Cary Neeper's Blog: Reviewing World-changing Nonfiction

November 21, 2018

Wesley the Owl The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'BrienWesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brian, New York, Free Press, 2008.

Indeed, this is a remarkable story, told with elegant precision so that we learn how owls communicate, what they care about, what they won’t tolerate, how they love, eat, gripe, clean themselves, and how they express the obvious emotions we all share.

Enough said. It’s a real eye-opener. We are truly not alone in sensitivity and talent. Life on Earth is more ingenious than we have realized.

Wild Things, Wild Places Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth by Jane AlexanderWild Things, Wild Places by Jane Alexander, New York, Alfred A. Knopt, 2016.

The three parts of this book are divided into chapters named after countries, states, “Desert.” “Ocean,” and “Birds,” but the stories are focused more on the author’s experiences than on details about wild things.

In pages 292 and 293, however, the author does a nice job of reminding us that “We are all ”…connected in milliseconds and transport…while faced with the obvious need to…consciously manage the planet [and]…save the declining species of the world…it is a moral imperative as the most evolved creature on the planet to care for the home we share with all others. Everything we need or make comes from natural resources…’”
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Published on November 21, 2018 14:57 • 7 views • Tags: animals, health, shared-diseases, the-human-animal

October 25, 2018

Degrowth in the Suburbs A Radical Urban Imaginary by Samuel AlexanderDegrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imagery by Samuel Alexander and Branden Gleeson, Singapore, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

In order to face the consequences of global warming and to find a secure, orderly future, we need to find a way for everyone (not just scientists or academicians) to understand and act on our real options. Therefore, I recommend this book, beyond page 16, as a thorough review of the causes, many of the options, and the changes needed to prevent the most tragic consequences we now face. In my lay-readers’ view, the introduction and first pages of this book were not helpful, overloaded with curt generalizations and jargon that provide no information and require careful interpretation. The rest of the book is quite readable, valuable in its urgency and thorough treatment of our current dilemma.

The reader will find the bulk of recommendations and conclusions very similar to those published by Herman Daly in the 1970’s, developed over the years, and currently presented in short articles published on steadystate.org by Brian Czech and others. Degrowth in the Suburbs provides helpful confirmation of steadystate theory and its practice, as portrayed in my series, The Archives of Varok, but Daly’s work is not cited in the long references cited at the end of each chapter.

One question arose in the first chapter. The word “neoliberal” was not defined other than relating it to neglecting “…the centrality or urbanization to the creation of value.” At the end of the book another reference was made to the “…neoliberal falacies like the ‘liveable city.’” The authors don’t provide details, but I assume they are referring to the neoliberal (?) idea that energy use per capita is or can be much smaller in large cities simply because the distance between people is less. Thus, centralized food distribution and public transport requires less energy. The authors don’t address the fact that cities are still growing and, in any case, will need to increase efficiency until they can disperse to “degrowth in the suburbs.” The authors don’t address how that major puzzle cold be solved.

Nothing else is neglected in this book’s thorough descriptions of how we can degrow and use less energy--the two major themes in the book. In chapter 2 on the “Energy Descent Future” the authors remind us why nuclear and renewable sources of energy will probably not be enough. They summarize the rise of hi-energy use in industry and agriculture, discuss the concept of Peak Oil, and suggest that it is too late for carbon sequestering. A book published in 2011 (“Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future” by Steve Hallett and John Wright, New York, Prometheus Books) agrees.

Chapter 3 provides a nice summary of nuclear energy problems, and presents a good case that “techno-optimism is misguided.” Wind and solar energy will help, but both have storage problems, and nothing will solve our “private car addiction.” We need public transport powered by renewables and lower mobility, while transcending the “growth paradigm.” A redoing of banking is in order to ”…disconnect economic growth from energy consumption” with “…planned economic contractions, increased localization, broader distribution of wealth and judicious deindustrialization…” (Chapter 4)

The authors declare that such changes won’t be done by governments. They must be done in the “social-cultural sphere.” The authors suggest that we look at the Transition Towns Movement and the Eco-Village Movement. Chapter 5 continues by suggesting voluntary simplicity, low-impact practices, reduction of energy demand, use of solar ovens (which my daughter finds delightful in Indianapolis). Don’t fly. Don’t eat meat or dairy. Transition Initiatives mean eating local food, permaculture, and giving up cars. “Consumerism does not satisfy the human craving for meaning.”

