is needed. The doughnut, perhaps?
Alternatives to historic capitalism exist, and many of the options are maturing nicely.
For example, ‘cooperative enterprises’ where workers make the major enterprise decisions rather than boards of directors selected by shareholders. This alternative is called economic democracy.
Only this is not a million miles away from what we already have. The people choose, but this will not guarantee decisions in favour of anything other than the people.
Robin Hahnel’s book Of the People, By the People: The Case for a Participatory Economy describes the participatory economy where all citizens, through the creation of worker councils and consumer councils, deal with large-scale production and consumption issues without the need for appointed representatives. The participatory economy is the origin of the Green New Deal, a package of policies that address climate change and financial crises.
A participatory economy is different. Imagine the circus of state and national politics banished to the bench.
Doughnut economics is an economic model proposed by Kate Raworth that combines planetary boundaries with the complementary concept of social boundaries. Look after everyone and the planet.
Doughnut economics is different too.
And these are just three of the many alternatives with potential.
What do the alternatives require of us?
Most of the alternative economic systems require a shift in responsibility.
It would be on us, not the banks or the government or the unscrupulous developers. We will all have to step up and understand the consequences of our choices.
The banks would continue to do their thing on our behalf; only we would be responsible for the consequences of what they do.
And so we get to the rub.
Capitalism has delivered growth and, on average, betterment for humanity. Only it comes at an uncomfortable cost. And the only way to pay back that cost is to take responsibility for it.
Are banks bad? No, they are a caricature of our abdication from personal responsibility.
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It has been 30 years since the 1987 stock market crash that pulled the carpet from under any number of brash high-fliers of the day. Many analysts have compared the precursors of that momentous day to the current conditions in overvalued stock and real estate markets around the world.
It has been a long time since gold, the hard precious metal, was held in reserve to match with the currency issued. Today 90% of the world’s cash is electronic and unconstrained by the need for a gold standard so central banks print the stuff by the trillions. They did this to save the system after the 2008 financial crisis and have just kept going ever since, with no obvious slowdown.
The global debt load is now three times greater than it was at the turn of the century and grows by staggering sums each year.
Governments, companies and households raised $24 trillion in 2020 to offset the pandemic’s economic toll, bringing the global debt total to an all-time high of $281 trillion by the end of 2020, or more than 355% of global GDP, according to the Institute of International Finance.
Here are the gross national debt numbers for the US over a longer time period showing recovery from the impact of WW2 and then some political decisions by both Republican and Democrat presidents since the 1980’s.
Now here is the thing.
Most of this cash has been used for speculation to give us booming stock markets, crazy house prices and, arguably, Donald Trump.
Convention says that markets will correct, bubbles will burst, and the politics will burn.
Or will they?
If money is only loosely tied to material things (resources, products or services) and governments can print it at will then any correction is bailed out by more ‘printing’. Whatever it takes to ensure the economic system survives.
Why not go all out?
Print more and more. Give citizens a basic income and do away with welfare for the unemployed. And while at it spend some more money to encourage decentralisation of people away from the big cities by subsidies to services in rural areas.
After all, many of us just learnt to work from home. So home could be anywhere, maybe even somewhere with a kind rural outlook.
Here is my question…
Comment below if you feel the urge and please share with your online folks
Bizarrely it was about templates or more strictly the lack of them.
A document I had prepared got scrunched when transferred from Google Docs to Word because the system I was using wouldn’t let me use the obvious PDF route. All the tidy layout, fonts, headers and footers went haywire. What I needed was a neat template with a standardised look and feel that despite bucket loads of resources the organisation had not provided.
After decades of trying to make things look good on the smell of an oily rag, this imposed dagginess just pushed my buttons. I got loud and went a little red in the face as my complaints bounced wildly around the room.
I mean it doesn’t take much to get a consistent internal look and feel.
These days you can get an Airtasker to do it in a jiffy. Large organisations with their own Comms units just have no excuse.
