October 2008 Archives

Perception is Reality

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Today, David Brooks, writing about the financial mess in the New York Times, says that our behavior may not follow the old rules about rationality.

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My sense is that this financial crisis is going to amount to a coming-out party for behavioral economists and others who are bringing sophisticated psychology to the realm of public policy. At least these folks have plausible explanations for why so many people could have been so gigantically wrong about the risks they were taking. . .

If you start thinking about our faulty perceptions, the first thing you realize is that markets are not perfectly efficient, people are not always good guardians of their own self-interest and there might be limited circumstances when government could usefully slant the decision-making architecture (see “Nudge” by Thaler and Cass Sunstein for proposals). But the second thing you realize is that government officials are probably going to be even worse perceivers of reality than private business types. Their information feedback mechanism is more limited, and, being deeply politicized, they’re even more likely to filter inconvenient facts.

Brooks makes a couple of errors in today's column. He writes as if individuals and collectives make decisions in the same way. Individuals' actions generally come in the midst of a flow of normal activities without deliberation and explanations. Explanations always come later. The processes of perception, decision, and acting may not be the discrete steps that he posits at the beginning of the article. Some biologists claim that they are all are tightly coupled within the cognitive processes.

Rather than think about a computer in the brain, we might instead think about a huge database that filters sensory inputs and sends a signal to a section of memory banks that stores action schemes that correspond to the inputs. If both the filters and action schemes reflect experience, it is not surprising that people seem to respond to more recent experience even when it leads to what is deemed irrational according to the norms of someone observing and analyzing the behavior in question. Any explanation vocalized to justify the action is guided by the immediate context and does not necessarily tell the story that actually was told in the cognitive system.

In this system, Brooks's portrayal of prejudice as something that distorts our rationality is not only wrong but very misleading. He is arguing that we have

. . . perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck.

Prejudices are precisely the filters that guide our thinking. Every action is guided by our historical accumulation of experience. When our acts don't gibe with our explanations or what is taken as the norm by others, the anomaly is blown off as prejudice.

Institutional decisions are different. They may be presented formally as the act of a single decision-maker, but are almost always the result of discussion and are guided by a mesh of explicit rules. A rational calculus is explicit even if it is buried in a computer program. Explanations may precede the decision, as in appellate court judgments. In the financial crisis, it may not be the rationality of the actors that was faulty. Perhaps they were truly misled by the facts they were given. It was the computer's unreality, not theirs, that was the problem.

And that is the point I make in my book. Our models of the world are always partial simply because we cannot get to know all we need to know via the methodologies we employ to support the concept of rationality. Sustainability depends on exchanging the very models that Brooks refers to for new ones that accept the complexity of the world and act accordingly, putting prudence before certainty. Even the Greeks knew this and had a special word for the kind of understanding required in public affairs. They called it phronesis, which comes close to "prudence" in our language.

Wake-up Calls

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The financial meltdown shows few signs of stopping right now. It is certainly a wake-up call to warn us of danger to our financial health. Because we depend on our money resources for almost our entire well-being these days, it has triggered a very painful and often depressing feeling. But like so many crises, it is an opportunity as well as a calamity.

The opportunity is not to focus on the outcome, although it is very hard not to read the tea leaves that we call the Dow. Somehow we take the Dow as the measure of our financial health. And thereby we fool ourselves into thinking that the free financial market is nothing more than a money machine, with emphasis on the word, machine. Driven by computers programmed to locate tiny chinks in the rational model of a market, and by the tool of risking other people's money to multiply your own meager capital manyfold, it seemed like a foolproof system for those owning the computer's while holding other people's money.

But somehow on the way to the bank, the bubble and illusions collapsed. We should not be surprised, but we are. The machine model very briefly described here is simply not correct. The system is much more than a mechanistic assemblage of parts. It has human beings involved at many places in the system, from those who put money in, those that pulled the strings and levers--like the Wizard of Oz, and those that took money out. It is in the world of scholars that study such systems, a complex system.

In complex systems, the interrelationships matter more than the workings of the individual parts. And when you have so many such interrelationships as in the financial system, you cannot stand back and describe the whole system by the same kind of behavioral laws we use, for example, for the solar system. But even more critical to the case here is that you cannot predict the future. There is no Farmer's Almanack or ephemeris to tell you what to expect tomorrow or next week. Systems like these often exhibit climactic changes-not climate change, although there is a close relationship here. Over night, they move from one state to another far removed and possessing very different qualities and structure.

