Cary Neeper

Writer, Blogger, and Painter -- esteeming life wherever and whatever it might be.

Check out Critical Non-fiction for links to reviews in

Exploration of complexity, its indicators, embedded chaos, and value in human organizations.

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs
Care and Respect

A Review of Al Gore's The Future

February 2, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore: New York, Random House, 2013, a New York times bestseller. As former Vice President and member of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as author of An Inconvenient Truth, a member of Apple Inc. board of directors, chairman of Generation Investment Management, chairman of the nonprofit Climate Reality Project, Al Gore is no stranger to business, government or environmental concerns.

This latest book provides a treasure for anyone concerned about our current dilemmas. In unvarnished, direct language, Gore explores environmental, economic and political issues. He presents the facts, sometimes a brief history, and digs deep into the reasons behind our failure to agree on solutions that he believes, passionately, must be implemented soon. The consequences of inaction are made clear, and they are dire.

This book was in development for eight years by Gore, his research team, business associates and distinguished reviewers, including Jared Diamond, E. O. Wilson and Herman Daly. Besides 373 pages of compelling text, the book includes an invaluable eight pages of Bibliography, 144 pages of usefully titled Notes, and a detailed Index.

The credibility of Gore’s arguments are enhanced by his understanding of complex systems and a balanced approach to each topic. He makes his own views crystal clear while exploring relevant evidence without overloading the reader with data. An example is his description of Earth’s wind and water currents that are involved in the experience of climate change (pages 305-311). Gore argues that though we prohibit “...human experimentation that puts lives at risk...”, we are engaging in a deadly global “unplanned experiment” as we continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere.

Of particular interest to me is his analysis of why we cannot agree on such important issues. He covers many. A brief look at the Index can tell you if your topic of concern is covered. The range of possibilities for the future is huge, introduced in each section by extensive topic organizing diagrams. The concluding paragraphs “So What Do We Do Now?” (page 367) recap his most urgent tasks, if we face the fact that we humans are now “...a geologic and evolutionary force...” on Earth.

If the United State of America is to provide leadership to the global community, Gore insists that we must reform “...legislative rules that allow a small minority to halt legislation in the U. S. Senate” and “...limit the role of money in politics...”. The latter is a positive feedback loop, a recipe for disaster well known in physics and studies of complex systems.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--2. Are Humans the Only "...avaricious and miserly" Animal?

October 10, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

This is Mark Twain’s second observation in his list of human faults, due to their unique “moral sense.” Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT states that when several animals were offered the chance to accumulate all the food they wanted “...none of them would do it.” Humans who become millionaires, however, “ rabid hunger for more.” (more…)

Certainly Not Stagnation

August 7, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Book Club Discussion

Brian Czech in Supply Shock talks about "stagflation... a combination of inflation and recession..." an impossible situation in the steady state, where production and consumption are held stable at the standard of living chosen democratically and debt is a thing of the past.
To quote Shawne in Conn:The Alien Effect, the third book in The Archives of Varok, to be released this summer:
"The steady state means time to conserve everything and keep everyone working, sharing work hours, sharing big items locally, producing energy locally. Some people even understand the need for selective technology and replacement-only reproduction." (more…)

Long-term Stability—Survival in the Anthropocene

August 7, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Book Club Discussion

The –isms are irrelevant. Socialism, communism and capitalism are all growth economies—stuck on the belief that growth is a panacea for what ails our Full Earth. A new ecological, full Earth, complex economy needs to focus on the long-range future and make a stable (no-growth) economy the primary goal of all nations.

Some places have already arrived with the primary driver in place—human population growth at zero. For them the opportunity is ripe for another needed focus—converting to a debt-free economy. Only then can a society hope to secure its future. Only then can resource use (and production) be reduced to sustainable levels for all time.

Emergence in Story and in the Hen House Flock

August 7, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Book Club Discussion

Emergence in complex systems in defined as a group of things becoming something more than the parts of that group can explain. A complex system can be any group of things that interact in nonlinear (not straight or direct) ways with each other, like an organization of human beings or birds sharing a Hen House.

If the mission for all the employees of an airline is to get the traveler to his destination with the most comfort in the least time possible, but the employees insist on sticking to their job description, what emerges is something not as friendly as intended. In many businesses, producing a reliable product can be forgotten in the name of making a larger profit.

What you do as a group, not what you say, is what you become. The soul of the group emerges, like the Hen House flock of geese, chickens, and ducks. The rules are simple: move over when I come to the feed dish or the pond and let me have a turn. If you don’t give way, I’ll give you a gentle nip with my beak.

Your organization has labored over a mission statement. Finally, it says what you want it to say--more or less. It's a bit idealistic, maybe it's a compromise for everyone who contributed to the big sheets of paper you pinned on the wall, but it's done, and it sounds good. It embodies in words what you would like to see your organization be and do, at least how you'd like it to appear.

A year passes, and the mission statement still sounds good, but does it describe what the organization has become? Or is the Bottom Line, like the Stock Price, used as the measure of that soul? Has your goal been to make the best product possible or provide the best service, as the mission statement says, or has the goal really been to make the most profit possible, so the stock price will go up?

What you do, not what you say will define the organization's soul. It will emerge, based on how individuals in the organization relate, how each person looks at the whole operation as well as each member's part, how much feedback is allowed, how much communication happens, how free each individual is to do his best at fulfilling the mission. It's all in the books. Check out the work of Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science.

The Hen House gang knows where to sleep—turkey and hen on roost, geese below in the Hen House, little duck in the dog igloo, big duck in the nest box. At dusk. Not ten minutes before dusk.

Revisiting Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful—Economics As If People Mattered

July 19, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Book Club Discussion

Part II. In Defense of Science

On one point I have to disagree with Schumacher. He reacted to Sir Charles Lord Snow 's cry for education in science in order to avoid the split between scientists and literary intellectuals. The trend then was toward over-specialization. Also, the defense of science as neutral apparently enraged Schumacher, in the face of nuclear weapons development. (more…)

Revisiting Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful—Economics As If People Mattered

July 16, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Book Club Discussion

Part I. It's Even More True 38 years Later

In 1975 this book made a huge impact in the U.S. on how we thought about our control and overuse of the natural world, inspired the Intermediate Technology Group in the UK, and initiated global concern about resource depletion.

In 1989 it was published again with extensive Prefaces by John McClaughry and Kirkpatrick Sale, who outlined its still relevant themes besides resource depletion: over consumption, human domination, the need to say "enough," the importance of human scale, the need for fulfillment in work, the needs to be close to nature and to live a good life, and the failure of traditional economics to take these factors into account when advising policymakers.

The Previews pointed out his weak points—his focus on greed, an unsupported attack on nuclear energy and a narrow Bertrand Russell view of science, and a naive view of government ownership and socialism.

However, his other teachings are even more significant in 2013, 38 years later, and are reflected in current statistics outlined in a concise text by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, in a detailed review of our current horrific situation by Brian Czech Supply Shock , and a confirmation of our danger in Richard Heinberg's The End of Growth.

Meanwhile, the work of the Schumacher Institute continued and refined its approach as have the views of Herman Daly and The book Gaian Democracies by Roy Madron and Joy Jopling worked well as a text for a sustainable solutions course the University of New Mexico in Los Alamos, for it aptly applied complexity theory to the problem of redefining current economics for a full Earth. Other approaches incorporating the impact of economics as complex systems include the small book The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer and the award-winning fictional approach in The Webs of Varok and its series described at Archives of Varok.

A few quotes from Small Is Beautiful make the salient points in verbiage we deny at our peril, for Schumacher's concerns have only grown more urgent:

Page 21 "...the modern industrial system...consumes the very basis on which it has been erected."
Page 31 "...the idea of unlimited economic growth...needs to be seriously questioned on at least two counts: the availability of basic resources...[and] the capacity of the environment to cope with the degree of interference implied."
Page 34 "...Gandhi said, that 'Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not for every man's greed."...what were luxuries for our fathers have become necessities for us."
Paage 45 "...the fragmentary nature of the judgements of economics...give vastly more weight to the short than to the long term...[and] are based on a definition of cost which excludes..the entire God-given environment.
Page 48 "...cost/benefit a procedure by which the higher is reduced to the level of the lower and the priceless is given a price...what is the pretence that everything has a price...that money is the highest of all values.
Page 51 "[Economists assume that]...growth of GNP must be a good thing, irrespective of what has grown and who, if anyone has benefited. The idea that there could be pathological growth, unhealthy growth, disruptive or destructive growth, is to him a perverse idea..."
Page 66 " is not a question of choosing between 'modern growth' and 'traditional stagnation.' It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility..."
Page 108 "Among material resources, the the land...the land carries the topsoil, and the topsoil carries an immense variety of living beings including man."

Where Have All the Collies Gone—Hybrid Vigor Is In

June 18, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Meatball at three weeks
How many people own or breed Collie dogs these days? You hardly ever see them on the street. Even shepherds like Boots, those wonderful, intelligent, sensitive ball-chasers, are more rare than they used to be. It’s all Labradors or a variety of short hair, middle sized dark-haired dogs—as if the flexible canine gene package has reverted to its wild mix.

Maybe more people are adopting shelter dogs, once roamers of the streets. That’s a good thing. It is probably good for the long-term survival of the species. Hybrid vigor may be working good things-though the specialties or unique beauties that result from inbreeding may be more interesting.

