mfioretti: consumismo*

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  1. hundreds of thousands of people die every year due to climate change related extreme weather events and millions lose their homes, go hungry or are forced to migrate. Ecosystems everywhere, and the biosphere as a whole, are reaching dangerous tipping points. The prolonged impact of an industrial growth society addicted to fossil fuels and the rapid extraction of non-renewable resources is pushing against planetary boundaries.

    Our current economic system is structurally committed to ever-increasing economic growth and intertwined with a financial system that generates money out of nowhere based on debt, and currencies that are not backed up by real material value (see module two). Attempts to resuscitate this structurally dysfunctional system are getting more and more expensive, as the cycles of economic crisis and costly (temporary) recovery are getting shorter and shorter.

    Continuing economic crisis, along with fear of war and terrorism have effectively kept climate and environmental issues at a lower level of political priority than they ought to have as critical factors of influence on national and global security and serious threads to human wellbeing and humanity’s future survival.

    Whether our structurally dysfunctional economic system can ever deliver sustainability is being questioned more and more. Not just anti-globalization activists but people within institutions such as the World Bank (Soubbotina, 2000), government think tanks (Jackson, 2009a), academia (e.g. Victor, 2010, Jackson 2009b) and the World Economic Forum (2012) are questioning the economic growth paradigm and our current version of capitalism.
    Klaus Schwab

    “Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us » a global transformation is urgently needed, and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.”

    - Klaus Schwab, Founder of World Economic Forum, Davos in The Economic Times 2012

    The evidence that inequality has devastating social and health impacts is mounting (Wilkinson, 1996, 2005, Wilkinson & Pickett 2011, Stiglitz, 2013), yet it keeps increasing in most countries and globally. Demographic changes are challenging some countries, such as Germany, Japan and the UK, with the effects of over-ageing populations, while other countries in South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have a growing population of disenfranchised youth with difficult economic prospects and inadequate education, facing a century of potential turmoil.

    The advent of the fossil fuel age over the last couple of centuries has made available unprecedented levels of energy that humanity has harnessed to satisfy its needs: we probably expended more energy during the twentieth century than in all preceding human history (MacNeill 2000). This has permitted a prodigious leap in economic output as well as important and beneficial breakthroughs in areas such as diet, medical and dental care and greater physical comfort for many within the global family.

    However, these gains have come at an enormous cost. The human population has grown by a factor of more than ten since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-eighteenth century from around 700 million to more than 7600 million people today (see World Population Clock).

    Moreover, the various social and economic systems we have built on the assumption of continuing cheap energy are highly vulnerable. Not only because the remaining fossil fuel reserves are ever more expensive in their extraction, both economically and ecologically. Even if new discoveries of fossil fuel reserves are being made regularly, we cannot safely use them.

    Over the last thirty years, however, ecological indicators in most parts of the industrialised world have significantly improved — fish are returning to once dead lakes and rivers, air quality is improving in most cities, many reforestation programmes are being implemented. This could lead us to believe that things are actually improving. The truth, however, is that the economically rich countries have simply exported most of their heavily polluting industries. The worst social and ecological consequences of our economic behaviour are now felt in the Global South — far from the view of the world’s consumer class in the Global North.
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  2. Smartphones are particularly insidious for a few reasons. With a two-year average life cycle, they’re more or less disposable. The problem is that building a new smartphone–and specifically, mining the rare materials inside them–represents 85% to 95% of the device’s total CO2 emissions for two years. That means buying one new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade.
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  3. Well, yes. But it’s so 1950s. So analogue. Why not be really cool and have a proper networked timer socket, something that you can control from your smartphone from anywhere in the world? Something like the AuYou Wi-Fi Switch for example. Looks like it’s just the ticket. Plug it in, hold down the power button and it hooks up with the app on your (Android) smartphone, and – bingo! – job done. Now, where did you put that boarding pass?

    But, hang on. Maybe you should just check the product reviews, just to be sure. Ah, here’s one by a guy called Matthew Garrett. “There’s a lot to like about this hardware,” Matthew writes, “but unfortunately it’s entirely overwhelmed by everything there is to hate about it.”