The wake-up call is that the planetary system on which we depend absolutely for life itself is such a complex system. Even parts of it are themselves complex. The climate system is one. The economic system is another. So are fisheries and forests. In most cases, the systems can and do adapt to changing circumstances. They change under these perturbations, but only in degree, producing a little more or a little less of what we want. For several years, the Dow grew or fell just a little each day, fooling us into believing that the financial market was predictable and mechanical.

We believed our models were right until the evidence proved us wrong, and we suddenly had to change the fundamental way we humans interacted with the system. I am not competent to make an assessment about the efficacy of the new rules and a massive injection of new food, as capital is the food of financial systems. I believe that those who shaped this response do not know either. They probably are the best equipped to design a new set of tools and rules, but that is not the point. Nobody can know exactly how a complex system works. The first lesson here is to take smaller steps, keep your eye on the ball, and be prepared to adjust the tools and rules as you slowly do begin to understand how the system works, but always remembering that it is enshrouded in mystery and can do unpredictable things.

The second lesson is to accept that the planetary system is just the same, only much more highly interconnected. The behavior of the climate, which was for eons moderated and governed by natural phenomena, is now coupled to human cultural activities, but in ways we do not and, perhaps, cannot know. The interrelationships among nations, tribes, and individuals comprise another complex system joined together by trade, warfare, travel, the Internet, and other linkages. We have started to see signs that these systems are getting brittle, losing the adaptability to cure themselves, but we are still trying to govern and control them with a set of practices based on the only ones we feel comfortable with. Metaphorically, that is only those we can program into a computer; we always try to model the parts and the linkages by formulas.

Whoa, these systems are far too important to treat this way. Our lives do, not may, depend on them. We cannot afford to wait until the crash comes. It is prudent to start to act in a way that we hope will not upset the system and bring it to the point of collapse. It may mean that we may not be able to run at the speed we have been or may have to change something else that affects the current cultural expectations. We cannot proceed holding the same expectations and believe we can meddle with the system without limits. Maybe the crisis will never come say the optimists and technologists, and. even if does, we can clear away the debris and fix up the system.

We should all go back and read Voltaire's Candide. Remember Dr. Pangloss's unbridled optimism,"all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds" Candide, coming from a naive view of complexity, saw otherwise and said, "we must cultivate our garden." Viewed as an enigma by many literary critics, his aphorism is not so mysterious in the world of complexity. We live in a vast unruly world. But gardeners come to understand their patch of Earth, not through mechanistic formulations, but by engaging with it, watching it and learning from their interactions with it. We must all become gardeners.

Greening the Curriculum?

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iStock_000006160804XSmall.jpgIn the most recent edition of GreenBuzz, Joel Makower, the editor, takes universities to task for failing to match commitments to green the campus with equivalent moves to green the curriculum. I believe that it is much more than a lack of commitment at work here. I do not think that academics have a clear enough idea of what sustainability is all about to develop courses and syllabi on the subject.

Greening the campus is easy compared to the job of thinking through what should go into courses that incorporate aspects of sustainability. We can read of many efforts that point to LEED certified buildings, recycling programs, carbon use reduction, and more.

Yes, all these program will lighten the load on the planet, but they will not create sustainability. Sustainability is not the same as the absence of unsustainability any more than health is the absence of disease or peace is the absence of war. But reducing unsustainability is exactly what greening means not only to the university campuses but also to most of the organizations where their graduates will find employment.

Education has a critical role to play in the sustainability game. The key is in the classroom as Makower's article suggests. The absence of courses that incorporate sustainability has a lot to do with the structure of academia at its roots. Most academic courses are predicated on filling the students with facts and theories, based on the findings of normal science and the notion of an objective world. And this way of producing, disseminating, and using knowledge is strongly implicated in the unsustainability of today's modern nations.

Objective reality and the whole notion of absolute truths produce domination because the coordination of action, then, comprises a battle among the parties as to which one's truth is the right one. Academic pedagogy at the undergraduate level is largely didactic with little real dialogue between the faculty and the students. While greening is focused on nature, sustainability also requires that humans stop fighting and killing one another. The inherent fundamentalism of the basic story of how the world works can only reinforce the tendency of one group of believers to dominate another at the individual and at the global scale.

