Recastings, #1

–The minute you take the significance of the car to be something other than the source of traffic congestion; the minute you see how luck matters in that congestion;. . .

the minute you understand that there are real reasons why the advocates and opponents of the car need traffic congestion to justify their own positions; the minute you know it’s a miracle there aren’t more agencies and groups fighting over stewardship rights in better addressing traffic congestion;. . .

the minute you see that no one is going to compensate you for being stuck in traffic, that life is sometimes unfair because other parts of it aren’t, and that situations, like congestion, can be improved, though not for very long; . . .

the minute you see that the traffic jam is the herd behavior of a people intent on imitating others; the minute you see that those strategies and arguments in favor of reducing congestion (privatization of public infrastructure, congestion tolls,  full-cost pricing of cars) lead to pressures to increase wealth and thus economic growth and along with it having more cars;. . .

. . .that is the minute you start to rethink traffic congestion.

–It need not be agricultural versus urban versus environmental. As ecologists insist, it depends on where system boundaries are drawn. From one perspective, it looks like three separate systems in competition with each other: a forest next to grazing land next to arable fields, no one of which can expand without loss to the other. From a perspective that treats them as subsystems to one ecosystem, the grazing land serves as a firebreak between the forest and arable holdings.

So too the California Delta can be seen not just as its own system but also as a buffer against encroaching urbanization from the east (Sacramento and Stockton) and west (San Francisco Bay Area), much as agriculture in South Florida and Western Netherlands have buffered against urbanization moving into the region’s “green” areas. It follows that the key issue is where that extra investment would produce the greatest positive impact on the ecosystem and landscape: planting trees and greenscapes in Sacramento or Stockton (the urban ecosystem); reducing chemical agriculture on Delta islands (the agricultural ecosystem); and/or constructing more wetlands around Delta islands (the environmental ecosystem). Saving the environment depends on the optics you use to recast the systems of interest.

–Can we find 12 (or whatever number of) systematically interconnected healthcare providers so critical in the US that they could bring the healthcare sector down as was threatened when the 12 systematically interconnected banking institutions were under threat during the 2008 financial crisis? If so, we would have a healthcare sector in need of “stress tests” for systemic risks just as post-2008 financial services institutions have had to undergo.

–The language of risk is now so naturalized that it seems the obvious starting point of analysis, as in: “Ok, the first thing we have to do is assess the risks of flooding here…”

No. The first thing you do is to identify the boundaries of the flood system you are talking about as it is actually managed and then the standards of reliability to which it is being managed (namely, events must be precluded or avoided by way of management) and from which follow the specific risks to be managed to meet that standard.

–Experts insist that CO2 emissions must not exceed an atmospheric threshold of 450 parts per million or lower; other experts insist the standard should in fact be 350ppm. But there exists no global cadre of managers nor is any being trained nor is there any global control room for them to work in that could ever reliably realize any such threshold standard. The same holds for globalized carbon tax schemes and international cap-and-trade protocols (e.g., proposals for an “international target carbon price”).

All of which explains why the shift away from global climate change models to regional ones is so significant. (We’ve embarked on doing so in California.) It is far more plausible to imagine major water and energy control rooms coordinating at the regional level than globally. In fact this region-based collaboration is doable today, as it was yesterday. More, the casting for better practices in doing so is sure to turn inter-regional (a.k.a. global) at a certain point.

–It is little recorded that some early English colonists to America either ran away to live with Native Americans or refused to return from captivity when given the chance. As one early writer put it, reluctant colonists enjoyed the “most perfect freedom, the ease of living, [and] the absence of those cares and corroding solicitudes which so often prevail upon us”. Native American practices were also adopted by other colonists who remained firmly in the Western tradition. Famously, an early French Jesuit found Native American customs “afforded me illumination the more easily to understand and explain several matters found in ancient authors”.

Just imagine the entire lot of colonists ran away to live with Native Americans, once realizing both that better practices had already been found and that colonization was altogether a ghastly prospect by comparison. Now that’s a counterfactual to mull over!

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