The ocean seems kinda pissed

Conservation International has released a new series of HD videos personifying portions of the earth-system with messages delivered by celebrity voice-acting. An unhappy Han Solo Harrison Ford plays the ocean. Nature, soil, the rain forest, water and water also deliver messages in this “Nature is Speaking” series. More perspectives are coming.

The message: From the point of view of nature, humans with their hubris and ignorance seem destined to destroy the natural resources they depend on with hubris. Ecosystems have survived for millennia upon millennia and yet humans, in a relatively short time span, are breaking everything in sight.

(I was in the audience a few years ago in a Washington, DC theater when Bill McKibben sadly joked, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”)

These messages have antagonistic overtone, some more than others. An almost spiteful Ocean warns, “I’m only gonna say this once. If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive, simple as that. Me? I could give a damn with or without humans. I’m the Ocean. I covered this entire planet once and I can always cover it again. That’s all I have to say.”

I expect the message+tone will rile some people. And I do wonder if the “nature will survive us all” trope doesn’t do a bit of harm when we’re also arguing that humans are responsible for massive environmental change.

Still, the argument is certainly true; we are destroying the ocean — through overfishing, trash, chemicals, fertilizer runoff, mining and acidification via CO2 emissions. The video poignantly offers no small amount of stunning video to remind us of the ecosystems we’re threatening.

The tag line: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

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Working/conference paper: The value of schooling in traditional sectors, with special reference to Indian fisheries

Because I’m being slow in getting this in a better state for publication, I’m posting it here now. Trying to light a fire, as it were.

This paper was presented at the symposium Understanding and Eradicating Poverty in South Asia: Lessons and Options at the University of Rajasthan (Jaipur, India, Oct. 17, 2013). This remains in a draft format; please contact me before citing.

ABSTRACT: The international community has enshrined formal education as one of the key tools necessary to alleviate poverty, on par with ending hunger and fighting disease. In addition, education is often considered a key component of the “modern” geographic, demographic and economic transition off the land, out of the village and into wage jobs in cities. But what does education mean within the rural or traditional economy? What does education mean for the legions of villagers who remain poor farmers and fishers in developing countries such as India? This paper examines the relationship between education and poverty theoretically and empirically in traditional economic sectors. First, the paper sketches an outline of neoclassical economic growth theory, with specific attention to the basic Cobb-Douglas production function. Next, the paper reviews literature on the economic returns to education or human capital, with special attention to traditional sectors when possible. Finally, the paper conducts a quantitative analysis of marine fishery census data from India, testing the empirical relationship between poverty and education within a traditional sector.

The paper ultimately finds evidence to support the idea of returns to education even within India’s coastal fishery economies; in other words, education need not simply be a ticket out of the village. In line with much development literature, female education may have an inverse relationship to poverty stronger than male education. Furthermore, the effect of education can rival that of mechanized capital, often thought to be the key to improving poverty among fishers. However, the results may be attenuated both by the structure of the economy as well as socio-political institutions. Finally, the findings have a spatial quality to them. Some relationships shift when controlling for the fixed or unobserved effects of place, and the effects of education are not uniform across geographies. Taken together, these findings suggest the need for education that is locally tailored, decentralized and relevant specifically for traditional economies.

Click here to download.

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Footprint, schmootprint… an overconsumer’s confession

Ouch...

Actually, this is somewhat serious. I’m an overconsumer; if everyone on the planet were to live my lifestyle, we’d need several more earths. And yet I don’t own a car, I don’t eat meat, I eat primarily organic and my landlords purchase 100 percent wind electricity. I do fly considerably more than the average person, but even subtracting that carbon output, my lifestyle is still well above the planet’s per capita biocapacity.

While all eco-footprint calculators have serious deficiencies — a finding from my semester science brief (click here for a boring PDF) — the reality is that in America, we use more than our fair share; beyond our personal consumption, our lives are supported by carbon/resource intense infrastructure and government spending, as well as social, medical and commercial services.

Interested in finding out your footprint? Click here for a simplified version from the Global Footprint Network.

I can’t be all doom and gloom — certainly we’ve made some relative strides in recent years, in environmental governance, recycling, personal habits, “green” consumption, reforestation (in parts of the globe). But such incremental eco modernization (Arthur Mol, say what?) does little to offset rising global consumption as more and more countries attempt to mimic a U.S. standard of living (Peter Dauvergne and Gus Speth know what’s up). We see real global warming and resource depletion around the world; denying that is just not an option anymore.

I believe the social scientists who say we face serious limits to growth. We need to make changes, individually yes, but more importantly as a society.

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