Ecology shows up very rarely, yet ecology is one of the very few subjects that brings with it appreciation for the complexity of the world and the limits of reductionist thinking. It is popular these days to emphasize the need for more mathematics and normal science in schools. This stress comes from the desire to compete more effectively with other producing nations like China and especially India. This will only reinforce the piecemeal and ultimately ineffective battle against unsustainabiity. To become founts of sustainability, universities need to inject a large dose of complexity into the curriculum, teaching students that those systems that create sustainability are technically complex and require different ways of learning and governing than do the complicated, but mechanical models of the world we base our teaching on.

It will not be easy to do this as academic structure and pedagogy is based on dividing up knowledge into very small pieces--disciplines and departments, and matching organizations and curricula to conform to the pieces. If universities, just like the world at large, does not re-examine its governance and culture, than it will be able only to green the campus. Sustainability will enter the classroom only after campus politics changes its tune. One thinks of the not so funny academic joke: What's the reason that campus politics is such a big deal. The answer: because the stakes are so small.

When Math Misleads

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For complexity mavens, the current financial mess is a bonanza. If we set aside the painful crunch that is affecting so many, we might see that complexity is moving up in importance and acceptance. Complexity is a world view that argues that systems like the environment or the financial system are not describable or understandable by reductionist scientific methods. Sustainability is very closely related to such systems and their capability to provide health, security, beauty or, flourishing (the term I use in my book), far into the future under all sorts of changing conditions. The suddenness and huge scope of recent events has raised many question about the ability of conventional analysis to inform our key societal decisions.

Mainstream economists are, by and large, grounded in mathematics and use systems of equations to predict the future of economies. But a recent column in Resilience Science points to the failure of just these economists and their models to predict the crash and further implicates the use of mathematical financial risk models as setting up the conditions that led to it. The near bankruptcy of AIG exemplifies the dangers of ignoring complexity.

Although America’s housing collapse is often cited as having caused the crisis, the system was vulnerable because of intricate financial contracts known as credit derivatives, which insure debt holders against default. They are fashioned privately and beyond the ken of regulators — sometimes even beyond the understanding of executives peddling them. Originally intended to diminish risk and spread prosperity, these inventions instead magnified the impact of bad mortgages like the ones that felled Bear Stearns and Lehman and now threaten the entire economy. In the case of A.I.G., the virus exploded from a freewheeling little 377-person unit in London, and flourished in a climate of opulent pay, lax oversight and blind faith in financial risk models. It nearly decimated one of the world’s most admired companies, a seemingly sturdy insurer with a trillion-dollar balance sheet, 116,000 employees and operations in 130 countries.

The same column in Resilience Science quoted selections from another New York Times article on the economist Nouriel Roubini. Roubini has been uncannily close to predicting all the recent events, but for some time was mostly disregarded because he did not use mathematical models to ground his prognostications. Instead, he came to understand what was happening. Understanding is more than having a bigger computer and more equations linked together. It is rare, and should be respected rather than discounted simply because it does not follow the normal methodologies.

One final word. Without computers to run the endless calculations necessary to design the derivatives, this whole class of securities would have never seen the light of day. One might then say that the financial mess can be traced to a technology universally seen as beneficial. Ironic, perhaps, but not a valid claim. One can often pinpoint an event or part of the structure that acts as a trigger for a drastic change in a complex system, but it is always the whole web of relationships and interdependent parts that underlies its behavior. In this case one might say that economic systems use capital as food to keep them healthy. If they grow faster than the food supply grows, they will eventually lose resiliency and the ability to adapt to sudden perturbations. The explosion of derivatives using mythical capital though leveraging did exactly this.

Keeping our Eyes on the Right Ball

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While most of our attention has been focused on the financial turmoil and losses mounting in the trillions of dollars, the World Conservation Congress was meeting to discuss another, perhaps, more serious loss of capital--natural capital. In an interview with BBC, Pavan Suhkdev recounted the conclusion of a study of the annual attrition of global ecological resources. He said that losses of natural capital, just in deforestation, amount to about 7% of global GDP.

It's not only greater but it's also continuous, it's been happening every year, year after year. . . So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.

The report was the first phase of a longer study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, sponsored by the German Government. The sponsors of the study hope that the results will have the same impact as the Stern Report on Climate Change, which many see as the turning point in getting that issue onto the agendas of global leaders.

