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Jared Diamond, a distinguished professor of physiology and

Jared Diamond, a distinguished professor of physiology and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, has devoted much of his life trying to understand man’s impact on nature. Diamond’s thesis in “Guns, Germs, and Steel” is that geography, which governs climate which, in turn, governs indigenous species, is the reason for the unequal distribution of wealth in the world today. In short, Diamond is focused on why the Europeans conquered so much of the world.  “Guns, Germs and Steel” posed the interesting hypothesis that Western civilization’s preeminence is due to mere happenstance, simply because its ancestral Fertile Crescent civilizations were lucky to have the richest abundance of potentially domesticated grains and animals. The eventual triumph of Western civilization is due to its successful colonization of the temperate regions of the globe, via its rich abundance in domesticated grains and animals, advanced weaponry and technology, and the accidental spread of virulent, often deadly, diseases associated with domesticated animals such as pigs and sheep. I watched this documentary in hopes to better understand a history of people groups rooted in a mysteriously, uniquely European-enacted will to dominate others internationally. In contrast, I found the message communicated by this documentary to be one of luck, “blessing,” and positive ambition. Overall, this was likely a well-meaning work but struck me as a grossly misrepresented and Eurocentric portrayal of both history and relationships between people groups. The information gained from the documentary was overshadowed by its unapologetic bias. The choice to engage in conquest and the brutal and racist foundations for colonization practiced by Europeans are glossed over or ignored.

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Hemp Production & Democracy in America

Hemp is considered one of the most useful crops grown. It can be used to make clothing, fiberboard, paper, plastics, skin-care products, cooking oil and even car parts. It doesn’t need herbicides or pesticides. Farmers want to grow it, and manufacturers want to use it. But it’s got an obnoxious relative that states are afraid of. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not allow farmers to grow hemp. It categorizes hemp as cannabis, like its cousin marijuana, even though hemp doesn’t contain enough THC to produce a high. Few people know it, but before 1937, when Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, hemp was among the nation’s leading cash crops. Drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and Betsy Ross’ American flag was made from hemp. The fact is, there are products made from hemp in use all over the country right now. But the raw material has to be imported from Europe or Asia. Currently the people who are in favor of hemp are preaching that hemp and marijuana are two different things but realistically that doesn’t matter seeing as how states are currently starting to legalized marijuana. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the whole hemp debate once marijuana is legalized in all 50 states. What shall the excuses be then for why hemp isn’t legalized?

 

In Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Tocqueville comperes equality and liberty in the first chapter and then goes on to talk about equality, its dangers, and America. What I understood from it all is that equality is a tricky thing. To achieve true equality we give up some of our bounty. Thinking of the future generation and selfless activities provides for greater equality. When it comes to economic equality the usual answer is taxes to redistribute wealth, but what if we were ingrained with the sense for the common good. We may see that redistribution of wealth is not necessary, and that all our economy would do well in the face of generosity, community and mutualism. To not be so individualistic may be beneficial to both those that need and those that give.

Khosla’s Concepts

This past week I watch “Science for the Future and the Future of Science” by Ashok Khosla and I must say, a few things stood out to me instantly. First off, early on in the video, Khosla arrives at the concisions that science is autonomous, or in Khosla’s words, the only people that can solve the world’s problems are scientists. I find it far fetched that a man who began the studies of People, Resources, and the Environment would be so close minded as to accept that only a scientist could solve a global problem. This ideology is like saying only an Economist can solve the economy crisis; however this statement only considers the linear view of economy. To say that science is Autonomous is to deny the very foundations on which a systems view is founded, a scientist’s view of a problem is no more limited or broad than any other persons, and it takes a wide variety of viewpoints to approach a problem and conquer it efficiently and correctly.

One thing I took from the video and really liked was Khosla’s concepts on sustainability. One of the concepts he mentioned was the levels of efficiency. There are four types of efficiency which are as listed: rated efficiency, potential efficiency, latent efficiency, systemic efficiency. According to Khosla, these different types of efficiencies eventually help increase in productivity rate. Moreover, Khosla said that in order to make sustainable development, we need sustainable livelihoods. I think the most important message for us to hear is that the time for talk is over. We have to start making changes today, together, with everyone participating.

Design Inspiration From Nature

Janine Benyus’s video, “Biomimicry in Acton”, reveals to us the wonders that is biomimicry. Biomimicry looks to nature and natural systems for inspiration. Benyus proposes that when solving a design problem, look to nature first. In nature, there is no such thing as waste, anything that is not used is usually utilized by some other animal. Benyus provides several examples of biomimicry but one that I personally find interesting is the use of Velcro. Velcro was one of the first examples of biomimicry. Velcro was invented by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941 after he removed burrs from his dog and decided to take a closer look at how they worked. He noticed the hooks located on the end of the burrs and adapted that technology into what we know as today as Velcro. While Velcro might not seem like the most important invention, it is an example of how successful biomimicry can be on both a small and large scale.
Coincidently, another movie that pays homage to nature as a model and for design is “The Next Industrial Revolution” by Bill McDonough. In McDonough’s vision humanity takes nature itself as our guide reinventing technical enterprises to be as safe and ever-renewing as natural processes. While biomimicry focuses more on the technical side, McDonough focuses more on theory and ideas. The movie also does an awesome job of showing real world examples of design and revolution by addressing Nike’ approach to making a shoe that has a bio degradable rubber sole. Its examples like this that provide an inspirational look at a hopeful vision of the future.

Techno-Optimism in a Sustainable World

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Techno-optimism in modern society is not only unwarranted based on the ability of new technology to improve our lives, but it has also proven to be harmful in the long term due to the law of unintended consequences. Indeed, Michael Huesemann insists that most new technology is never designed with long-term solutions in mind. Instead, they are “techno-fixes,” whose main goal is to patch a broken ecological system, increase a corporation’s short term profits, or fulfill the gluttonous needs of a consumer society. Huesemann surveys technology across society from labor savers that waste time to medicine that doesn’t heal to food that spreads hunger. I find much technology nowadays is heavily consumerized, the latter of which extends out to include the internet. I feel that Huesemann destroys the myth that science is the answer. When looking at ever major discipline within the science world today, each has a political or economic motivation outside of the obvious benefits: physics is aimed largely at enabling more advanced weaponry, chemistry serves the likes of agricultural mongols, and biology is mostly in thrall to big pharmaceutical companies. Just look at who funds the research. Then look at what they do with it.

Techno-fixes seem to be our answer for environmental sustainability but “environmental” sustainability is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true meaning of sustainability. Far from being merely a social “ideal” left over from the 1960s’
back to nature movement, the authors demonstrate that sustainability has a profound and unifying, interdisciplinary scientific basis. Perhaps that is why over 70 institutions of
higher learning now have curriculums in “Sustainability Studies.” Sally, Goerner states that long term social and economic vitality come from…the same laws nature uses to create sustainable vitality in living organisms and natural ecosystems.  I feel it is relatively easy to translate from this general approach to sustainability to one’s particular lifestyle. This seems like a much easier and systematic approach to the problem of sustainability that could result in long term progress.