Sunday, August 28, 2016

Seventeen Solutions – local economy and science

Most years my yard and neighborhood can have mosquitoes so thick I don't want to be outside, which can mean yard work doesn't get done. Some years the pesky things were good at getting into the house. This year there have been no mosquitoes – until a couple days ago. And one just buzzed my ear as I sat in the kitchen. I'm sure the series of August storms had something to do with it.

On to continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

2. The Local Economy

Local businesses have been largely replaced by outposts of national corporations. But these nationals have no stake in the health of any particular community. Their only goal is to maximize what goes into shareholder pockets. America feels abandoned. Nader delves into the problem, including the disconnect between what corporations create and what we need:
For decades, our corporate economy has been shifting its focus from fulfilling basic human needs (food, shelter, warmth) to fulfilling (and creating!) more trivial wants and whims. From commercial entertainment, video games, and spectator sports, to stylized snack foods, communication gadgets, and even redundant weapons systems, corporations have invested billions of dollars into research and development (R & D) on items that rob consumers of endless amounts of their not-so-disposable income. And this continues even though large segments of the population are suffering from inadequate nutrition, employment, capital ownership, shelter, transportation, and health care coverage.

The disconnect between corporations and the rest of America is documented in many other posts. You can find them here.

What is the alternative? Nader proposes local cooperatives, business owned and controlled by the community. The coop has bargaining power to use against corporations including quality, safety, nutrition, durability and sustainability. It also can determine what products not to provide, such as foods with harmful ingredients. They can search for specialty products including what is made locally. They can branch into insurance, media, travel, and adult education. They can partner with other coops for manufacturing. The power is local and includes issues beyond profit, such as sustainability and the environment.
Are consumers willing to step away from the creeping corporatization of their lives and take the time to empower their dollars by joining economic institutions that will endure and outlast their originators? The internet offers infinite new promise … Yet it will take more than just technology to interest the American people at large in the potential of community-based cooperatives; it will take a new awakening of interest in our shared standard of living.
Lisbeth Schorr discusses successful pilot programs and wonders why they don't survive outside the pilot phase. She provides an answer:
The problems arise when the successful pilot program is to expand and thereby threatens the basic political and bureaucratic arrangements that have held sway over the decades … When effective programs aiming to reach large numbers encounter the pressures exercised by prevailing attitudes and systems, the resulting collision is almost always lethal to the effective programs.
Nader says the solution requires
a concerted effort to educate the people on the benefits of local economic self-reliance – to show how much more secure, enjoyable, safe, and happy their lives can be when they participate in and reap the benefits of decisions about their own communities – decisions that are now being made thousands of miles away by a few powerbrokers who view them as mere subentries on an income statement.
Yes, this is hard work.

3. Science for the People

Back in the mid 1980s there was lots of news (or perhaps lots of mentions in the science fiction magazines I bought) about nanotechnology. I even bought a book about it, Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology by Eric Drexler. I never actually got around to reading it and I probably lost it in my move to and from Germany a few years later – or perhaps lost in the basement flood five years ago.

With something that showed so much promise and the potential for being so revolutionary and newsworthy, what happened? Where are the medical nanobots? Where is my replicator?

Nader's answer: Nanotechnology is still being developed, but it has been swallowed by the corporate black hole. We might see the results on consumer products, but otherwise no light gets out.

Over the last few decades corporations have been very aggressive in exerting power of academic science, regulatory agencies, and the tort civil justice system. In the case of academia it means offering joint ventures that tie the hands of academic scientists. The contracts state research is owned by the corporation and turned over before the results are published in scientific journals. Sometimes the corporations appoint faculty.

This is why it is a problem:

* Much university research is subsidized by the US Government. This mean taxpayer money is funding research that benefits only corporations and not the public at large.

* It skews what kind of research is being done. We get research that benefits the corporation, not the general public, such as ecological problems. We don't get enough research into antibiotics, leading to microbes that are now resistant to known ways to combat them.

* It undermines the objectivity of university science while jeopardizing academic freedom.

* Professors face a hostile climate when serving as expert witnesses in product liability cases. Fewer are willing to face down the industry's well-compensated "experts."

* Professors are less able to argue for public safety when new technologies are developed. I had mentioned nanotechnology. If it is done wrong it could cause catastrophic damage to the environment. An example is a nanocritter that "eats" pollution. What if it also "eats" necessary algae? Corporations aren't paying much attention to anything but the profits. Someone needs to be the independent voice calling for proper safeguards and controls.

If academia's independence is corroded,
society loses exactly what President Eisenhower considered the crucial rule of a free university: to be a "fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery,"of "intellectual curiosity, "of "the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society."
What to do?

One part is to encourage and join civic movements. Some already exists. An example is the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI). They are challenging the Food Industry and informing citizens about foods that are both nutritious and delicious.

Faulty and fraudulent science must be exposed to the public, not buried in corrections and retractions in scientific journals.

Encourage citizen science. Train citizens how to do such things as measure pollution or the number of salamanders in a region as a guide to environment health. Teach science literacy – how to tell good science from bad.

Stop subsidizing fossil fuels and start subsidizing renewables, especially solar.
The sun is accessible to everyone, everywhere. No one owns it. No one can subject it to a cartel. No one can make it scarce. … And, for the energy companies, that's the problem. … Ordinary people just don't have the wherewithal to find coal, gas, oil, or uranium, or time mine them, or to refine them and transport them to market.

Solar power holds the promise of making our communities self-sufficient, reducing pollution and climate disruption, cutting our dependency on foreign resources, lowering our trade deficits, decreasing our risk of nuclear sabotage and proliferation, eliminating wars over oil, making our economy more efficient, all while demonstrating respect for both our planet and future generations.

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