A few posts ago, I referred to Herman Daly's claim that the economy cannot grow beyond the limits set by the natural resources system from which the basic inputs come. With such great losses annually, the time it will take to approach these limits grows shorter every year.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

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images-2.jpegimages-3.jpegI like the metaphor in the title; it truly captures the opportunity of this, hopefully only a single, moment in historical time. Crises have a strange sociological or psychological tendency: they bring to the surface underlying beliefs and values that drive individual and collective action. And when that happens, the possibility of reflection and change enters the space we are in.

Alternet collected the comments on the financial crisis from a variety of experts. The closing comments struck a chord for me.

Hahnel offered a word of caution, noting that "80 years ago people thought [unregulated] free market finance was dead. If the funeral had a name, it was Glass Steagall (the New Deal-era legislation that made banks choose between issuing mortgages and securities). In 1999 Phil Graham, Robert Rubin and Bill Clinton killed Glass Steagall, signaling the return and triumph of free market finance. Hopefully this crisis will kill free market finance once and for all. 'Never again' is the appropriate response." He added what was perhaps the most salient point: "I hope this lesson will be the beginning of a larger lesson: The economics of competition and greed does not serve us well."

I see two separate but overlapping results in listening to or reading responses to the economic turbulence of both Main Street and the Punditocracy, including Wall Street. In these responses, I hear a new awareness that the cultural beliefs, like greed and competition, that have become so engrained in post-World War II may be part of the problem, not part of the solution. If this awareness takes hold, then we may have taken, unawares, a step toward sustainability and the possibility of flourishing.

From Main Street, I hear the realization that relationships, community, and interconnectedness are the real foundation for well-being. Money is ephemeral and full of empty promises. Narcissism and hyper-individualism do the same thing: the short-lived rush of satisfaction leaves a huge pit in the soul when the ability to buy, baby buy is shattered. Maybe we will no longer hear a President call for shopping as the balm for the hurt of a 9/11 magnitude event.

The other critically important change is the growing awareness that the world is complex and big parts of it, like the financial system are too. This means we don’t really know how they work, and we have begun to learn that they can collapse into a mess in a moment. We have seen 5 to 10 years of apparent financial growth disappear in an instant. This slowly growing understanding is yet to be translated into meaningful action. The political system, also increasingly showing its own complexity, still believes it needs to find the guilty parties and point the finger of blame at them.

We have not yet embodied the fundamentals of complexity which teach us that it is the web of relationships that produces what we want. Perhaps some actor or action triggers a collapse or regime change, but the consequence is a system failure, not just a single part that fails. Charles Perrow called these normal accidents--accidents that were bound to happen at some unknown time because the parts of the system are so interconnected that an inevitable breakdown in even a small part can cause the whole system to dysfunction. Some of us, like me, wish in retrospect that we had relied a lot more on our instincts than on what goes for rationality.

We still fail to understand that sustainability is not some output that is mechanically produced, in this case, by some motor inside of the socio-economic system, but emerges only when the web of relationships, human and natural, that comprise the whole system is working holistically. One cannot measure sustainability nor simply adjust the levers we can control to get any of it or more of it. Money or wealth is the measurable output of the financial system and the economy, but that is not what we really want from this system. We want emergent properties like happiness, comfort, security, confidence, and so on. Maybe we will stop equating happiness with individual wealth and societal well-being with GNP. If like the findings of Hahnel above, we can recognize we have been mislead by both our ideologies and our tacit beliefs and values, we can then start to reconstruct a world that works for both the planet and all the life that dwells on it.

The Original Systems Thinker

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Systems Inside Systems

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It continues to be difficult to focus on sustainability while the financial markets are so turbulent. But the importance of systems thinking grows as the crises deepen. Herman Daly, who has for many years seen limits to growth rooted in the real coupling of our economic system to the natural world, recently offered his always deeply thoughtful views on the present situation. For us who at this point in life rely largely on our hard-earned assets, his words are not terribly reassuring.

Growth in US real wealth is restrained by increasing scarcity of natural resources, both at the source end (oil depletion), and the sink end (absorptive capacity of the atmosphere for CO2). Further, spatial displacement of old stuff to make room for new stuff is increasingly costly as the world becomes more full, and increasing inequality of distribution of income prevents most people from buying much of the new stuff—except on credit (more debt). Marginal costs of growth now likely exceed marginal benefits, so that real physical growth makes us poorer, not richer (the cost of feeding and caring for the extra pigs is greater than the extra benefit). To keep up the illusion that growth is making us richer we deferred costs by issuing financial assets almost without limit, conveniently forgetting that these so‐called assets are, for society as a whole, debts to be paid back out of future real growth. That future real growth is very doubtful and consequently claims on it are devalued, regardless of liquidity.

