Free Book: “The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive”

By Dean Baker

Progressives need a fundamentally new approach to politics. They have been losing not just because conservatives have so much more money and power, but also because they have accepted the conservatives’ framing of political debates. They have accepted a framing where conservatives want market outcomes whereas liberals want the government to intervene to bring about outcomes that they consider fair.

This is not true. Conservatives rely on the government all the time, most importantly in structuring the market in ways that ensure that income flows upwards. The framing that conservatives like the market while liberals like the government puts liberals in the position of seeming to want to tax the winners to help the losers.

This “loser liberalism” is bad policy and horrible politics. Progressives would be better off fighting battles over the structure of markets so that they don’t redistribute income upward. This book describes some of the key areas where progressives can focus their efforts in restructuring market so that more income flows to the bulk of the working population rather than just a small elite.

By releasing The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive under a Creative Commons license and as a free download, Baker walks the walk of one of his key arguments — that copyrights are a form of government intervention in markets that leads to enormous inefficiency, in addition to redistributing income upward. (Hard copies areavailable for purchase, at cost)  Distributing the book for free not only enables it to reach a wider audience, but Baker hopes to drive home one of the book’s main points via his own example. While the e-book is free, donations to the Center for Economic and Policy Research are welcomed.

Read the book (other formats coming soon)

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The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive by Dean Baker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Book Launch in Nevada City Council Chamber: Richard Tuttle’s “Nevada City and Beyond: An Unscripted Life”

Richard Tuttle

A day or so ago I received this email from our friend, Dave Comstock, publisher of Comstock Bonanza Press, concerning a “book launch” on October 15th in the Nevada City Council Chamber … of judge Richard E. Tuttle’s book, “Nevada City and Beyond:  An Unscripted Life:”

Here’s the announcement Dave sent along with the email:

Devastating New Ron Susskind Book on Obama and his Dysfunctional Economic Team

Larry Summers Napping

In excerpts below from their discussion, Frank Rich and Adam Moss talk about Ron Susskind’s new book Confidence Men — published tomorrow — about president-elect Obama’s choice of his economic team in 2008, and how it became dysfunctional.

“Adam: Hi, Frank. So there’s a little commotion about this new book Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, which is being published on Tuesday. And as it happens, you and I have actually read it! So let’s talk about that this week. To give readers a super-fast overview, it’s a book, essentially, about Obama’s economic team during his first two years in office. The news of the book, according to some reports, is that Tim Geithner was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own pro-banker agenda. Or, according to other reports, that Larry Summers was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own — well, monomaniacal agenda. I’d add that it’s also about Rahm Emanuel being insubordinate to the president, just because. Basically, it’s about the presidency being hijacked by these three guys. And the guys thing is important because they’re pretty awful to women. Anyway, they’re the villains. Paul Volcker, Christina Romer, and Elizabeth Warren are the heroes. Bankers win, America loses. Did I get that right?

“Frank: Hi, Adam, and yes, you did! I would point out that among the other heroes are more women (Sheila Bair, Brooksley Born, Maria Cantwell) and at least one man, the Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who also seems to be a serious Suskind source and who has now returned to the White House to succeed Austan Goolsbee and Romer as head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Not that that will do any good. I think the portrait of Geithner is devastating — his countermanding of the president’s wishes to make a Wall Street object lesson of Citigroup, his nasty “Elizabeth Warren strategy” to silence and neuter the administration’s rare genuine reformer. And yet Geithner is the only member of the original economic team still standing in the White House, poised to countermand any other rare independent voice that might yet speak up, like Krueger’s.

“A: You think the portrait of Geithner is more devastating than the one of Summers? I guess. In that instance you cite, Obama asks to put the dissolving of Citibank on the table, and Geithner simply ignores him, “walking back” the decision, in political parlance. More insidiously, he creates the framework, borrowed from Hippocrates, of “first, do no harm,” which effectively cuts off any bold reforms for fear of their potential effects on the market. But Summers is portrayed as an egotistical nut job, single-mindedly determined to get Bernanke’s job; when he doesn’t get it, he goes bananas. He is supposed to be a conduit for the collective advice of the team, but undermines his colleagues, only passing along advice and information that supports his positions. I was kind of stunned how many officials were willing to go on the record against him.

“Peter Orszag relays this eviscerating quote that Summers said to him about Obama during the worst of the economic distress. According to Orszag, Summers says, “You know, Peter we’re really home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.” Later, Orszag says to Suskind, “Larry just didn’t think the president knew what he was deciding. Was this [obstruction of the president’s wishes] outright and willful?” In other words, asks Orszag, was Summers saying, “I know more than the president flat-out? That strikes me as … likely.” In an amazing memo, Pete Rouse, who would replace Emanuel temporarily as chief of staff, recommends firing Summers for “Larry’s imperious and heavy-handed direction of the economic policy process.” Romer says Summers made her feel “like a piece of meat.”

Read the full discussion in New York Magazine, here.

GOP Rule is More Dangerous to Our Health, Study Proves (100 Years of Data)

Professor James Gillligan has spent his professional life studying violence. In his latest book, “Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others,” he summarizes his study of a whole century of data, proving that all forms of violence increase in eras and locations of GOP rule.

His study focuses on murder and suicide statistics, but also includes state-sanctioned execution, which he notes is 22 times (2,200%) higher in red states.

In his interview with Thom Hartmann (see video below), Hartmann mentions the related work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in the United Kingdom, whose book, “The Spirit Level,” documents the very high correlation between economic inequality in a society (the US is among the most unequal of societies) and a whole host of social pathologies, such as homicide, obesity, drug use, mental illness, anxiety, teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts, etc. Gilligan says that his own studies are in accord with the work of Wilkinson and Pickett.

Publisher’s Summary of Gilligan’s Book:

Politicians and the political process, even in ostensibly democratic countries, can be deadly. James Gilligan has discovered a devastating truth that has been “hiding in plain sight” for the past century – namely, that when America’s conservative party, the Republicans, have gained the presidency, the country has repeatedly suffered from epidemics of violent death. Rates of both suicide and homicide have sky-rocketed. The reasons are all too obvious: rates of every form of social and economic distress, inequality and loss – unemployment, recessions, poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness also ballooned to epidemic proportions. When that has happened, those in the population who were most vulnerable have “snapped”, with tragic consequences for everyone.

These epidemics of lethal violence have then remained at epidemic levels until the more liberal party, the Democrats, regained the White House and dramatically reduced the amount of deadly violence by diminishing the magnitude of the economic distress that had been causing it.

This pattern has been documented since 1900, when the US government first began compiling vital statistics on a yearly basis, and yet it has not been noticed by anyone until now except with regard to suicide in the UK and Australia, where a similar pattern has been described.

Yes, the Latest Right-Wing Paean to Sociopath Ayn Rand Is Really, Really Awful

by Brad Reed

Take Lisa Simpson and combine her with Gordon Gekko and the obnoxious child-android from “Small Wonder,” and you get the perfect Rand hero.

The year is 2016. Eight years of Obammunism have transformed the former capitalist paradise known as “America” into a socialistic hellhole where the Dow Jones Industrial average has plummeted to under 4,000 and where oppressed banking CEOs have to walk around with signs reading, “Will trade credit derivatives for food.” America has gotten so desperate that its only hope for salvation lies in the creation of a (shudder) high-speed rail line.

A sane person would not find this a realistic projection of where America is heading — after all, corporate profits are at record highs, the Dow is back comfortably in the 12,000 range and a Republican congress is insisting we shower the wealthy with still more tax cuts. But then again, the film Atlas Shrugged, Part I is not marketed toward the sane. Rather, it is being pitched to the disciples of Ayn Rand, the sociopathic champion of capitalism who penned three-billion-page novels dedicated to the proposition that selfishness was the world’s greatest virtue.

For the uninitiated, Atlas tells the story of a future oppressive liberal government that chokes off the productivity of strong-headed individualists in the name of equality and fairness. The story’s two protagonists, Dagny Taggart and Henry Reardon, are respectively heads of railroad and steel companies who find their grand ambitions thwarted by the paws of Big Gubmint. Eventually the poor rich people decide to go on strike and retreat to a small-government greedtopia headed up by a reclusive billionaire named John Galt. Without these super-productive rich people keeping the world moving, society proceeds to completely collapse.

You may be wondering what it was that Dagny and Henry were doing prior to the strike that was just so goshed-darned awful that Big Gubmint had to stop them. The answer is they were building the world’s fastest high-speed rail line. Yes, rail. The mode of transportation that has been championed by liberal commie Nazis and that has become the bane of good salt-of-the-earth conservatives everywhere. In reality, of course, a liberal government would be tossing bundles of subsidies at any entrepreneurs building high-speed rail lines in the Western United States but in Randality, these noble entrepreneurs were crushed by the rent-seeking big businesses who used their Washington ties to extinguish the flames of competitive markets.

So okay, we’ve already established that the story has a ludicrous premise, but have the film’s creators managed to make this ludicrous premise into a compelling and entertaining narrative?

In three words: “Oh, hell no.”

Indeed, the film’s major problem is that it adheres too tightly to its source material, making it impossible to create compelling characters. This is because all of Rand’s heroes and heroines are soulless greedbots whose only goals in life are to make great innovations and then profit like crazy off them. In and of itself this isn’t a bad thing since a lot of people like creating things and being rewarded for them. But in the case of Rand’s characters, their desire for money and achievement supersedes all empathy, family relationships and basic human decency. Take Lisa Simpson and combine her with Gordon Gekko and the obnoxious child-android from “Small Wonder,” and you get the perfect Rand hero.

Given this, I was initially prepared to be lenient on lead actors Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler, who respectively portray Dagny Taggart and Henry Reardon. After all, no actor can give a convincing and emotionally compelling portrayal of a Rand character anymore than they can give a convincing and emotionally compelling portrayal of a stop sign or a potted plant. You can imagine all the times director Paul Johansson had to yell “Cut!” at Schilling and Bowler because they had errantly expressed a feeling.

Even so, one of the very first things that competent directors and actors do with any material is to establish the stakes involved. In other words, when a character says a line such as “There is so much at stake, we have to make it,” it should be delivered with more urgency and intensity than the guy in stoner comedies who asks, “Dude, you got any chips?” Needless to say, the actors failed even this simple test, creating unintentionally hilarious scenes like the one where Bowler tells his lonely socialite wife that “I didn’t come here for sex” in the robotic same tone that the Terminator says “I’ll be back” to his enemies.

And speaking of sex, Taggart and Reardon’s sex scene is unusually awful because we’re watching two characters who haven’t shown any emotions for the film’s first 70 minutes suddenly try to be tender with one another. It’s the equivalent of Emperor Palpatine ambling over to Darth Vader after the two of them just finished slaughtering a room full of Jedi and asking meekly for a hug. The scene isn’t at all helped by the schmaltzy piano-and-strings soundtrack that’s meant to conjure up romantic passion but that seems wildly out of place in a Rand story. In fact, the scene could have come across as more believable if the directors had just decided to play some German industrial metal in the background to let us know that Dagny and Reardon were approaching copulation with the same level of unsentimental brutality that’s helped them succeed in the business world.

Poorly written characters can’t totally doom a film if they’re at least given something interesting to do — after all, Star Wars fans who suffered through Jar-Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace were at least rewarded with a kick-ass light-saber fight at the end of the film. Unfortunately, the most thrilling conflicts in Atlas Shrugged revolve around disputes over ore shortages and the quality of assorted railroad metals.

And this is the most telling aspect of the film’s greatest failure: That I jumped for joy whenever one of its greedheads decided to drop out of society and head to Galt’s Gulch. Because let’s be honest, would any of us really shed a tear if Donald Trump, Lloyd Blankfein or the Koch brothers decided tomorrow to pull up their stakes and head to the Cayman Islands? If my time here on Earth has shown me anything it’s that even when some greedy assholes drop out of the game there will always be other greedy assholes eager to replace them. Any threats they make on leaving us swarthy looters to our own devices should cause us to collectively shrug.

Brad Reed is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously appeared in the American Prospect Online, and he blogs frequently at Sadly, No!.

Rich People Things: Ayn Rand, La Dolce Vita Redubbed and the Plutocrapocalypse!

Who’s suffered most in the Great Recession?

Why, it’s the rich, the affluent, the meritocracy, of course!

So says — satirically — Chris Lehmann in his new book, Rich People Things.

From the publisher’s description:

It’s never easy being rich: endless tax avoidance, the Sisyphean search for reliable domestic staff, the never-ending burden of surly stares from the Great Sea of the Unwashed as one goes about one’s rightful business. Toughest of all is simply keeping track of everything one owns. There’s so much of it. And personal possessions are just the beginning.

You must keep a gimlet eye, too, on the myriad people and institutions that safeguard your gilded status: politicians, newspapers, financial instruments, branches of government. They all belong to you. But staying on top of what they’re up to is a full time job. What’s an overstretched gazillionaire to do?

Here’s an excerpt from the book, in which Lehmann describes Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy (Rand apparently based her heroic Atlas Shrugged character, John Galt, on an infamous serial killer of the 1920s, William Edward Hickman, whom she admired):

The vast, daft appeal of the Ayn Rand’s brutalist market propaganda is at bottom a simple thing. As Rand envisions things, the individual will is simply prior to all the contingent, petty concerns of human community and history. And so it stands to reason that society should be ordered to unleash the gifted minority who grace it with their genius. If an American Tea Party protestor resents the depredations of the taxing state, it must follow that he or she is possessed of the same primal stuff of genius that propels Rand’s heroes into their tragic confrontations with the envious masses — and the expropriating state that gleefully does their demotic bidding. This callow Manichaeism flows from perhaps the most noteworthy appeal of Rand’s writing — her early career apprenticeship as a Hollywood screenwriter. For all the absurdities of plot and characterization that riddle her work, Rand’s potboiler fiction is also insanely readable. It is as agreeably broad, splashy, and romantically tortured as any major Hollywood production. The general effect of her novels on the reader is roughly akin to witnessing a Cecil B. DeMille adaptation of F. A. Hayek’s libertarian manifesto The Road to Serfdom, under the influence of a mild hallucinogen.

Here’s a bit of dialog from the hilarious trailer (below) that the publisher created for the book.

HE: “You know, right, that the New Deal failed to create a single real job?”
SHE: “I love it when you talk dirty!”

THE TRAILER (cleverly re-dubs a scene from La Dolce Vita):

Farming Was His Life, Until the CAFOs Came

I heard Thom Hartmann interview David Kirby, author of Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment. This could be one of those watershed environmental books, like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, that appears once every few decades to nudge society onto a new path. We can hope so.

CAFOs

Kirby talks about flying over the U.S. and seeing these “long white buildings” everywhere in farming country.

They are “CAFOs” … “concentrated animal feeding operations,” where animals are confined and kept away from sunlight and the opportunity to move around much, fattened on special diets, injected with antibiotics.

Kirby talked about “crap lagoons” adjacent to these CAFOs, where liquefied animal fecal matter forms into small lakes, and sometimes fills their neighborhoods with a constant fine aerosolized brown mist which — when you drive through it in your car on nearby roads — reduces visibility like a brown fog.

He spoke of getting home from a research trip in one of these areas and when he opened his suitcase, he could still smell crap.

Inside a CAFO

Kirby talked about the high-level of diseased meat lurking in our industrialized food system. The are many pathogens, but the worst is probably the “superbug” MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which may be present in as much as 3% of all industrial pork. He points out that if you eat some of this pork each week for a year, your chance of exposure to this pathogen is probably significant.

In the following two short videos, farmers talk about how their lives changed after the CAFOs were built in their neighborhoods.

Corporations Have Become More Dangerous to Democracy Since Reagan

Barry Lynn, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, talks about his book, Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction.

According to Lynn (speaking in the video below), “in 1981 the Reagan administration changed the interpretation of our anti-trust laws. Rather than use these laws to prevent the concentration of economic power, we should use these laws to protect ourselves as consumers. We should use these laws to promote efficiency, not protect liberty. So, in the generation since then, they have used these laws to promote efficiency (supposedly) by creating more and more monopolies.”

Lynn says that one of the worst aspects of monopolies is that they destroy jobs, both as part of the process of concentration and by preventing new business startups, the source of most job creation.

“There’s nothing inevitable about monopolization,” Lynn says. “It’s a political process.”

In his book, Lynn says this:

” … for anyone who is trying to make sense of what is taking place in our nation and thr world today, monopoly is the great missing force. Just as any effort to discuss physics without taking into account the work of Isaac Newton would result in much free=floating nonsense, the same is true of any effort to discuss today’s economics without taking into account monopolization. In addition to helping illuminate such recent phenomena as the cascading collapses in our financial system and gthe near collapse of our automotive industry, monopolization also helps to explain such otherwise mysterious phenomena as the following:

  • Why it’s so hard to launch a successful small business
  • Why so many jobs were moved offshore so quickly
  • Why it’s so difficult to control medical costs
  • Why it’s taken so long to blend cleaner technologies into our cars and our homes
  • Why the quality of our food, drugs and toys is declining
  • Why the U.S. trade surplus is so huge and persistent
  • Why corporate managers outsource so many activities
  • Why corporate profits reached such … heights just before the fall ((Carrie Johnson, “Wall Street, Washington Huddle on U.S. Markets,” Washington Post, Mar. 14, 2007))
  • Why the powerful keep getting more powerful

Not one of these phenomena can be attributed solely to monopolization, yet not one can be understood without taking monopolization into account.”

“We need to break this concentration apart,” Lynn says.

Amazing Buzz on New Book: Eating Animals

eating_animalsI’ve never seen this kind of buzz on a new book before, and since I’m a sucker for book buzz and hype, and I haven’t actually read the book yet, I’ll just pass on some of the buzz and hype about Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

From Aaron Gross on Huffington Post:

The Most Important Conversation in Our Lifetimes Might Just Begin with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Latest Book

Over the next weeks Huffington Post will feature a diverse range of responses to Jonathan Safran Foer’s controversial new work of non-fiction, Eating Animals. But these aren’t your usual book reviews. They are the start of a conversation that some powerful people in agribusiness would rather we not have.

Imagine that tomorrow scientists report that a single action, something that most of us do every day, was discovered to be the leading human cause of global warming. And one of the top two or three causes of every other major environmental problem at the local and global level. Even more, this same action appears to have been a decisive factor in the development of the H1N1 “swine flu” and continues to stimulate the growth of pathogens resistant to antimicrobial drugs. Imagine further that this action causes billions of farmed animals annually to suffer in ways that virtually all Americans say should be illegal. And, finally, that this action has lead to the decimation of American farm communities from North Carolina to central California.

Here’s the publisher’s description, which uses the wonderful phrase, “profound moral ferocity.” In book buzz, it doesn’t get any better than “profound moral ferocity.”

Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits-from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth-and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting. Marked by Foer’s profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, as well as the vibrant style and creativity that made his previous books, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, widely loved, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we’ve told-and the stories we now need to tell.

Here’s an Amazon reader’s comment:

The buzz about this book was so incredible I had to get my hands on an advanced copy … Foer never preaches. He shares his own beliefs and asks us to live by our own standards, not his … The material about his grandmother and how she survived the holocaust is really powerful. The stuff about his dog George (Foer makes a mock case for eating dogs) is hilarious. His storytelling is so compelling that you hardly realize how much information he’s conveying (there are 60 pages of notes documenting his sources, but the text itself is uncluttered by footnotes). Another unique thing about this book is that Foer actually sneaks into a factory farm in the middle of the night… Eating Animals is a serious book that could change the way you live.

Finally, here’s Foer describing the book:

Book Review — The End of the Long Summer

book_long_summerDianne Dumanoski, in her book, “The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth,” writes with great breadth and depth about what she calls the planetary era. Since the beginning of this era, in the middle of the twentieth century, it has become clear that man-made global climate change — and she doesn’t waste time trying to convince the deniers — is part of a deeper problem, the impact of human civilization on a whole set of planetary systems (species diversity; species abundance; nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur cycles; fresh water systems, etc).

In its final days [the final days of Apollo 11], I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon again and again while I waited in vain to read or hear even a passing mention of the Antarctic ozone hole or recognition of the profound watershed in the human journey it symbolized — the arrival of a new and ominous epoch when human activity began to disrupt the essential but invisible planetary systems that sustain a dynamic, living Earth …

… In the second half of the twentieth century, modern civilization emerged as a global-scale force capable of redirecting Earth’s history. This fateful step marks a fundamental turning point in the relationship between humans and the Earth, arguably the biggest step since the human mastery of fire, which hepled launch the human career of dominion. The consequences are not limited to global warming,  nor are weather extremes the first evidence of our new status. Accelerating climate change signals a far deeper problem — the growing human burden on all of the fundamental planetary processes that together make up a single, self-regulating Earth. When future historians look back on the twentieth century, this quick visit to the moon will surely seem like a minor event compared to the giant leap humanity had taken here on Earth.

She cites the appearance of the Antarctic ozone hole as the beginning of this planetary era, and explains how that event might easily have been much more disastrous:

The human enterprise survived this first encounter with planetary systems thanks only to dumb luck, argues Paul Crutzen, who shared the Nobel chemistry prize with Rowland and Molina in 1995 for his pioneering work showing that nitrogen oxides from fertilizers and supersonic aircraft could damage the ozone layer. Had the problematic refrigerants been engineered not with chlorine but with bromine, a similar chemical and possible alternative, the world would have faced catastrophic destruction of ozone everywhere in all seasons and significant harm to land-based forms of life. In his 1995 Nobel acceptance speech, Crutzen explained that, atom for atom, bromine is one hundred times more destructive to ozone because it does not require unusual conditions for its activation. The rapid ozone destruction caused by CFCs over Antarctica, by contrast, depends on heterogeneous chemical reactions on the solid or supercooled liquid particles found in rare polar stratospheric clouds, such as those found over the South Pole in the total darkness of winter. “I can only conclude that mankind has been extremely lucky,” Crutzen concluded. “It was a close call.”

Dumanoski’s “Long Summer” is a work full of big ideas, and I must admit to a guilty pleasure: an infatuation with big ideas, no matter how (as in this case) dire.

In the end she achieves a tough hope, a hope earned through the difficult process of facing frightening truths, and seeing beyond them to some possible viable human futures.

Big Idea: “The Return of Nature”

Modern civilization has been built on mistaken assumptions, chief among them that in the past, climate has generally changed gradually.

“Abrupt climate change” Dumanoski says, ” … is not some theoretical possiblity. It has happened before, and happened repeatedly … The most mind-boggling insight from the ice cores is that rapid climate change is normal; it is the rule. When the Earth system changes, this is how it behaves.”

She explains the “long summer” in which we’ve been living, and what a freakishly unusual and mild period it’s been in Earth’s history:

The ice cores drilled from Greenland and Antarctica also tell us that we live at a truly extraordinary time within this long, volatile climate history, a rare period blessed with a warm and stable climate that has now lasted almost twelve thousand years. During a visit to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, I sat for a long time contemplating a graph with a red line tracking temperatures in Greenland through the most recent ice age and the interglacial period we now live in — a period of roughly 110,000 years. This line surges like a roller coaster through great peaks and valleys of coldness for over a hundred millenia and then soars upward in fits and starts and reversals and renewed ascent to our own time, the long summer since the last ice age, known to scientists as the Holocene. Then the sweeping temperature excursions simply stop, and the red line settles into a dense scribble stuttering within an extremely narrow range of climatic possibility. The difference in this climate record between most of the time in recent Earth history and our time is positively stunning. It looks as if this immensely dynamic climate system had suddenly fallen asleep for the duration of the long summer.

“It is already too late to prevent global warming,” she says. But it’s not too late to do anything at all. And as a basis for hope, she points to the fact that the planet’s “fitful variability has helped make us who we are.”

Big Idea: “A Stormworthy Lineage”

Humans evolved in conditions of wild climatic variability and instability. “What has emerged from this instability is a versatile human species for all seasons and climes.”

She quotes Rick Potts, a Smithsonian researcher in human origins, as saying that our evolutionary pattern represents “the survival of the generalist” (not adapted too restrictively to any particular landscape niche, such as the Neanderthals were to narrow transition zones between grasslands and woodlands).

Humans are just one of perhaps as many as twenty upright-walking hominin species that evolved in the face of climatic oscillation and shifting landscapes. