The passing scene – August 18, 2015

Peculiarities of Russian National Character by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.

Expansion of Russia Under the Czars.

Dmitry Orlov provided good insight into Russian history and how Russians deal with enemies and invaders.  But he neglected Russian expansionism.   It wasn’t by successful defense that the Russian Tsars acquired one-sixth of the world’s land surface, the largest empire in history except for the short-lived Mongol Empire.

Orlov mentioned President Putin’s offer to European nations to join his Eurasian Economic Union instead of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I’m glad that no important European leaders are interested in Putin’s EEU, but Russia and its partners, as exporters of energy and raw materials, would complement Europe’s manufacturing industry, and I presume that Putin’s proposed agreement doesn’t involve special privileges for multinational corporations.

Permaculture and the Myth of Overpopulation by Lisa DePiano for the Permaculture Research Institute.

Environmental degradation is due more to the behavior of rich people than to the number of poor people, and it is due more to unjust systems than to large families.   Lisa DePiano rightly says that people of good will should focus on self-determination, including reproductive rights, and not talk about human population as if it is a problem in wildlife management.

Why Bill Clinton’s Apology and Barack Obama’s Prison Drive-By Token Clemencies Are Election-Year Posturing by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, through their ability to relate to African-Americans on the emotional level, have won their votes even though their policies promoted mass incarceration of black people..

The Junk Politics of 2015 by Timothy Egan for the New York Times.

Is it the candidates or the press who are responsible for the lack of meaningful discussion of political issues?

Key Figures in CIA-Crack Cocaine Scandal Begin to Come Forward by Ryan Grim, Matt Sledge and Matt Ferner for the Huffington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Internet search engines may be influencing elections by David Schultz for Science magazine.

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4 Responses to “The passing scene – August 18, 2015”

  1. peteybee Says:

    Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the permaculture article! I am one of those who liked to say that “too many people” is the root cause of most sustainability issues. The article was a great reminder that most of the resource use comes from a small percent of the people (including me :-P).

    I do also think that when we, collectively, run into resource limits, we are quite able to expand these limits, at the expense of nature first and at the expense of our overall activity level second.

    At the same time we want to improve the lives of the bulk of the world’s people. You can do that by adding to our overall resource use, or you can do it by changing how we use what we are already using, and how we distribute it. There isn’t any cultural or institutional opposition to adding to our resource use — growth is the standard “story” of our civilizational. But to alter existing resource use… that creates a fight.

    So my reasoning was that encouraging less population growth is easier than facing the dilemma of grow vs change? I’ve never really questioned that, or even saw the need to — so this is a great topic.


  2. philebersole Says:

    I agree that population growth needs to be limited, but I don’t agree with the “population bomb” story that treats human population growth as if it were a problem in wildlife management, rather than a result of human ignorance and especially of women’s lack of control over their own bodies.

    Birth rates are coming down worldwide, and in many countries are below replacement rates, due to success in spreading contraceptive knowledge, giving rights to women and giving people hope for security based on something else besides maximizing the number of children.

    I think it is necessary to sustain these efforts and I think the people at the Permaculture Institute think so, too, but I think the problem is more the growth of consumption than the growth of population.

    The world probably can’t sustain the populations of India or China using up non-renewable resources at the same rate that we Americans do. So if we expect them to change, we’ve got to change ourselves – as unlikely and unpalatable as it seems.


    • peteybee Says:

      Just to play devil’s advocate: What if the reduction in birth rates come from a population reaching some level of material wealth and the resource consumption that comes with it?

      My other favorite theory someone told me is that couples watching television results in less children 🙂
      Tried to google it:


    • philebersole Says:

      I think the implications of your question truly are devilish.

      The demographic transition does in fact require that families achieve a certain sense of economic security and a certain material standard of living which, however is far below what I and (presumably) you take for granted.

      I think sustainability requires a certain convergence of living standards—that the world’s desperately poor no longer be on the verge of starvation, and that the world’s rich moderate our desires and consumption.

      To say this is unacceptable, to say that all the sacrifices be made by the world’s poor, is monstrous. It is in effect an endorsement of famine and genocide. I doubt this is what you truly believe.

      I do think the linked article is interesting. Maybe one key to reduce birth rates is to give people something interesting to do after sundown besides engage in sex.


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