There's not much I/we can do about what has happened, but we can certainly stop trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together when we need something fundamentally different. Resiliency in the system has largely disappeared. When this happens in complex systems, they often move into entirely new states like the one I believe we are about to enter or have already moved into. Further the old ways of thinking and managing are not likely to work. They may, but that would be a lucky outcome. We, like Einstein said in different words, have to stop thinking (and acting) is the same old ways that put us in the predicament in the first place.

Unfortunately for us, the political system, also complex, is stretched to the breaking point and none of our present leaders or those vying to be the next one can tell the truth or even ask the right questions.

Is Consumption an Endangered Species?

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The financial debacle has many tentacles, each threatening to strangle our sense of security and plans for the future. Jobs are in jeopardy because the credit crunch stops the normal pattern of business borrowing dead in its tracks. The typical assets of saving families have lost 20-30% of their value. Maybe the rise over the past few years was illusory but that matters not at all when the investors have to readjust their present spending and plans for the future.

Fears of a recession are fueled by a drop in consumer spending which sends signals to producers to reduce output which causes job loss which leads to lower consumption which continues on and on, hopefully not ad infinitum.

The lower levels of consumption might be seen as a positive change by those concerned about sustainability. With the emphasis on consumption as a primary factor in leading to unsustainability in my book, some will be tempted to say maybe we can now reduce our level of concern. I say to them that such an attitude is ungrounded. Yes, lower consumption should, in turn, lower the negative impact on the planet and reduce unsustainability. But it does little or nothing to create sustainability.

Lowering consumption as a result of an economic turndown is only a temporary measure. All the rescue measures and stimuli are aimed at restoring the level of consumption to previous levels as fast as is possible. Too bad as this is an opportunity being missed. A chance to turn lemons into lemonade. Think what might happen if our leaders everywhere—in the government, in the pulpits, at the helm of business, in the classroom—would ask everyone to examine what is important to them. When one cannot find instant satisfaction at Wal-Mart or Amazon.com, perhaps they will recognize that relationships are more important than things, or that their health comes from their way of life, not from a shelf full of prescription bottles and the magic of an MRI.

I raise these questions, not to belittle the hardships that so many now have encountered, but rather to argue that, like in all crises, what really matters can rise to the surface of our consciousness. This could be a moment of reflection and a fundamental shift toward those values and beliefs that underpin true sustainability. We are not individuals swimming by ourselves in a murky sea, but are part of a community that ultimately fills the whole surface of the globe. We are integrally a part of the world, not some detached self looking at it through a soda straw. What I do matters to everyone.

It is ironic that the word, economy, comes from the Greek word for house, since houses are arguably the triggers of the present crisis. I do hope that the economy can be restored quickly, restoring both our collective house and our individual homes. But I also hope we will use this opportunity to reflect on what matters to each and everyone of us.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

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Maybe I should start doing this every week after the weekend break in the hurly-burly of the typical work week. I started this blog to talk about sustainability and, of course, introduce you to the ideas in my book. I have, as you probably now know, pretty deep-seated academic roots although my time in academia came on the tail of a long career in the "real" world of business and government. But given all that is happening out there, I feel OK with straying from this theme and the comfort of academic arguing.
It is hard for me to decide which crisis to follow: the financial market, the election as an indicator of the mess that goes for our political/governance system today, a collapsing global environment, or whatever seems to pop up with increasing frequency.

Let me pick on the political system today. It is clear that the financial and political systems are tightly coupled, no matter what the free market theorists say. The so-called rescue bill was an attempt to put a tourniquet on the bleeding financial system. But this is just a typical quick fix. At least some in the Congress seem to understand this and know that there is much more work to do before the resilience that should be found in the market system returns.

But today I want to focus on the current electoral charade. At no time in my now pretty long life have we had to face so many destabilizing pressures all at once. But the system that informs the electorate and guides their democratic choices is completely broken. The amount of mischievous, malicious crap that goes for political messages is overwhelming. Some want to blame the situation on the way we get our information, that is, the modern electronic media. Certainly this technology abets those who want to subvert the very basis of a democracy, that is, an informed electorate. Although I am clear as to which candidate I will vote for, I see a broken system that cannot be easily fixed.