Too much in-breeding has led to a remark from a vet I know: “I can tell by the breed what disease to expect when they come in with an ailment.” That’s why people don’t marry cousins. Somehow, biologically, we know better--except for royal families who sometimes forgot that recessive genes can get together for ill effect.

By people of mixed racial heritage, there is a new recognition of hybrid vigor and the perks of being raised by two different cultures. It’s a rapidly growing population, exhibiting all the genetic advantages and getting together to share the experience. Biracial Meetup Groups

My first job was at a home for children of Asian-Caucasian mix. They were gorgeous, strong, healthy kids with a capacity for robust character and the healthy ability to apologize when called-for. I’ll never forget Jadine coming to me after I told her go to go to her room until she could stop screaming—her beautiful tan face turned up to me with wide, tear-filled eyes saying, “I’m sorry, Miss Almond.” I hope you’ve had the great life you deserve, Jadine.

In an earlier blog, I talked about chickens that have been bred for non-stop egg-laying, which seems to shorten their lives. They also suffer the horrors of selective breeding for fast growth (meat), which damages their ability to walk up hill on legs not designed to carry their weight. See my story about Meatball, the sweetheart rooster with the bass crow.(Week of April 19, 2013 Los Alamos Daily Post)

Boots—A First Dog

May 29, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Writing and Publishing

Boots and Oscar circa 1944
We’ll continue in a more orderly way for a while, viewing life as a continuum of nonlinear interactions that weave us into a complex universe, making things unpredictable at every level for at least six reasons. I’ll be including stories from my forty years with domestic birds and dogs. Many will add to the current flood of wonderful anecdotes and studies that illustrate how we have finally come to realize how much we humans share with other life.

My life with animals began at age three in San Leandro, California, when Ma and Pa gave brother Harold and I a string to pull. We did, and in came two white legs under a waddling ball of brown fluff. We named her Boots. During World War II we had a Victory Garden in the hills above Hayward, California. My dad kept a few chickens in a pen in the apricot orchard. My job was to herd them back into the pen. (more…)

#10 Encouraging Scenes from the Steady State--Money

April 2, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

Regarding money, the authors of Enough Is Enough point out that in the steady state "...get-rich-quick dreams blink out of existence, replaced by investment in real wealth [like chickens] that earn modest returns...[and] build low-carbon infrastructure, restore ecosystems, improve social conditions, and develop useful technologies [as on Varok in my novel The Webs of Varok]...No one becomes obscenely affluent." This is the end of the series on "encouraging scenes from the steady state."Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

Here's my problem. The Hen House is not a cheap hobby. Although I do hire locals to take care of the birds when we are away, thus boosting the job rate, I drive 50 miles round trip to get their cracked corn and lay pellets, alfalfa and straw for bedding. Some animal feed is grown locally. but who knows where the dogs' food comes from?

We do reuse the feed bags for garbage. And all our kitchen scraps--except onion peels, citrus, and banana peels--disappear at 4 p.m. into the Hen House pen. I carry the scraps down in a large yogurt bucket to chum in the birds from the yard. I suppose I should be making compost out of the scraps, but the birds love to work them over, and I do use their dirty straw as mulch. Maybe that counts.

The point is that we need to do better about how we throw money around—both in earning it and in spending it. On a full Earth, we need to conserve what we can and invest our precious time to produce useful goods and helpful services that enhance life, not abuse it.

#9-Encouraging Scenes From the Steady State--Energy

March 26, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

March 26, 2013
The steady state requires energy conservation, a rational phasing out of fossil fuels in favor of solar--like using rooftops in LosAngeles to collect it--and wind--where the birds don't swarm--and algae--do they really produce more oil if they are starved?--and hydroelectric generators--like tides and waves? There are a lot of alternatives, especially local solutions too often ignored. We really don't want to subject our great grandchildren to a sudden loss of power. Smart grids would also help that.
Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

The estimate now is something like fifty years of tearing up the U.S. to get at shale oil? Then what? Oh, yes. Then there's the gunk in the ocean. That makes for even more CO2 in the air. How hot can we stand? How much extreme weather? How many coastal cities will remain? We are rational beings, smart enough to do the gradual transition, beginning now.
Maybe we aren't smart enough. I'm using energy to keep my birds warm in the Hen House tonight because the temperature suddenly dropped to ten degrees F. Bringing ducks and geese into the garage, even just overnight, makes an unbelievable mess. I try not to drive too much. I buy groceries once every two weeks, use the hubby to buy ketchup or carrots when he goes downtown to the gym, and I work at home. But I also use a dryer so I won't have to iron shirts. Who knows which is more energy efficient? I fill the ducks' bowls full every morning so they can have fresh water, which they love, and on and on.

