Friday, January 11, 2008

Politics, Media, and Linear Thinking

Politics and Media

We no longer can view "environmental" policy as a single issue. Do we want stop importing foreign oil because it will reduce CO2 emissions, to ensure stable energy prices, to keep investment in the U.S., or to stop funding despotic regimes? We want all these outcomes, but is any one of them a single policy decision? If all environmental crises are interconnected, then so must the solutions.

I suppose this begs the question of whether our political landscape is ready to look at problem fundamentally and make fundamental changes. I'm not sure if its there yet. But the people are ready to open their minds to this. If this change in attitude can sustain momentum, it will result in a social and environmental justice movement like none seen since the civil rights movement. But in the near term of this presidential election, the focus must be to force every candidate to accept the basic truth of ecological crises, and then have the debate turn to their best solutions. This is the model we've seen in England, if only we could catch up to them.

We must apply the lessons of the past to the structure of the media today. A few years ago, there were people lining the streets saying there was no proof of WMD. The media marginalized these comments in favor of official memoranda in their reporting to the public. In the aftermath, the media has been blamed and taken partial responsibility for its role in the Iraq war. We must not let the media be the stone that sinks this ship. The media will be resistant to reporting the truth as it does not support entrenched interests. In fifty years, when there are 200 million environmental refugees, will it be acceptable for the media to wash their hands and apologize?

Linear thinking and Web based thinking

Our culture is based on the tradition of linear thinking. We seek to quantify and delineate processes. Linear thinking aims to create desired outcomes by controlling factors in reduced systems. Native cultures are more often use web-based thinking. Where understanding of how systems work is not necessary to observe what happens to inputs and outputs.

M. Pollen gives a great example of reductionist thinking in The Omnivore's Dilemma, where we "discovered" what makes plants grow: phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium P-N-K. Thinking that we had solved the riddle of soil, we starting slapping PNK on our fields and getting great results. The green revolution has greatly increased food ouput and therefore human population, but it turns out that we hadn't really figured out the mystery of soil. Our lack of understanding has lead to the contamination of water, eroded soil, dead zones, and incipient nitrogen pollution in the air. What we found out is that soil is not so simple as we want it to be.

To this day, science can not identify all the organisms in a cubic foot of healthy soil. What we failed to understand is that soil, like so many living systems, is a complex system. We honestly can't claim to understand exactly how good soil is produced, but a permaculturalist can halt erosion, fix carbon, and reap nutrition by simply respecting that system.

It is reductionist thinking to state that we completely understand the climate system. But, like the permaculturalist, we know that we must respect this system and its vast complexity. Web based thinking will lead to the conclusion that we lack the ability to control the climate system and therefore must stop dumping base constituents into it and thinking that nothing will change.

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