I wish I could be more optimistic about the change that both candidates promise. The sound bite milieu of television news and advertising spots prevents either candidate from addressing the more nuanced and complexities of the whole system. Maybe they would not even if given a real platform to discuss at length their understanding of what confronts us and what they propose to do about it.

So far I have said little new, The real and largely hidden danger is that, like the financial system that collapsed even as those who should know something about it were extolling its health, the political system may be faced with a similar challenge to its sustainability, that is the ability to continue to undergird our whole democracy. Perhaps the financial crisis will be a wake-up call not only to Wall Street and the Congress, but also to Main Street pointing out that hyper-partisanship and self-interest can produce only Band-Aids. Can our Government stop and be self-reflective for a time? Probably not until the electorate says whoa, not as partisans, but as citizens.

Is Sustainable Development an Oxymoron?

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In a post on the Athens Banner opinion page, Harold Brown, emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia, asks if sustainable development is an oxymoron. Development is a process and, in any living system, goes on forever or at least until life stops. He, as I do also, interprets sustainable development to mean that the present state of the world should last indefinitely. While not truly an oxymoron, the phrase is certainly a contradiction of terms.

I have noted in several previous posts that sustainability is a noun and refers to the possibility of flourishing far into the future. Cutting back, as Professor Brown says, is not the way towards a sustainable future. But he misses the point that, unless we do reduce the unsustainability of the present world, it will be problematic to attain a flourishing state even with his answers, "education, freedom and the inspiration to cope."

I have been arguing that it takes a different kind of actions to get us on the right road to sustainability:

1) Get the difference between the adjectival use of sustainable (as in sustainable X) and the noun sustainability straight.

2) Get the difference between reducing unsustainability and creating sustainability straight.

3) Do what works to reduce unsustainability, but recognize that all such actions are quick or temporary fixes.

4) Start to expose the underlying cultural beliefs and values that have produced the threats to our future and work to exchange them with a set that is consistent with and can begin to put us on the right trajectory.

Professor Brown says,

The notion [of sustainable development] is ridiculous that we can manage the resources of future generations. Thinkers of five generations ago would have wished for a better horse and buggy or a quieter steam engine.

Yes, we cannot anticipate what kind of world our children and further generations will face. But he makes a mistake is talking about managing in the first place. The world is a complex system and like other such systems it can shift into new regimes without much warning. We have seen the virtual disappearance of many of the world's fisheries from overfishng. Although we can't and shouldn't manage in the way he suggests, we should most certainly try to govern the present world such that those generations that follow ours have the resources they need to construct the world as they would have it.

News about the Website and the Book

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Now that the book has been on the shelves for a few weeks and I am beginning to get out and talk about it, there is some news being generated. I actually got reviewed this week and it was a terrific first for me. Matt May gave me high marks in the same column where he panned Tom Friedman's new book by comparison.

Last week I appeared on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, the New York NPR station. This was my first exposure to this medium. In addition to his prepared set of questions, Lopate had tuned into this blog and asked me about a couple of posts. All sorts of emails showed up after the show, some from long-lost folks who wondered if this was the John Ehrenfeld they once knew.

Here's a comment I picked off Lopate's website from a listener of our interview. A little hyperbole, but I love it.

John Ehrenfeld is brilliant and he is right on! He tells it like it is. Our current "sustainability models" are a band-aid approach to a much greater problem/dilemma: humans are by their very nature destructive animals and we are destroying the planet. Our consumerism is an addictive illness. We are addicted to buying junk and it is what keeps our economy afloat. We need a major shift in our thinking about how we are living and what our economy means with respect to our very survival on this planet. This will require a radical shift in how we live and build societies. John Ehrenfeld is a prophet for our times. He (and Al Gore) should be part of any administration that is serious about solving our current environmental crisis. Thank you Leonard for having him on your show. I hope you invite him back!

I have been visiting bookstores, looking for my book on the shelves, and have found it in most places, but tucked away in the far reaches of the stores in the nature section. It is difficult to match it to the usual categories in the stores. I need to figure how to get them to put it into the bestsellers stacks. Any ideas are welcome. I also discovered that purchasing a few copies on Amazon to give to my colleagues can move my ranking up by 100,000 or so.

I have a few book talks coming up and a couple of academic lectures on the calendar. Even with lots of academic writing under my belt, this process is all new to me.

For those interested in getting a flavor of the book, I have put one of the chapters on the Book page. I also have added a Reviews section to the Book page.