July Reading / by Simmon Li

So this month, I managed to finish David Suzuki's More Good News (in a day and a half, mind you). I'm still working on The World is Flat, it's a thick one.

More Good News

This books was phenomenal. This book covered all the major policy areas that are important for our future, developing the so called "green" economy. Now this book was mostly focused on the ecologial crisis we are going through right now, mostly relating it back to the economy. A lot of people tend to think the two can't get along, and this book kind of de-bunks that point. It was a fantastic read simply because it was so encouraging. The whole message of the book (at least, what I got out of it) was that we need to start living within our means. And part of why this book is so great is because doing so does not necessarily mean we should all permanently go live in the wild, etc. etc. Now, this concept is pretty clear to every one of us when we count dollars and cents, but the book had a really brilliant way of putting it. Instead of living on nature's capital (ie, oil), we should live on nature's interest (ie, the sun, excess biomass that we can use for food). It's a bit like the whole saving analogy. If you start crumbling your savings away, you'll have nothing to earn you the interest. There are a ton of examples in the book that prove that we can do something to preserve what we have. David and Holly do a good job of providing examples of how things can go right. There is one sticking point thought that I thought they did well masking that needs to be addressed explicitly. They mention a few times in the book the need for restraint, the whole idea of living on nature's interest. The whole idea of Malthusian catastrophe strikes me as interesting, and it's something that David and Holly rely on in principle. "We must restrain ourselves if we want our children's children's children to have a world to live in." The idea is noble, but I'm not quite sold on the whole Malthusian ending for humanity. Already, we're lowering family sizes across the world (even in developing countries, where it's traditionally been more of a problem), and I see the whole food production problem as one of balance. Now, it may be stupid for me to suggest, and I know on some level it is, but think about the problem of childhood obesity. In the developed world, it's become a problem, while in the developing world, children still regularly starve to death. This is partially due to the abundance of food available to us that is, for all biological intents, extra; and, also due in part to the foods that are available to us. I don't see an agricultural disaster looming over us in the next 20 or 30 years. This, of course, could be complicated by the whole climate change issue, and as well, there is always the threat of political instability. Anyway, I'm sure David and Holly are right to call for restraint, hell, I think it's a good thing, but I think that relying on it to push a point across is a bit pessimistic about the human potential for innovation. While we can't rely on silver bullets to get us through (and thus, restraint and conservation will be key), we can count on some of the burden of conservation and restraint to built into new technology. One example is the effort to make the power grid "smart", Ontario introduced smart meters a while ago, where you are billed more for using power during peak times. This program is finally coming to fruition, and I think it's a great thing.

One thread specifically I really wanted to pick up on was the organic farming thread. This has been a huge point for me lately. Our industrial farming policy severely harms the smaller, truly organic outfits because of all the sanitization laws that we have to put up with (meat production in particular). This picks up where Omnivore's Dilemma left off, and looms as the question that I would like to learn more about. Is it possible to sustain urban centers like Toronto with a green belt of organic farming? And even broader, is it possible to sustain the world population on a heavily organic, holistically managed farming methodology? I have some papers I've yet to read (mostly because they are not in a reading friendly format, ugh PDF) that addresses some of these issues. Industrial farming, as I understand it, takes in quite a bit of subsidized money from the government, and I wonder how organic farms would do if they had such support from the government. Anyway, this book was a great read. If anything, it gets you thinking about important issues and how they relate to government policy.