Lower Cost Does Not Mean Better

There is an all too common misconception that simply because something costs less, it is better.  A very well known economic principle is that with a decrease in the cost of a commodity (i.e. gasoline), it’s use will increase. This is why for instance, when cars get better gas mileage, people drive more. Call it what you like, “Greed Factor”, “Consumerist Mentality”, or any other euphemism, it is one of the worst forms of human behavior imaginable.
So when I receive something like this,…

Hi Greg,

From picking up the kids from school to getting groceries at the store, we do so many things every day that involve driving, but getting around shouldn’t break the bank.

Tell President Obama to help families save money at the pump by adopting the highest fuel efficiency standards possible. »

In March of this year, the average family spent $305 on gasoline, a hardship to many families that often have to choose between keeping a roof over their heads or keeping food on the table.

By increasing fuel efficiency standards, we can save money on gas, reduce our dependency on foreign oil sources and end the environmental devastation that often comes with oil drilling.

It’s time to stop being a slave to gas prices. President Obama has until September 30th to announce new fuel efficiency standards; tell him to adopt the highest possible standards, end our dependency on oil, and save Americans money at the pump! »

Thanks for taking action!


… I shake my head in dismay and wonder how much longer its going to be till we are extinct.  Here is the way I think the email should have been written…

Hi Greg,

From picking up the kids from school to getting groceries at the store, we do so many things every day that involve driving, but getting around shouldn’t be destroying our natural environment.

Tell President Obama to help families save the environment by adopting the highest fuel prices possible for the wealthiest Americans and insure that the proceeds go to cleaning up the our natural environment. »

In March of this year, the average family spent a mere $305 on gasoline, this is not a hardship to those families because their income is more than $50,000 per year.  They can too easily pay this while keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.

By increasing fuel efficiency standards, we should not be allowed to save money on gas, and not reduce our dependency on oil as a source of energy. Which causes the environmental devastation that always comes with drilling for more oil.

It’s time to stop being a slave to the oil companies. President Obama has until September 30th to announce new fuel efficiency standards; tell him to adopt the highest possible environmental standards, end our dependency on oil, and save the environment and not rich American’s money at the pump! »

Thanks for taking action!


It is cruelly ironic that so many of the world’s wealthiest people feel they cannot afford to reduce their consumption of gasoline.  While they are spending $305 a month on gas, they appear to be oblivious to the fact that most people in the world are forced to survive on less than $60 a month!


Decentralizing For A Better Future

Decentralization can in many instances be a better alternative to the conventional centralized ways of doing things.  Especially when it comes to solving or at least mitigating the deleterious effects of human activities on the natural environment.  Although far from being a panacea, when carefully and rationally applied, it can be of immense benefits.   As we move into the second decade of this century, we face the insurmountable challenges of dwindling natural resources with exponential increases in demand.  It is becoming painfully obvious that in order to meet our needs, we will have to do a lot more with far less.  Equally obvious is that life styles, the very paradigms or our ways of thinking we use in our everyday life will need to change.

The tendency to arrange how we do things with centralized systems, is mostly a matter of simple economics.  “It’s less costly to do it that way” is the usual logic.  While this may hold true for many immediate needs and circumstances, it is woefully myopic and inappropriate when dealing with the “bigger picture” of what is called “complex systems“.  Such systems are used to model processes in computer science, biology, economics, physics, chemistry, and many other fields.  They are in short, how we understand the Real World.

Some things in the Real World cannot, for practical reasons, be done in a decentralized way, mining for instance.  Nature deposits substances like metal oars and coal, in concentrated areas and we in turn have to centralize our activities in order to extract them from the ground.

The number of good, practical solutions to particular Real World problems are often perceived by many people as being very few.  Usually the proponents of competing interests will insist that there are only two.  When in reality there are probably others that may be better.  This is often the case when a third alternative solution calling for decentralizing something that is commonly centralized is available.

To illustrate what I mean, I want you to consider the current issue of the coal mine Arch Coal Inc. wants to dig directly underneath Buckhannon-Upshur High School, in Upshur County, West Virginia.  Arch Coal Inc. maintains that it is safe to do so, while The Upshur County Board of Education objects to it.  A better resolution to this conflict might arise if the Upshur County Board of Education would change their current paradigm of how a high should be run to a more progressive one. They would then see that by decentralizing their operation it would substantially reduce costs while increasing it’s quality.  It would also be apparent then, that a big High School building is no longer needed.  Although high schools don’t normally use such things as Distance Learning and low-residency programs, they have been in use by other institutions of higher learning for quite a long time and have been proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, to work better than traditional methods in many ways.  While it is true that there is a considerable capital investment in the campus and its buildings, my guess is that Arch Coal Inc., the 2nd  largest U.S. Coal Producer, could afford to buy it and would if the deal left them looking like they were supporting education rather than undermining it.

Of course, this is far easier said than done and not likely to happen unless, at the very least, the over whelming majority of the people in Upshur County, W.V. demand it.  But if it did, it would dramatically reduce the size of the “environmental footprint” of the school.  Decentralizing of many, if not most, human activities must happen soon if people, even in the wealthy nations, are going to have a reasonable standard of living in the very near future.