The problem and the guilt, however, should not rest with us little guys. Didn't DuPont save millions just by instituting efficiency measures in their operation? Maybe we should lean on the big guys, so the hens don't have to suffer frozen combs or the ducks dirty water. What is really scary is how much water fracking for oil requires.

#8-Encouraging Scenes from a Steady State Economy--Nature

March 19, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

There will be a "new area of healing" for nature when the economy quits growing, with its ever increasing demand for more space, energy and resources. Now wildlife will benefit, but so will outdoor recreation and the vital services nature provides, like climate regulation and water purification. The healing in this encouraging scenario includes less industrial waste. Not only resources, but the capacity of Earth to absorb wastes is also limited. Don't miss the whole story. Read Dietz and Dan O'Neill's Enough Is Enough.

Maybe I worry too much. It's because I was imprinted with rolling green hills between the towns east of San Francisco Bay and quiet beaches at Lake Tahoe. If you were born after 1960, you were imprinted with solid suburbia around San Francisco Bay and crowded beaches at Lake Tahoe. Imprinting is powerful. What you experience in your early youth is what you believe is normal--the way the world should be. Now the pundits say Earth can't support 7 billion people at a decent standard of living, but everyone born now will believe that is what is normal--that is how the world is supposed to be. They're imprinted with "Too many is okay." What can we do? Too many people are hungry. (more…)

The Balance of Consensus and Regulation Continued

March 15, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Lucy the goose and adopted daughter Bobbi think they own the Hen House. Hence, in winter I have to enforce a regulation: "Everyone sleeps in the Hen House if the nighttime low is 23 degrees F or lower. Everyone! Not just Ms. Ritz and Kiebler, the English call ducks Lucy raised; not just Gwendolyn the chicken, who hops up with turkey to roost; everyone--even the three large Khaki Campbell ducks."

They all know what to do. When freezing temps threaten, they all head for the heated Hen House and duck (literally) passed Bobbi to the back of the warm shed. No need for my waving or gesturing to make the point. Even birds prefer a warm place to sleep.

It's another example of balancing regulation with consensus, an essential in making the steady state work and establishing it in the first place. That kind of balance is common in nature, I suspect. I'll have to think about that. But I have seen it work with my motley collection of domestic birds.

Another example: Every species has raised chicks of a different species, adapting to the consensus that the young need care. Adjustments are made to accommodate size differences without complaint, but only if the timing is right. When it isn't, regulation raises its ugly head. Example: Try giving a chick to a turkey who has only set for two weeks out of the required four.

Amongst my birds, the balance is maintained, through gentle warnings and only an occasional loud argument. I have to admit that I also count heavily in the consensus, and--yes--on the regulation side too, when needed.

7-The Look of Agriculture In The Steady State
Issues To Discuss The Balance of Consensus and Regulation

March 11, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics

If a population is stable, the production of required food is predictable, and the continual expansion of agricultural land is not necessary. Once again, in a steady state, the emphasis can be on localization, the growing and distribution of food within an ecological region. This means fewer large-scale agribusinesses, with their huge fuel and chemical requirements. Local food production also means less packaging and transportation costs and a stronger personal connection to our farmers, as is experienced now in the growing popularity of farmer's markets in our cities, both large and small. Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

Once again, as illustrated in The Webs of Varok, the steady state relies on local responsibility in caring for the land and the needs of daily living. Oversight resides locally, as does problem solving--where a balance of consensus and regulation is possible, as it is with our traffic laws. More on my Goodreads blog. Global government on Varok serves only as a resource counter and health monitor, identifying problems that only the locales, working together in regions when needed, can solve.

Gone are imposed micro-regulations and solutions that might not be appropriate for all locations. The fear of top-down regulation expressed by Denzil Pugh in his review of The Webs of Varok is discussed in detail in Enough Is Enough. (more…)

6. The Look of the Steady State--Cities

March 4, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

In the steady state, which includes a stable population, hence a predictable, perhaps smaller population, the cities are compact with less ecological impact. Their buildings are more efficient, designed with solar exposure--heat and light-saving options trumping artistic considerations. Their location, even their roofs are enhanced with natural areas and gardens or solar panels, in neighborhoods supplying everyday needs from local and regional cooperatives and businesses supplying opportunities for employment. Long distance travel is handy but more efficient. (Metal rails are said to be 1000% more energy-saving than wheels.) Across-town travel could make use of short-term rentals of bikes, small vehicles or streetcars.

The look of cities could be much different, if equity were achieved. At one time, some ecological economists thought a 15% difference in income would be okay in order to provide incentive for doing difficult work. The % difference is now obscenely high. Not only a progressive tax, but huge serendipitous profits or lucky strikes providing popular sports or entertainment could provide a maintenance share for everyone. The impact would reflect in the cities' lack of slums. No one need be homeless or live without the basics. It just takes the will to see it done.