Chapter 6 gives us a view of what 2038 could look like, given these suggestions. Water capture, waste composted and used, with food grown our your own plot would mean the end of corporations and obesity. Farming jobs would increase, as would the fix-it-yourself paradigm. Reuse and sharing would increase and local coins would be reinvented and used. Voluntary simplicity would “defeat capitalism.”

Governing policies are discussed in Chapter 7. “Principles of justice, self-limitations and ecological democracy” call for degrowth. GDP is known to be a poor measure. The use of resources would need to be limited. This should also reduce labor hours. Government should provide public transportation and health care. Forests would be revived. Banks would be regulated again. Wealth and estate taxes could provide local housing for those in need. A basic income or negative income tax of 3% could level the playing field for the poor.

If you have fretted, as I have, about how we are to make the transition to a more stable future from our current habits of energy overuse and population overgrowth, do read this book. The ideas are not new, but they echo with splendid detail the work done since the 1970s. Herman Daly and many authors, of both ficiton and non-fiction, have seen the dangers coming and now agree on many of the basics, regardless of political positions once held.
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Published on October 25, 2018 13:27 • 72 views • Tags: agriculture, bottled-water, business, degrowth, economics, lakes, life, overuse, pollution, population, rights, rivers, steadystate, tap-water, water, world-politics

October 13, 2018

Life Without Oil Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future by Steve HallettLife Without Oil: by Steve Hallett and John Wright, Amherst New York, Prometheus Books, 2011.

I awoke one morning recently realizing how this “old” book mirrors The Archives of Varok, my 1970’s attempt (updated this decade) to explain why we “Must Shift To a New Energy Future.”

My dad saw it coming in the 1960’s--this need to pull back on our runaway economy and population bomb--when he could not find, anywhere in the world, matched rosewood to build a xylophone.

In Life Without Oil, the authors (writing before 2011) tell us that “The party’s over.
Technology will not save us, that “…globalization accelerates our destruction and deepens our vulnerability…” so we had better make “…communities and nations…more resilient to the coming collapse and more able to recover thereafter.” They make a detailed, well-documented case with extensive reference notes and Index.

The authors’ suggestions are just as valid now as they were eight years ago: sustainability must replace the current “…ethos of growth, where people share and conserve, rather than compete and consume.” I.e. don’t send food; support local production and “sustainable ecology.” Manage the commons. “Allow immigration” to solve problems of declining populations.

Europe is a good example of how population growth can reach a “rate near zero.” This world does not need to be another Easter Island, where ten communities competed for resources until the land was stripped bare.

We need to “…forego short-term economic needs” and invest in alternative energy technologies, “replace fossil fuels” while protecting the land and maintaining the wilderness, productive farmland, clean air and water.

Industry must be required to pay “…the economic price and the ecological price for the materials they use and the goods they produce and distribute…” . How? With careful planning. Remove subsidies “from polluting industries.” Increase their taxes when they pollute, trade emission permits and enforce regulations in the financial industry, especially where the natural environment can be protected.

The authors recognize that all situations can differ, but it makes sense that the pros and cons of various regulations can be balanced--just as we balance the right of way at a four-way stop on our highways. We all honor the rules: the car on the right goes first if two cars get to the intersection at the same time. Otherwise we simply take turns--first one there goes first.
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Published on October 13, 2018 16:12 • 43 views • Tags: balance, economics, energy, fair-play, future, oil, regulation

September 22, 2018

Cowed The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment by Denis Hayes

by Denis Hayes and Gail Bapu Hayes, New York, W.W.Norton + Co., 2015.

The title says it all--almost. The impact is much larger than we have imagined. In startling detail, the Hayes describe the harm we have done to our country and ourselves by tolerating the overproduction and cruel practices used to create beef, and veal, and milk.