Victory: Arch Coal agrees not to mine under high school!

Great news! Late last week, Arch Coal agreed not to mine for coal underneath Buckhannon Upshur High School in West Virginia.

More than 60,000 CREDO Action members signed a petition to Arch Coal telling the company that mining underneath a high school is unacceptable, and the company responded to the public pressure.

In addition to the petition signatures we delivered, more than 600 CREDO activists called Arch Coal CEO Steven Leer to urge him not to go forward with the proposed mine. Your pressure worked, and made it clear to Arch Coal that endangering schoolchildren in order to mine coal is not acceptable.

Hunter Mullens, an attorney for the Upshur County Board of Education, told the Associated Press what this victory means. “It’s really good for the Upshur County children because we know that school is going to be safe,” he said.1

Thank you doing your part to keep the coal industry in check.

1 Arch agrees not to mine under W.Va. school complex, Associated Press, October 21, 2011

They call this a “Victory”, I see it as a draw at best.

My guess is that they are going to end up with a building that will cost substantially more than by building several-many small neighborhood size schools.  For example, it would cost a lot less to move the Teachers K-12 from building to building, then to bus all the kids from home & back.  That is effect saving 60-80 trips per class per day! When gas becomes +$5/gal I’d guess that would be more than $1/day/student.

What’s wrong with a one room schoolhouse?  One big advantage I see is that it is an opportunity to teach parenting skills at essentially zero cost.  It’s not practical for the older kids to be interacting so intimately with the younger ones in separate classrooms.

Long Distance Collaboration for Agriculture & Education

Date Line: July 4, 2011

The beginning of the 21st Century has brought with it the blossoming of the “Green Movement“, the seed of which had germinated more than 30 years prior.

In 1798, shortly after the American Revolutionary War that we are celebrating today, Thomas Malthus, a political economist working for the British Government, published An Essay on the Principle of Population, describing his theory of quantitative development of human populations.  Today, even thou relatively few people know the origin of the concept, no sane, educated person is not aware of it or doubt its validity.  With a World population that will exceed 7 billion before the end of next year, it is clear that we are beyond the capacity of the Earth to support us any longer.  It’s not a matter of if or even when a cataclysmic die-off of humankind will occur.  At best, we can only mitigate the suffering there is and will be.  At the very root of this palliative care is our ability to grow food with minimal resources, especially water.  Aquaponics is the most water efficient way to grow food, particularly when nutritional requirements are factored in.

As it appears now, Green Revolutionaries are still relatively few in number, but growing at an unprecedented rate!  As in any revolution, proponents of the status quo are loath to the rise of the coming tide of change.  However, I have the feeling that we too, in some sense, are “swimming against the tide”!  It is, I believe, quite correct to think that once people are forced to do something a better way, they will have a higher probability of actually adopting it as a regular practice in their lives. Unfortunately, as it appears to me, people are primarily only forced into doing things by overwhelming economic factors. This reticence inevitably leads to the “boiled frog” sequence of events.

To rise above the tide, “walk on water” if you will, is going to take “out of the box” thinking and creative actions. I’m not suggesting that we work faster or harder, only smarter, more creatively and together.

A maxim that I’m very fond of is “Think Globally, Act Locally “. The World has changed in ways that weren’t dreamed of when that phrase first came into use! It hadn’t been “flattened” by modern communication and transportation systems to anywhere near the extent it is now.  In effect, we have become very close neighbors, even tho we may live on opposite sides of the planet.  We can now easily and affordably interact in ways that we couldn’t only a few years ago.

Maybe it’s time for a new maxim? Like Work Globally, Teach Personally.  Learning and teaching may well be done best on a small-scale, one-on-one basis.  While the need for environmentally sustainable food production clearly can not be met without large-scale operations. That is not to say that either can best be done in conventional manners. Both need to be decentralized.  This would increase their efficiency and make these Social Ecological “Whole Systems” more effective.

Collaborations of individuals and companies in different regions, countries, continents, and hemispheres of the globe are now rather common.  But the organizational structures that they use, often do not lend themselves to decentralizing the activities they perform.  This is because of their method of governance.  They use an autocratic power structure that is the backbone of modern organizations, whether they are for profit or nonprofit.

Dynamic governance (DG), or sociocracy, is a decision-making and governance method that allows an organization to manage itself as an organic whole. To make this possible, dynamic governance enables every sub-part of the organization to have an authoritative voice in the management of the organization.  Because agriculture and education are dispersed activities, unlike mining for example, it would make a lot of sense to manage them in this way.

Although DG in it modern form is relatively new, there are successful implementations of it.  Keese Boeke in 1926 founded De Werkplaats Kindergemeenschap , the premier school using Sociocracy.  And, in agriculture for example, Terra Viva in Brazil was started in 1959, by the Schoenmaker family, from the Netherlands.  Currently, the company researches, develops and produces Bulbs, Cuttings, Flowers, Ornamental Plants, Fruits, Cereals and Potatoes and Vegetables, in over 12,000 hectares.  With more than 1,700 direct collaborators Terra Viva is composed of four basic areas of activity.