Not a happy camper.
Calmer now, my curiosity asks why?
What is it about tidiness and a neat layout that is so important?
Well, the obvious answer is that I like documents to be very different to the inside of my car. I want them to be neat, professional, elegant even. Achieving this is much easier with a template.
A good template makes for consistency of message and that makes perfect sense.
I certainly don’t like the optics of viewers seeing a scrappy document and assuming the author can’t even find their way around a simple Word layout.
But this whinge is a sign of deeper trauma.
Ever since I was out of diapers I have strived to high standards in order to fit in, to be liked and accepted.
This need stems from a weird upbringing where I felt like an alien among the local inhabitants. It can happen when you are raised in the church, the Salvation Army in my case.
Achieving accepted practice in the real world was a way of making sure that I wasn’t tainted by all the religious weirdness. A template and a consistent look and feel suggest professionalism.
I like the skill, good judgment, and polite behaviour that is expected of a professional. I knew that if I had these things then it would be much harder for the real world to reject me.
I did say it was deep.
And I was right. I learnt how to be skilled in fitting into real-world situations by learning quickly what it took to do well. It didn’t matter if it was cricket, soccer, or undergrad assignments, I went for it with passion after first finding out what the standards and code of conduct looked like.
This was handy of course. The qualities of professionalism bode well in modern society no matter your background or motivation. What was different for me was that its absence became a trigger.
Somehow I assumed that everyone would be just as motivated as I was to do the job well.
When they are not or just display an amateurish approach I get annoyed. No suffering of fools.
My early career was in the academic world where accepted practice dominates the discourse, sets the hoops, and decides if you have jumped through them. Silly things like 30 refereed publications by the age of 30 was an unwritten standard that was worth achieving as it made careers. I came up just shy with 28 papers. Peer review, learned argument and being well-read in your discipline were similar codes and qualities that mattered to academics.
I thought this would be true everywhere.
Sadly it isn’t.
It is not about the absence of a simple Word template, although there is no excuse for such sloppiness, it is the lack of passion to do the job well.
To have even half a chance of fixing the many challenges that humanity faces in the coming decades we all have to find the template and become professional.
If you have five minutes, why not read another Alloporus post
This post is a little petty, a bit of a whinge, and yet necessary.
There should be some advantages to high office. Typically the benefit is not stellar remuneration. For example, the Prime Minister of Australia earns A$550,000. Whilst this amount is considerably more than the average punter, the top ten CEOs in Australia all earnt over A$10 million in 2019.
If you want to make millions don’t try for the top political jobs. You won’t starve but you won’t be buying a yacht anytime soon. You will need to borrow one from your business mates.
The head of the Reserve Bank of Australia, technically a bureaucrat given that the government pays his salary, Dr Philip Lowe earned just over A$1 million in 2019 and was responsible for managing a $182 billion balance sheet. The highest-paid pure bureaucrat was the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary with a total remuneration of $936,442.
Alright, so the more significant monies go to the private sector and the help.
Now I am not sure this is even remotely sensible for two reasons.
The first is that how are the best people for the job going to apply if they can get an order of magnitude better money elsewhere. Politicians are underpaid. Never thought you would hear that one. Only the current crop is overpaid for their capabilities but if we are to attract the best to do the toughest jobs, we need some pay parity to make the remuneration for messing about in parliament worthwhile.
The second reason is that CEO salaries are way too high. The way to achieve parity is to get a grip on the private sector’s excesses. Sure a reward for responsibility is necessary and they also want to compete for the best minds but really, $10 million. That is just taking the piss.
But wait, I have missed something.
There are perks to high office.
Here is one taken up with extraordinary enthusiasm by the recent POTUS.
Meantime the CEOs are circling their wagons.
The biggest Australian telco, Telstra CEO decided to blame the kids. Back in 2019 he was quoted as saying “Young kids are earning $5m playing Fortnite but when a business executive devotes a huge portion of their life … that it’s somehow morally wrong they get rewarded for it.”
Wait a minute.
A youngster with millions of online followers who love everything their hero does can earn a hefty sum. This is a simple supply-demand function that the CEO should understand. Just that same way that top-level professional soccer players with massive followings for themselves and their clubs can command crazy salaries, the CEO can get one too.
The point is the balance has gone. High public office should be rewarded by more than a medal for service and the CEOs should be paid on performance, not by their mates on the board.
Australian billionaire, Solomon Lew, pocketed $24.25m in dividends after his retail empire, Premier Investments, received almost $70m in wage subsidies during the coronavirus crisis.
What bullshit is this.
If 50% richer during a global crisis that put workers into lockdown in their homes doesn’t raise your hackles, then paying out big dividends to shareholders with one hand whilst holding out the other for a subsidy surely will.
It makes the abuses of power by Trump look benign.
According to a Gallup poll, the proportion of Americans who identify as Republicans and are satisfied with the way things are going in the US reached 39% in October 2020 up from 20% in July. This compares to the October number for Democrats of only 5%.
On what planet does 40% of a particular section of a community agree that the way things are going are satisfactory when the US is in such an incredible mess?
There is the COVID problem with world-leading infection and death rates, the racism problem, the sexism and misogyny, the general incompetence of Trump… What more is there?
Well, there is gun control, climate change including some of the worse bush fires on record, domestic violence, trade tariffs, unemployment, incarceration rates, national debt, and the long, long list of western ills that we don’t seem able to fix.
It doesn’t make any sense as to why 2 in 5 Republicans think that everything is going well. What would it take for them to say that it’s not going well?
More to the point what has happened between July and October to double the satisfaction rate? That 20% increase is bizarre. It could be that the polling technique was flawed or maybe the sample size is small or biased. But it’s hard to imagine that during the course of a major pandemic with substantial hits to the economy and personal freedoms through lockdowns along with job losses and massive debt, that everything is satisfactory. What kind of craziness brings out such a statement in people is really hard to figure out.
Should we take notice of polling? Well, most politicians would argue no. But the stark thing here is that only 5% of respondents identifying themselves as Democrats were satisfied with the way things are going. So Democrats are panicked or at least concerned while Republicans think it’s fine.
This is the growing separation of political view in the US which is interesting after decades of convergence onto centrist type policies on most of the issues that matter. A division in the political stance at least gives people something to adhere to and to be against.
another astonishing statistic
Recall what QAnon actually is
At its heart, QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.
QAnon believers have speculated that this fight will lead to a day of reckoning where prominent people such as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed.
So 2 in 5 Republicans believe in conspiracy theory and nearly 1 in 5 Democrats do too. This is just as alarming. What goes through a person’s mind to allow these two statistics to appear? What were they thinking?
The answer is that they don’t.
There is a dearth of critical thinking on all sides. Instead, it is easier to think fast in the Daniel Kahneman sense, and not force any detailed analysis or appraisal of the evidence, not even a quick reality check.
People can then exist in a kind of bubble that comfortably fits their current world view and only engage with material that supports it. Confirmation evidence is easy to determine because it feels good. Evidence or views that feel off or a bit uncomfortable is just those nasty GOPs or lefties depending on the colour of your own bubble. These views can be just shouted down or, where necessary, trolled. Heck, if that doesn’t work there is always a demonstration.
Ask any of the 40% if they have thought carefully about what they say they agree with and they will confirm that they have, very carefully. This is the elegance of a bubble. It wafts a gentle lullaby over you to make believe that thinking has happened… by someone else. No need for me to do any heavy lifting, if the POTUS tweeted it, it must be true.
And so here we are at the end of 2020. A frantic and genuinely eventful year. When we need to be thinking about what amazing opportunities the circuit breaker of a global pandemic can give us, 24% of Americans think QAnon claims are accurate.