    Yea, verily, toaster shall speak unto toaster and Amazon will know what you want before you can articulate it yourself

    Eh? Turns out that Mr Garrett knows a lot about computer security. And as he delves into how the AuYou switch works, he finds a real mess. Like all networked devices, the socket has a MAC address, a globally unique network address. You can set on/off times on the socket via the app on your phone and, if you’re in your house, that’s fine, because the command never leaves your wireless network. But if you’re on holiday in Spain, say, then the command goes via an intermediate server in China (where else?) The command is supposedly encrypted, but Mr Garrett found it laughably easy to crack.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-03-31)
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  4. Meno energia, meno lavoro, meno materiali

    “I have a dream” disse Grillo nel 2008. Con l’articolo «Tre meno - Perché non voto» (Internazionale dell’11 aprile), sognava tre principi strategici. Meno energia: da una società a 6000 watt pro capite a una società a 2000 watt, come deciso in referendum dal popolo svizzero, approvando la strategia dei Politecnici e del governo elvetici. Meno lavoro: subito 30 ore, più tardi 20 ore in media alla settimana, come sostenne nel 1930 J. M. Keynes, e nel 1985 l’eminenza grigia del miracolo economico tedesco Oswald von Nell-Breuning S.J. nel suo libro L’uomo lavora troppo? Meno materiali: da 40 a 20 tonnellate pro capite – grazie alla economia circolare, il cui primo pioniere è l’architetto svizzero Walter Stahel, che già tenne conferenze ai festival 5-stelle.

    “Quasi tutti i peggioramenti della nostra vita – scriveva Grillo - hanno una causa comune: troppa economia. Troppa energia, troppo petrolio, troppi materiali, troppo inquinamento, troppi rifiuti, troppi chilometri, troppa pubblicità, troppa corruzione, troppo stress, troppo lavoro. Contro ognuno di questi "troppi" servono molte iniziative. Ma il risultato deve essere facilmente misurabile: meno economia, più vita. (…) Oggi invece facciamo il contrario: consumiamo per poter vendere, vendiamo per poter produrre, produciamo per poter lavorare. È il contrario di come hanno funzionato tutte le civiltà. (…) Un parlamentare che avesse capito queste cose dovrebbe cominciare a lavorare subito per tre obiettivi: meno energia, meno lavoro, meno materiali”.

    Nel 2018 il programma di governo del 5-stelle dice tra l’altro: dimezzare l’uso di energia, ridurre il tempo di lavoro, dimezzare l’uso dei materiali attraverso un’economia circolare - e molti altri obiettivi social-ecologici. Nella grillosfera non mancano personalità di alto profilo. Consigliere economico e candidato 5-stelle al parlamento è Lorenzo Fioramonti, professore di economia politica, autore di Economia del benessere – Il successo in un mondo senza crescita e del best-seller GDP - Gross Domestic Problem (in Italia: Presi per il PIL). Il grillino Dario Tamburrano è il quinto eurodeputato più influente sulle politiche energetiche. Fu lui, inoltre, l’artefice della video-conversazione tra il Presidente del Parlamento europeo e l’eco-pioniere Bertrand Piccard durante il primo volo solare intorno al mondo dell’aereo fotovoltaico Solar impulse.
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  5. an endlessly growing population is not sustainable, even if they live like peasants.

    That said, overpopulation is not, in my view, the main driver of planetary collapse today. The main driver is capitalism. The human population has roughly tripled since WWII. But our consumption of resources has multiplied many many times greater than population growth: We use something like 6 times as much steel as in 1950, 15 times as much aluminum, thousands of times more plastic and on and on. That ravenous overconsumption of resources, and its associated pollution, is overwhelmingly driven by the requirements of capitalist reproduction, the ceaseless invention of new needs and so on, not by human reproduction. Yes we need to reduce the human population, if only to give other life forms some space and resources. But there are easy ways to do so without using force like the Chinese government. Instead of building grandiose blingfrastructure and space shots to glorify the Communist Party, China’s so-called communists could have prevented their current overpopulation problem if they had spent that money on providing adequate old age pensions and social security so that peasant farmers don’t have to raise multiple kids in the hopes that one or two will live to support them in their old age. Amazingly, this is still the “social security sytem” for hundreds of millions of Chinese.

    So overpopulation is a real problem. But if we don’t overthrow capitalism, Mother Nature is going to solve the overpopulation problem in a hurry, but in a most unpleasant manner. That’s why I don’t concern myself much with the population problem. I don’t mean to ignore it. But I think its very much a secondary driver compared to capitalism.
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  6. f there is any indication of the cultural import and effect of the “millennials” – a term I dislike for reasons I will explain later – look no further than America’s malls. The Baby Boomer hubris and NIMBYism that sent malls into further and further orbits from city centers has come home to roost and it promises to change the face of retail in a big way.

    First, some statistics. I point to Columbus, Ohio because it’s where I’m from and I have plenty of data points. First, Sears is pulling out of two of Columbus’ once-mighty malls, Eastland and Westland. These “directional malls,” built between 1964 and 1969, were once the jewels of the city. Far enough from downtown commerce they let suburbanites stock up at any of their many anchor stores – J.C.Penney, Sears, K-Mart – and then eat at a fast casual spot like Red Lobster and, later, Outback. This self-contained world further became the locus for youth culture in the suburbs – a place to hang out that wasn’t outside – and, ultimately, became a symbol of a failed way of life.

    These mall suburbs are now magnets for the poor. Two forces are at work here. First, young people are moving back into the city center resulting in a rise in housing prices and the closure of many rent-stabilized buildings in the once-moribund Downtown area. Further, subsidized housing has ground in districts around – you guessed it – the old malls.

    From the Dispatch:

    Seven of the 16 ZIP codes within Columbus’ pre-1950 boundaries have lost subsidized households since 1994, according to housing authority data. Meanwhile, 33 of the remaining 35 ZIP codes in Franklin County have gained households using rent vouchers. That includes large gains in the three ZIP codes near Westland Mall (43228), the old Northland Mall site (43229) and Eastland Mall (43232).

    And don’t think fast food is safe. The old slop is rapidly aging, as Bob Dylan once wrote. To wit: the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings – a chain that started in Columbus, Ohio as Buffalo Wings & Weck (BW3) and, in my gastronomic opinion, has since gone far downhill – said that lack of interest in casual dining joints like BWW and Applebee’s is slowly forcing a further contraction.

    “Casual-dining restaurants face a uniquely challenging market today,” current CEO Sally Smith wrote in a letter to shareholders. “Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants. Mall traffic has slowed. And, surprisingly, television viewership of sporting events (important for us, especially) is down.”

    In short, the rate of store closures is expected to double in 2017, a worrying trend for those who want cheap, bad food in a sterile, marble-clad environment prominently featuring plastic trees.

    Smith blames millennials. I blame Smith. As has been pointed out many times – most recently in Generation of Sociopaths that the demographics, the policies, and the preferences of the Baby Boomers rode a wave of absolute financial success from the nadir of World War II into the golden 1960s. The habits laid down in those years – the desire for cheap, fast food, the screen as babysitter, the penchant to trade the nameless (but often racist) anxiety of the city for a suburban lawn – defined the rise of fast commerce and will define its fall.

    In short, technology has made us not want to go to the mall by bringing everything – from food to clothing to toilet paper – to our homes. But what comes next? Our species will never survive if it sits on the couch all day eating take-out from Seamless, streaming Netflix, and ordering from Amazon. Small town Main Streets have already been gutted by malls and there is little hope that Old Man Jenkins’ Five and Dime is opening back up. So what comes next?
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  7. Millennials are threatening dozens of industries.

    They don't buy napkins. They won't play golf. They aren't buying homes or cars. And they're not even eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.

    Millennials' financial decisions have been heavily covered by media organizations — something that has infuriated many of the generation, as news that "millennials are killing" another industry has become a common headline.

    "This is just some more millennial-blaming B.S.," one reader wrote in response to a recent Business Insider article with the headline "Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's."
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  8. L’ormai vastissima mole degli studi sulle determinanti di soddisfazione e senso di vita fa emergere chiaramente il ruolo chiave della generatività e l’ambivalenza tra beni di comfort e beni di stimolo che un economista geniale come Tibor Scitovsky aveva ben tematizzato nel suo libro, non a caso intitolato The Joyless Society (La società senza gioia). I beni di comfort sono quei beni che producono piacere a breve ma che, in caso di abuso, indeboliscono la nostra capacità di investire con fatica per procurarci i beni di stimolo. L’abuso dei beni di comfort produce dipendenze e infelicità mentre la possibilità di godere dei beni di stimolo è una fonte di soddisfazione e di senso della vita ben più stabile e duratura. I beni di stimolo seguono una legge molto singolare. Sembrano a portata di mano ma non possono essere consumati se prima non esiste un investimento faticoso per costruire l’abilità necessaria per accedervi. Chiunque è genitore sa bene che in un mondo che rende sempre più facile e a basso costo l’accesso ai beni di comfort di ogni tipo una delle cose più difficili e più importanti da insegnare ai ragazzi è il giusto rapporto tra questi tipi di beni. Una delle pochissime narrative "laiche" che aiutano da questo punto di vista è quella dello sport praticato in modo sano dove i ragazzi imparano che un’abilità si conquista con allenamento e fatica. Lo stesso vale per tutte le abilità (professionali, spirituali, culturali) che rappresentano altrettanti beni di stimolo. Inutile negarlo ma le leggi hanno anche un ruolo educativo. È molto facile pensare che ciò che è lecito è anche buono e desiderabile ed è questo, insieme a quanto considerato sopra, il motivo per il quale un allentamento delle restrizioni sul consumo di cannabis non mi entusiasma affatto.

    Il secondo argomento antiproibizionista mi pare del tutto infondato perché sottovaluta di gran lunga la capacità innovativa dell’impresa criminale il cui business è rappresentato dagli innumerevoli mercati delle attività illegali. In alcuni casi si tratta di attività del tutto illegali (il consumo di cocaina ed eroina). In altri di attività che hanno perimetri di legalità quando rispettano alcuni vincoli, o che sono del tutto legali all’interno di certi parametri ma che possono diventare illegali quando questi parametri non sono rispettati (dall’azzardo illegale all’usura e agli ecoreati).
    L’esempio dell’azzardo da questo punto di vista è illuminante. La presenza dell’azzardo legale aumenta e non riduce il numero di giocatori patologici e non sembra frenare le possibilità di espansione dell’azzardo illegale perché, quando esiste un perimetro di legalità circoscritto, la criminalità sa costruirsi uno spazio illegale oltre quel perimetro dove i rischi per l’utente sono tra l’altro maggiori. È ingenuo pensare che la liberalizzazione di uno solo di questi mercati illegali diventi un vulnus decisivo per i profitti delle attività criminali che si giocano su così tanti fronti. Il vero antidoto alla criminalità sono gli anticorpi di capitale sociale e di senso civico delle comunità locali. Che sono come degli organismi dove la presenza di questi anticorpi impedisce al virus delle organizzazioni criminali di attecchire laddove mantiene livelli di vigilanza elevati.

    Il terzo ragionamento non convincente è quello che cerca di portare argomenti a favore della legalizzazione con monopolio pubblico dell’offerta parlando dei benefici fiscali che ne deriverebbero. Torna alla mente il famoso discorso di Bob Kennedy con la lista di tutte le cose che contribuiscono negativamente al nostro benessere, ma fanno aumentare il Pil
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  9. Lord’s thesis is that the kind of art a society makes and values is joined at the hip with the kind of energy that society depends on to keep itself going. He traces the various forms of energy we have known as a species throughout our pre-history — our millennia spent in the Pleistocene — and in our recorded history — sexual energy, without which societies can’t continue; the energy of the body while hunting and foraging; wood for fire; slaves; wind and water; coal; oil; and “renewables” — and makes some cogent observations about their relationship to art and culture. In his Prologue, he says:

    Everyone knows that all life requires energy. But we rarely consider how dependent art and culture are on the energy that is needed to produce, practice and sustain them. What we fail to see are the usually invisible sources of energy that make our art and culture(s) possible and bring with them fundamental values that we are all constrained to live with (whether we approve of them or not). Coal brought one set of values to all industrialized countries; oil brought a very different set… I may not approve of the culture of consumption that comes with oil… but I must use it » if I want to do anything at all.

    (Photo via

    Those living within an energy system, says Lord, may disapprove of certain features, but they can’t question the system itself. Within the culture of slavery, which lasted at least 5,000 years, nobody wanted to be a slave, but nobody said slavery should be abolished, because what else could keep things going?
    (Sébastien Bonaimé/Getty Images; Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

    Coal, says Lord, produced a culture of production: think about those giant steel mills. Oil and gas, once they were up and running, fostered a culture of consumption. Lord cites “the widespread belief of the 1950s and early ’60s in the possibility of continuing indefinitely with unlimited abundance and economic growth, contrasted with the widespread agreement today that both that assumption and the world it predicts are unsustainable.” We’re in a transition phase, he says: the next culture will be a culture of “stewardship,” the energy driving it will be renewables, and the art it produces will be quite different from the art favored by production and consumption cultures.