Sharing jobs and work hours would also impact the cities. Given more time for culture and leisure and an income similar to everyone else, arts, amateur sports and creative and educational support centers could flourish. The cities could once again come alive with people everywhere. Shared conveniences and large appliances could also add to community and save huge amounts of energy and resources.

Pie in the sky? Of course, and I take responsibility for those ideas not mentioned in the book Enough Is Enough. Dietz and O'Neill present a case for the steady state that reliably considers the fact that we have to get there from Here--where we are now. It just takes a little more thought--more thought than defensive posturing.

When it's cold, Bobbi Goose may not keep the other birds out of the Hen House--even though she is more equal (bigger) than they are. Even she knows when it's time to back off and let them in.
2FJF5T2BGYFZ (Excuse the interruption.This is to verify for Technorati that I write this blog.)
Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

#5-The Look of Business in the Steady State

February 26, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, p.200. Don't miss the whole story.
#5 in the authors' "...Encouraging Scenes From a Steady State Economy" is a vision of business in the steady state. Profit is not the only objective, as is seems to be now. In the steady state, businesses will also focus on improving social and environmental conditions. More democratic management, worker ownership, shared working hours could be part of the scene, thus providing more sense of purpose and contentment in holding a job.

In exploring the best development of business as a complex system, simple guiding rules, communication, relationships, and feedback at all levels are recommended by Margaret Wheatley. Giving these practices high priority provides more chance for a business to execute its best intentions while allowing it employees to be creative and explore new ideas.

I hate to be negative, but we need to do something to get current business ethics back on track Practices like death dating and planned obsolescence, shrinking content or packaging, selecting fruit for shipping longevity at the expense of nutrition and taste, selling produce laced with pesticides--all make me sick at heart. We can do better than that. Is the bottom line are only guidepost? We don't do quality anymore? Honesty? Integrity?

We are way behind some other countries in making official some of the most useful policies to ensure a reasonable future for our grandchildren. One example: I just did a search on EPR--Extended Product (or Producer) Responsibility. Its history on this continent is here. In short, EPR means "...economy-based rules require manufacturers to partially or fully pay for end-of-life management costs, including collection, recycling and final disposal." Details include take-back policies (or product taxes and recycling subsidies), product labeling, and responsibility for environmental damages and clean-up costs. EPR encourages longevity in design and the provision of spare parts and repair--plus the jobs that would go with the restoration of those old-fashioned ideas. Earth provides details and a list of companies and products that engage in the practice.

The application to all this in the Hen House becomes obvious when you look around. The pen is a made from reused chicken wire, posts, and three large acrylic paintings from the set of my musical "Petra and the Jay." The paintings make great shade for part of the pen in summer, and they reduce the snow load in winter.
I must admit, however, that we don't recycle the occupants. Turkey is now 11 years old and Lucy goose is twelve. They eat a lot, and the whole gang goes through one cup of oyster shell every day, not to mention the water the ducks spill out of their bathtubs. At least the ducks provide eggs for a neighbor child who is allergic to chicken eggs.

#4."...Encouraging Scenes From a Steady State Economy"--Community

February 19, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

California poppies. Photo by Shawne Workman
Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, p.200. Don't miss the whole story.

In the 1950s the San Francisco Bay Area was surrounded by fruit orchards and countryside--brown rolling hills in summer dotted with huge oak trees that loomed in grand silhouettes when the hills turned green in winter. Tall eucalyptus lined the streams and roads. You drove through the hills for five miles or more before a collection of small farms signaled the appearance of a collection of shop-lined streets--the next city down the road. Streetcars laced the shops together if you didn't want to walk through town. You knew who owned what shop, which owner liked kids, and that the ice cream parlor was next door to the dress shop, right in the middle of town. There you could get real ice cream sodas, made with thick syrup blasted into the creamy dessert drink with a fizz-fazz spigot.

Such is the vision of Dietz and O'Neill in Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy In a World of Finite Resources. We need to transition our economic focus from global to local and quit wasting energy shipping cardboard fruit all over planet Earth. (more…)

Family Time, Steady State Benefit #3

February 12, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

February 12,2013
"With a shorter work week, family members can spend more quality time...Children receive more attention..." Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, p.200. Don't miss the whole story.

So what has this to do with the Hen House? It's about finding the gift of fresh eggs every morning and the satisfaction of building nests to make the hens happy enough to lay them for you (not hiding them in the wood pile). It's about time to sit on the bench beneath the ponderosas and watch the hens hunt and scratch, soaking up the safe time outside the pen with the dogs on guard. You could call it a prelude to localization, also recommended by steady state pundits. Urban chickens are growing in popularity these days--encouraging.