The authors illustrate sensitive ways to raise cattle, providing them with longer, productive lives. They quote Temple Grandin, reminding us how she has instructed the industry in humane practices. A few pages are devoted to the clear hormonal evidence for bovine emotion and suffering--their sentience, which we can no longer deny. Their conclusions are clear: we must eat less beef and do away with feed lots.
Several excellent pages are devoted to the work of Allan Savory, who has restored thousands of deserts in Africa, turning them into green grazing lands by “holistic management” of cattle grazing land. The Hayes point out lessons learned—1) that some deserts are natural and needed to reflect some solar heat and 2) that the complexity of restoring grass lands requires due diligence in watching the ground and keeping the herds moving continuous, as they did in the early days of Africa.

Perhaps the most revealing notes are the author’s summary of how big business and money have taken over corn, “grain facilities”, and meatpacking. These “…giant interests have funded the campaign of both Republicans and Democrats. Hence small farmers supported the “candidate who promised to kick the government off the farm”

Do read this book. You’ll eat less beef, if any.
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Published on September 22, 2018 16:17 • 2 views • Tags: beef, cattle, denis-hayes, food, holilstic-management, life, meat, overpopulation, pollution, temple-grandin, waste, water
Blog 137 by Don Neeper "Is there a penchant for winning in [this] interconnected world?"
http://neeper.net/blog-137-american-a...

For the entire blog sequence, last shown at top
http://neeper.net/don-neepers-blog/
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Published on September 22, 2018 15:18 • 17 views • Tags: angst-in-america, blog, don-neeper

September 16, 2018

Blue Future Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever by Maude BarlowBlue Future: Protecting Water For People and the Planet Forever by Maude Barlow, New York , The New Press, 2013.
The thesis of this book: Of all the issues that drive us and disturb us, this one strikes the closest to home. Without water, we simply cannot live, hence access to water is a right that must be protected.

Rivers and lakes ignore political boundaries and, so far, "...international water disputes--even among fierce enemies--have generally been resolved peacefully..." In these times of threatening overpopulation and its stresses, we must guard the "300 arguments between states around shared rivers.”

Tap water problems have led to overuse of bottled water; its plastic is clogging the seas, while big money profiteers from its sale, which undermines its availability as a right. “It is crucial [the author says] that nations ratify the [1997] UN Convention on The Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses to secure the future and resolve conflicts. In 2006 The World Wildlife Fund campaigned for this Law’s ratification. It is now signed by 36 countries and was “…brought into force” On August 17, 2014.

No issue seems more important than this. It’s never too late to encourage others to respect this urgent right to life’s basic need. This readable book should be required reading for all politicians and businesses.
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Published on September 16, 2018 16:26 • 36 views • Tags: bottled-water, lakes, life, ocean, plastic, pollution, rights, rivers, tap-water, water, world-politics

August 23, 2018

The Soul of an Octopus A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy MontgomeryNew York, Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Several chapters of this readable memoir/octopus biology review are named for individuals, whose unique personalities are made vividly clear. Historical anecdotes add to this engaging read, as the author reviews our problem with allowing the "dignity of mind" to be applied to "octopuses." (The plural is not octopi, since the word comes from the Greek, not Latin, according to the author.)

Her interactions with the different octopusial personalities are fascinating. Those raised by humans look to them for attention, while those taken from the wild require a place to hide until they are convinced that interaction with humans is more interesting. That interaction involves several arms acing independently, embracing human arms thrust into their water, while exploring new objects, or enjoying TV sports and cartoons when made available.

At the Boston Aquarium, direct contact with octopuses had not been tried before the year 2000, but their intelligence is now quite clear. It probably evolved millions of years ago when they lost their shells. (In the ocean techniques for defense and for hunting prey require some smarts if you run around without armor.) Tool use by octopuses has been noted by patient divers, as has home building and defense against urchin spines. They understand what a human pointing a finger means, as do dogs and human children at age 3 to 4. This is called Theory of Mind—i.e. they realize that other life forms have one.

The author conquers her early problems learning to scuba dive and treats us to undersea visits with wild octopuses, who study their human visitors after taking them on tours of their neighborhood. The book gives us technical information along with the author's intimate view of emotional lives shared between humans and creatures biologically very alien from us in some ways (with their many arms housing scattered brain matter) but very much like us in the essentials of life—its experience and its caring.
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Published on August 23, 2018 12:03 • 28 views • Tags: animal-sentience, book-review, new-findings, octopuses

July 20, 2018

Billionaires’ Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, Boston, Beacon Press, 2012.