    What are the implications for the way we view both ourselves and the way we live? In brief: in the coal energy culture — a culture of workers and production — you are your job. “I am what I make.” In an oil and gas energy culture — a culture of consumption — you are your possessions. “I am what I buy.” But in a renewable energy culture, you are what you conserve. “I am what I save and protect.” We aren’t used to thinking like this, because we can’t see where the money will come from. But in a culture of renewables, money will not be the only measure of wealth. Well-being will factor as an economic positive, too.

    Like Barry Lord, Morris is interested in the link between energy-capture systems and the cultural values associated with them, though in his case it’s the moral values, not only the aesthetic ones — supposing these can be separated — that concern him. Roughly, his argument runs that each form of energy capture favors values that maximize the chance of survival for those using both that energy system and that package of moral values. Hunter-gatherers show more social egalitarianism, wealth-sharing, and more gender equality than do farmer societies, which subordinate women — men are favored, as they must do the upper-body-strength heavy lifting — tend to practice some form of slavery, and support social hierarchies, with peasants at the low end and kings, religious leaders, and army commanders at the high end. Fossil fuel societies start leveling out gender inequalities — you don’t need upper body strength to operate keyboards or push machine buttons — and also social distinctions, though they retain differences in wealth.

    The second part of his argument is more pertinent to our subject, for he postulates that each form of energy capture must hit a “hard ceiling,” past which expansion is impossible; people must either die out or convert to a new system and a new set of values, often after a “great collapse” that has involved the same five factors: uncontrolled migration, state failure, food shortages, epidemic disease, and “always in the mix, though contributing in unpredictable ways–- climate change.” Thus, for hunting societies, their way of life is over once there are no longer enough large animals to sustain their numbers. For farmers, arable land is a limiting factor. The five factors of doom combine and augment one another, and people in those periods have a thoroughly miserable time of it, until new societies arise that utilize some not yet exhausted form of energy capture.
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  10. From the first day inexpensive desktop 3D printers became accessible to the public, the thought of not having to buy a plastic knob for USD$59 for your dishwasher or having to replace your window blinds because a small plastic connector broke has been enticing.

    In fact, some people are able to do this. However, there are two barriers to success: access to the 3D model and printing capability.

    For the 3D model, this is perhaps the most difficult stage. You cannot 3D print something unless you have a valid and correct 3D model for your application. If you need to replace a dishwasher knob, you have two options: find the 3D model from the manufacturer or design one yourself.

    Will the manufacturer provide the 3D design file? This is highly unlikely, as they can produce replacement knobs for almost zero cost: they need only run their (or their supplier’s) manufacturing system a bit longer and provide cheap plastic to produce container ship-fulls of the colorful knobs. These they can sell to you at a very inflated price. It’s likely they can produce a knob for as low as a few cents, but charge you dozens of dollars for it. A huge profit margin they are most likely not giving away by releasing 3D models.

    This leaves you facing the other option: designing a replacement 3D model yourself. Right off the hop, that disqualifies almost the entire population of the planet, as very few people have 3D design skills, and most are inclined to never gain any.

    But for those that do have skills, they are facing the prospect of measuring, creating, re-measuring and iterating through at least several prints before obtaining something that works.

    The time required to do this might not be worth your time. Consider this: if it takes you two or three hours to develop a functional replacement knob, and your 3D skills could pay, say, USD$75 per hour for contract work, your “free” knob just cost you more than USD$150. That’s higher than the “perfect” one from the manufacturer.

    However, if you persist and attempt 3D printing a reasonable 3D model, you’ll have some challenges.

    First, the resolution on desktop 3D printers is likely far worse than the resolution on the original part. Your replacement certainly will not look as good, but in some shapes, the resolution may be important functionally, too.

    Consider parts that must fit together; the tolerances for workable snap fit parts could be tight in some situations. This suggests you might find yourself 3D printing a number of different attempts before getting it right.

    Worse, your desktop 3D printer may not produce accurate parts. If you want a 22mm width part, it may actually be 22.85mm when you print it, or a similar “miss” in dimensions.

    If your part has holes, that’s another problem. 3D printed holes are notorious for ending up with an incorrect diameter. You will probably end up drilling them out to obtain the correct size.

    Durability is another concern. Home-use parts that have broken in normal use are, by definition, undergoing mechanical stress. It is highly doubtful that any part 3D printed on a desktop 3D printer would be as strong as an original mass manufactured part.

    Therefore your replacement part is MORE likely to break than the original, which has already broken. Your part will break, too.

    The good news is that you can simply 3D print another one.

    Unless your 3D printer is broken.
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