Monthly Archives: April 2018

Missed the point


I’m not a fan of flying.   Not that I’m afraid, of course.  Flying is much safer than driving, so they tell us.   But the carbon footprint is a lot larger, and of all the activities you can do to lower your carbon footprint, not flying is one of the big ones.  Of all the ways to reduce your carbon footprint, a few basic items:

  • become a vegetarian
  • forego air travel
  • ditch your car
  • have fewer children (the biggest impact)

It was amazing then, today, to get an email from an airline company, wanting to celebrate Earth Day (with a prize of … flights!).   Links to vote on your favorite causes were provided… but not one of them was regarding population growth/overpopulation.

It is the elephant in the room, of course.  Having children in industrialized countries like America, places a huge load on the ecosystem (relative to other countries), but talking about it is somewhat taboo.  There are, of course, some more radical ideas on the whole topic of human existence and population.

One question to ask someone who “cares about the environment” is to ask what they think the carrying capacity of the planet is, or should be (if it is possible to “will” a carrying capacity).  And then ask them if they are having children, and how many [late edit].  Or ask them if they fly by air for vacation.

We live in a world where many of us need to fly or drive for work.  If you don’t own a car or have kids, and fly for vacation once in a blue moon, then perhaps your footprint is smaller than those who own a car and commute.  But having kids is the big one.


  • What is the carrying capacity of the Earth, for humans?  The estimates vary widely; from 100 million to 40 billion.  The Georgia Guidestones call for a population of 500 million.
  • Is Earth Day just another marketing day, like Christmas, Memorial Day, or Labor Day?
  • How do you personally stack up with the big items above?
  • Bringing these items up is difficult; how do you do it without antagonizing your audience?






Missed Past


In Lexington, Massachusetts, on Patriot’s Day, they reenact the Battle of Lexington. People dress up in period costumes, and go through the events of April 1775.   The folks who do the reenactment go all out; they remain in an 18th century mode for a bit of time as well.

The Revolution, of course, is perhaps idolized the most of all American wars because it is part of our founding mythology, and of course, the upstarts won.  We may also romanticize the American Revolution, because like the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War, Americans won against some pretty steep odds – a typical Hollywood story (even though the real story is far more complex).

A few folks seem to miss the past a great deal; so much so that they want to relive it, or even see it live.


  • We have Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments; we even have WW1, WW2, and Korean War reenactments. Will this trend continue, with reenactments of Vietnam, Kosovo, and the Gulf Wars?  Or are those wars too mechanical and brutal?  Could someone do a historical reenactment of the Holocaust?
  • Will reenactments go the way of tail fins and cheap oil?  Who will have the resources to do such things?  If we are living closer to a late 18th or 19th century standard of living, it might not be that appealing.


Missed Futures On Transport


Own work, CC-BY.

We seemed to have missed the exit towards a slightly better future a while ago, but it is always worth it to review what happened.  With good knowledge of the past, we might be able to make more reasonable decisions in the future, or at least give decent warning to our descendants.  Although they probably won’t be building lots of new highways, the more self-criticism we can do now, the better.

One of the things that happened in many metropolitan areas was that the building of highways took precedence over railroads (and in some cases, even displaced them).  A classic case of this was in the New York metro region.  Even though it has one of the biggest commuter rail systems, and one of the largest subway systems, there were many times that thoughts of extra rail or subway lines were squashed or unfunded.

Reading about the Long Island Expressway (LIE), for example, these interesting pieces popped up:

A portion of the path of the Long Island Expressway was along the former road path and right of way of a streetcar line that went from the southern part of Long Island City to southern Flushing.[8]


Unbuilt subway line

A New York City Subway line along the Long Island Expressway corridor had been proposed in the 1929 and 1939 IND Second System plans as an extension of the BMT Broadway Line east of the 60th Street Tunnel, when the LIE was called Nassau Boulevard and later Horace Harding Boulevard prior to the construction of the expressway.[25][26][27]

The main villian/architect (depending on your point of view) behind a good deal of these elements in the New York metro area was Robert Moses, and the book The Power Broker doesn’t paint a flattering picture of him.

Not all of these historical decisions were horrible, to be fair.   There was a planned extension of the LIE through the middle of Manhattan, ten stories above the main streets, but didn’t get any real traction.   The Lower Manhattan Expressway was also nixed, being led by Jane Jacobs.  The real tragedy of many of these decisions is that many of them were undone, but at enormous cost (i.e., the Big Dig in Boston).   Of course, these improvements led to a Jevon’s Paradox (as these roads were improved net traffic increased).

New York City, ages ago, had the foresight to build a water supply system that allowed the city to grow, without having to worry about that most critical of infrastructures.  Some foresight gave them a transportation network (the subways) that also allowed the city to grow.   Making these sorts of improvements in the modern era seems a lot more difficult, as we don’t have the financial resources, and the built-up nature of the city makes it physically difficult to make improvements.


  • What public transport options were available many years ago, that weren’t implemented in your area?
  • What highway construction projects were canceled?
  • How were these projects defeated?  The list of highway revolts is long!
  • Who are the equivalent Robert Moses figures in your local area?  Were they any better or worse?  Is there a Robert Moses figure for public transport?




Retrospective abominations and amusements


Many posts ago, this question was asked, when thinking about ethics “after the fall” of modern civilization:

“What things do we do in our current lives, the really basic ones, will people see as obscene or outrageous in a few generations?”

The list is possibly quite long:

  • Unbridled capitalism, or even capitalism itself
  • Use of aircraft for other than life threatening situations
  • Use of fossil fuels for leisure (everything from airplane racing, to snow making/downhill skiing, to flying for tourism)
  • Lack of health care for all
  • Putting people in nursing homes
  • Eating meat or even fish
  • Living alone
  • Obesity/overeating
  • Commuting
  • Planned obsolesence
  • Total war, war on civilian populations, certain weapon systems
  • Parenthood without support; having more than N children

Likewise, there’s another question to put forward, while ‘looking backward’; what things do we do now, that will seem amusing,  silly, impossible, strange, or unnecessary?  One possible list:

  • Showering every day, deodorant; expected levels of cleanliness
  • Privacy (or invasion of privacy)
  • A monopoly on violence by governments
  • Absolute gender equality, rather than classic gender roles; conversely, gender roles at all
  • Certain kinds of fashion; ties, high heels (although the history of high heels is long)
  • Retirement by a certain age, if at all
  • Not raising food for personal consumption
  • Overeating by a large portion of society
  • Prolonged adolescence (i.e. past 12 years of age, you are apprenticed, as was done previously)
  • College for most people
  • An absolute believe in science
  • “Modern” finance; paper wealth; charging interest
  • Keeping of pets for companionship, rather than as work animals

Some of these points have been addressed in a good deal of fiction; the potential lack of fossil fuels will obviously drive a good deal of these viewpoints.   We may not bounce back to exactly the same morals, behaviors, and outlooks of before our fossil fuel bonanza, but we might add some interesting twists to the way we look at the world.

More questions:

  • What will we find in a museum of the future, from our era, if museums exist?  What will awe and shock the people of the future, or be required study?
  • What sort of new taboos or near-taboos might we find?  Things that would be so egregious, on a personal level?  Shaking of hands when meeting new people, for example, might become a taboo in a society that has had to deal with plagues or rampant disease.