Billionaires' Ball Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality by Linda McQuaigIn reviewing Billionaires' Ball I'm tempted to quote from the book Zoobiquity: by Barbara Matterson-Horowitz, MD and Kathryn Bowers. Chapter 5 is a fascinating tale of why we all--humans and animals alike--are subject to addiction. Evolution has provided us with nerves and brain chemicals that interplay to create emotions. Survival tactics are rewarded with hits of natural feel-good narcotics like dopamine. Accumulating wealth is a survival tactic, hence it can be addictive--a scary observation for these times.

The authors of Billionaires Ball remind us of the Crash of 2008 and provide a detailed history of “Chapter 5. Why Bill Gates Doesn't Deserve His Fortune, Chapter 6. Why Other Billionaries Are Even Less Deserving...and Chapter 10. Why Billionaires Are Bad for Democracy."

The authors compare the U.S. and Sweden. They observe that most Americans think that we are similar in the distributions of wealth. We are not. Our differences in wealth are currently much higher than the Swedes. In America the average wage has slid downward since the 1970’s, while exorbitant wealth has accumulated to a very low percentage of Americans.

The answers are simple. It is up to Congress to reinstate reasonable leveling measures. Trickle-down economics has been debunked as a myth. I come back again and again to the Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant: Rome, faced with hungry people and unequal wealth, chose a ”hundred years of class and civil war," while in the Athens of 594 B.C. Solon, an aristocratic businessman, “…eased the burden of all debtors…established a graduated income tax...reorganized the courts on a more popular basis, and...educated at the government’s expense..." sons of the military. “The government of the United State, in 1933-52 and 1960-65, followed Solon's peaceful methods and accomplished a moderate and pacifying redistribution…"

Why is this so hard to understand? People need to feel some basic respect as part of society, not as lackeys.
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Published on July 20, 2018 16:53 • 77 views • Tags: crash-of-2008, entitlement, inequality, jobs, laws, mcquaig, neil-brooks, wealth

May 26, 2018

Blue Future Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever by Maude BarlowBlue Future: Protecting Water For People and the Planet Forever by Maude Barlow, New York , The New Press, 2013.
Of all the issues that drive us and disturb us, this one strikes the closest to home. Without water, we simply cannot live, hence access to water is a right that must be protected.

Rivers and lakes ignore political boundaries and, so far, "...international water disputes--even among fierce enemies--have generally been resolved peacefully..." In these times of threatening overpopulation and its stresses, we must guard the "300 arguments between states around shared rivers.”

Tap water problems have led to overuse of bottled water with its plastic clogging the seas, while big money profiteers from its sale, which undermines its availability as a right. “It is crucial [the author says] that nations ratify the [1997] UN Convention on The Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses to secure the future and resolve conflicts. In 2006 The World Wildlife Fund campaigned for this Law’s ratification. It is now signed by 36 countries and was “…brought into force” On August 17, 2014.

No issue seems more important than this. It’s never too late to encourage others to respect this urgent right to life’s basic need. This readable book should be required reading for all politicians and businesses.
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Published on May 26, 2018 15:13 • 92 views • Tags: bottled-water, lakes, life, ocean, plastic, pollution, rights, rivers, tap-water, water, world-politics

May 19, 2018

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando DeSoto, New York, Basic Books, 2000.

A must-read! The Mystery of Capital Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando de SotoThis book cites rave reviews by thirty-one significant people in government and the press, and its simple message has been taken seriously by some countries determined to help the 80% who fail to rise above poverty levels—most because they stay trapped in extralegal ways of obtaining a place to live and a barely adequate living.

The formula for lifting the 80% out of poverty is simple to understand but difficult to enact —governments must legalize and enable (through low enough prices and short time requirements) the assumptions and dealing practiced extra-legally by the poor. Only when property ownership is guaranteed—its value secured by legal government procedures and filed papers—can it be used to better ones position and grow the economy for all.
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Published on May 19, 2018 19:27 • 31 views • Tags: extralegal, laws, ownership, poverty, security, solutions

Reviewing World-changing Nonfiction

Cary Neeper
Expanding on the ideas portrayed in The Archives of Varok books for securing the future.
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