I can think of too many ways I could use more time: learning to paint, re-learning to play the piano, learning some Spanish, sharing some great books I've found, exploring ideas with friends over coffee, improving my tennis or bridge, playing some sandlot baseball again.

The point is that, with a cap on manufacturing to minimize throughput, the constant obsession with growing every business ceaselessly, with no real need, begins to seem wasteful of both time and resources. Businesses would do well to focus on service and quality, opportunities to provide job sharing, shorter work hours, specialty training and creative hand work to replace robotics, worker training and participation in management. If manufacturers were responsible for their products forever (as they are in some place), they could provide more jobs, like making parts for repairs, repairing the product, and recycling its every component.

Taking this one step further, if land, water, air, and underground resources were considered commons, not private property, the care and management of the land could be assigned to those who wanted to use it or live on it. This shift in responsibility would be a sure cure for boredom for people with shorter work hours. Could be a full-time job for some.

Stabilizing Population

January 28, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

Today we consider #2 in Rob Dietz's engaging scenarios for the steady state in "Enough Is Enough," the no-growth economics text that should be required reading. In #1 we mentioned efficiency, the need to conserve, economize, recycle, consume responsibly. Rob said "We can consume enough to meet [our] needs...without undermining the life-support system of the planet."

The planet doesn't go on forever, but our population growth seems to be doing just that, at a faster and faster rate. Education and consensus and women's rights have stabilized the population in Europe and some other places. It's clear we can do this without being told we have to.

Marq deVilliers in "Our Way Out" puts it this way "Growth has to stop, and this does not imply economic stagnation and distress. Like it or not, population has to be stabilized. Unrestrainable resource depletion has to be terminated." I know this all too well. I love raising chicks so much, when I go into the feed store I will find any excuse to get a few more. Well, no more. Now that I'm preaching steady state ethics, I'd better realize that the Hen House in winter and the pen, even the yard, in summer is only so big. Enough geese, turkey, ducks, chicken, and two dogs is enough.

It's only been fifty years, the pundits say, since we have come to believe that growth is an "unquestionable dogma." The problem is that growth now costs the planet--and us--more than it is worth. Touting growth to supply more jobs so people can buy more stuff so there will be more jobs is a nasty trap, and we need to recognize that, sooner than later. Herman Daly points out that there are only two ways to get to a stable, no-growth economy. 1) Either growth fails and leads to unemployment and suffering or 2) steady state policies succeed, which they can because they are based on the realities of resource limits, not fictitious human behavior and fairy tale technology. We can do the limits to growth.

Downsizing On a Scale Grander Than the Hen House

January 22, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

The guantlet was thrown down yesterday. Time to get busy. First, a quote from Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill's ENOUGH IS ENOUGH--Putting aside our "...obsession with economic growth...[we can achieve] prosperity over the long run." Dietz and O'Neill's book

We can do this. It will not be easy, but the sooner we start the easier it will be. The first thing on the authors' list is easy enough 1) "...choose to consume energy and materials responsibly, conserving, economizing, and recycling..." i.e. mindful turning off the lights when you leave a room. There must me a gazillion things like that to do, especially for industry. I think it was DuPont that saved millions. On Varok every drop of water is captured and reused throughout the lodge and in the locale. Read The Archives of Varok.

I have to admit--sometimes, after I've filled the birds' water dishes outside the Hen House, it's easier not to walk up the hill to shut off the hose . I think to myself, "It will only take five minutes to put lay pellets and corn in the birds' dishes--maybe another three minutes to freshen their straw. Okay. Okay. I'll walk up the hill and shut off the water. At 22 seconds per gallon, letting it run for eight minutes would waste 22 gallons. Something to remember. Here in the dry southwest, we get our water from deep wells in an ancient aquifer whose level is dropping at an unsustainable rate. Precious stuff, that ancient water my geese and ducks bathe in--first thing, even before they take a beak-full of breakfast. They do appreciate it. (Maybe my sponge bathing is all I need today. My hair won't get stringy until tomorrow or Wednesday.)

The Power of Story

December 19, 2012

Tags: Human Self-Image, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

The January 2013 issue of National Geographic "Why We Explore" brought it home. "The fastest spaceship ever built--the Helios 2 probe, launched in 1976...attained a top speed of 157,000 miles per hour . At that rate, a spacecraft headed to Proxima
Centauri, the nearest star, would take more than 17,000 years to make the 24-trillion-mile journey...some scientists...find the prospect of eternal confinement to two [Earth and Mars] small planets in a vast galaxy just too depressing to contemplate." (Emphasis mine.)

Where is this coming from? Are we unable to appreciate the awesome beauty and diversity of Earth, still partly unexplored and largely unknown by most of us? I suspect that the depressed scientists have been imprinted (as have we all?) with decades of stories, powerful stories, assuming humans can and should travel to the stars, even explore the galaxies and/or subdue them. True, star travel has also been irresponsibly oversold, but perhaps the power of stories based on time-bending warp drives has warped our perspective--the ability to sense the enormity of universal space and time.

Can stories really be so powerful? Religions of the world know they can be. In this holiday season, we know they can be powerful indeed . (more…)

Being Thankful For Smiles

November 19, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Dogs

Another bit of wisdom from Hamilton Books.
This time it's a quote from Charles Gordy in "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said": "A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks."

DeeDee, my Pointer-Heeler after-the-fire-sale rescue dog birdsitter, smiles. Yes, she does. She's got a big one. Most dogs smile, sort of, but Dee Dee's lips curve up at both ends as her jaw drops open in a joyous, unmistakable grin. It happens when I approach the dog den (my art room). It makes her irresistible. Scooter's smile is not so obvious, but its' there, with a generous wag of her tail. Of course, some dogs don't smile with anything but their tail, but check out their eyes. It's a rare dog that doesn't add at least a quick, hopeful glance to their tail wagging.

That glance is the first thing we were told to reward in dog school. it's also the first thing to look for in a puppy up for adoption, especially if you hope to train the dog for a significant job, like bird-sitting in a yard next to a canyon where coyotes dwell. Puppy shopping also involves rolling young canines over with one hand to see if they bite you, tolerate it, or look you in the eye with a quizzical expression that says, "What's next mate? Can I go home with you?" That dog is a sure bet. He or she will care what you want and how you feel, at least, and will be a good student if rewarded for trying and never punished for coming to your call.

Smiles are a good bet for us, too, sometimes the best bet we have. Happy Thanksgiving again.

Serendipity or Just Good Timing? Nonfiction text re steady state economics parallels fiction in The Webs of Varok

November 17, 2012

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Review of Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill (to be released in January)

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH makes it crystal clear how and why we need to convert to a steady state economy. It is a book for anyone concerned with today's dilemmas, and an excellent text for students preparing to design the future. Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill have handed us the prescription we need to cure the ills of our overused planet and to secure a perpetual, humane future for its life. There is no illegible scrawl in the prescription. The directions are laid out with precision--even the troublesome imperatives, like population stability. Each section begins with engaging anecdotes then illustrated with simple graphs. (more…)

A Digression--of Sorts

November 6, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

It's election day. My adolescent duck, Puddles, a purebred Khaki Campbell, is finally learning she can't go through the chicken wire fence to get to the pond. Now she knows, sometimes, that she must turn away from the pond and go around the fence to get out of the pen through the door. Then, and only then, can she waddle up the path to the pond.

Do you suppose we could all take a lesson here? Too often our brains want to take the direct path to the pond--whatever that represents--like, for example, a stable, equitable future with rewarding jobs for all. People need jobs, so grow grow grow--money and business, anything. Batter down the fence to get there if necessary. Our brains are so focused on the pond, they simply can't see any open doors that might lead to the pond by a different route.

I couldn't "teach" Puddles to go away from the pond in order to get there. If I tried to usher her around the inside of the pen to the door, she would panic and run and eventually get there, but she wouldn't have learned anything. Several times she had to do it herself--actually turn herself around by trial and error, if her memory failed, and get out the door to the pond. Only then did she learn to take the indirect path on purpose.

So it is with us humans, even the candidates, as we decide, or not decide, how to vote. We see the pond we want, but we haven't yet learned that the chicken wire fence called growth is not the way to get there.

Economics As Complex--Tipping Points

June 24, 2012

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

When complex systems produce unpredictable, inevitable catastrophes--a given in the ubiquitous power law distributions of common events like earthquakes and collections of bad debts--there is often a tipping point that triggers the catastrophe. That tipping point is the moment of criticality, when one more input, no matter how small, produces a sudden change. The famous one more straw that breaks the camel's back. Self-organized criticality is also seen in volcanic activity, as well in the slippage of faults that produce earthquakes.

Examples: In ant colonies, tactile and chemical communication is maximum at critical population densities, resulting in stable patterns of raid activity. Termite mounds don't develop in pillars until the termite population reaches a critical density. (more…)

Power Laws--Economics and Complexity

June 18, 2012

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Per Bak in "How Nature Works" pointed out that understanding complex systems requires accounting for fractals and the ubiquity of power law distributions.

Power laws, called 1/f noise, mean there are lots of small events and few large ones and a moderate number of moderate events--like earthquakes. If you plot the frequency vs the size of events, you get a straight line on a log log plot-- frequency is inversely proportional to the power or size of an event. The data are scale free, like fractals, but can breakdown at very small or large values. See Benoit Mandelbrot's "The Misbehavior of Markets." Someone has pointed out that no laws in physics hint at the ubiquity of this observation.

Some interesting examples are the distribution of internet nodes with certain numbers of links, canopy gap size in forests, Zipf's Law--the fraction of cities with so many inhabitants, the frequency of the use of words in English, and economic systems--a realization just now making some waves carrying a touch of hope. Check out the Bibliography in the previous blog.

Since economic systems are certainly complex, they might carry the features--indicators, we've called them--of complex systems, including unpredictability from at least six sources. We'd better get cracking on regulations that protect us against any more unpredictable and "inevitable catastrophes," assumed by power law distributions. We need not stand under the mountain waiting for the avalanche to cut loose again.

Human Race Longevity Survival Bibliography

June 5, 2012

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Completing the Picture--Adding Ecological Economics and imperatives to Complexity Economics

A little late with a big Aha--it's time to put together a mini-Bibliography to review the new economical thinking that could save the future.

Start with a general overview of problems with classical economics, economics as a complex system, and the role of government, leaving the How of solving problems to citizens. Be sure to read The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Eric Hanauer, Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books, 2011.

For tending the economic garden that has become overgrown, go to and see C.A.S.S.E.'s twelve steps to a no-growth economy--how to get over our obsession with growth and its cause, uncontrolled debt. (more…)

A Place Beyond Man--The Archives of Varok

August 17, 2011

Tags: Aliens, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Population

This book was written in 1973 or so, published in 1975 by Charles Scribner's Sons, Dell and Millington, London and is now back in print as an Authors Guild Edition. Its sequel is updated with current ideas about steady state economics and complexity and will be available in 2012. The others will soon follow.

When we confront intelligent life unlike our own, how do we react? Inter-species contact plays against a backdrop of Earth confronting its limits.

All five books of the Archives of Varok are set in an alternate solar system that includes 21st century Earth and her undiscovered neighboring planets--Ellason (Which is plummeting toward Earth on its eccentric way to perihelion) and Varok (A hidden moon of Jupiter populated by marginally conversant mounts built like monster kangaroos, tiny light-hopping mystics, box kite-shaped insectoids who enjoy a good insult, right-brained, intuitive great-fish, the emotionally volatile ellls, and varoks, who learn the hard way about trust, faith and espionage.

New Musical "Petra and the Jay." Book by Cary Neeper. Music by Alice B. Kellogg.

August 17, 2011

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Human Self-Image, Musicals, Population

Production dates set April 13 and 14, 2012. This is a musical with the same fun aliens featured in "U.F.F.D.U.H." produced in 2001 by Los Alamos Little Theatre.

In the far far future (3020C.E.) a young woman with an identity problem defends the personhood of her extraterrestrial and Earthly animal friends, as humans tackle their most difficult challenge--a conference with friendly aliens to discuss solutions to overpopulation.

Recommended Books

March 5, 2011

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

The book by Herman Daly and John Cobb "For the Common Good" is a detailed analysis of steady state economics contrasted with classical economic theory with its infinite substitution and necessity for growth. (more…)

An Oz For Our Time

November 21, 2010

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Population, Human Self-Image

The five novels of "The Archives of Varok" listed on this web site have been in development for 35 years. The first in the series, "A Place Beyond Man" is available as an Authors Guild Edition for all major book outlets. Its sequel "The Webs of Varok" will be released this fall by Penscript Publishing House. Others will follow in the next few years. All model steady-state economics and complexity issues and deal with the place of Homo sapiens in the larger universe--how we might deal with intelligent life nearby. The setting is an alternate solar system that includes Earth of the 21st century and two other planets orbiting "our" sun, inhabited by a delightful set of species too challenging and living too close to be ignored.
See the books' concepts and excerpts here.

No-growth Economics

November 20, 2010

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Population

Herman Daly defines a steady state economy as "an economy with constant stocks of people and artifacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance throughput, that is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy from the first stage of production to the last stage of consumption."
(from CASSE's website

In "The Webs of Varok" (second book in the "Archives of Varok," I have woven the features of Varok's steady-state economy into the setting. It is disrupted by the villainess MAHNTIK in ways that were "business-as-usual" on Earth in the 20th century. The ellls and varoks, with the help of the human heroine TANDRA, must find ways to re-build the no-growth economy in the hopes that Varok can provide a sustainable model for Earth to follow.
For Varok's model click here.
For recommended reading
Click here.

2013 Nautilus Silver Award YA and 2012 Foreward Finalist Adult Science Fiction

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A Place Beyond Man
Authors Guild Edition 2011

The Oil Patch Project--Mystery team Cary and Don
See Oil & Gas tag above.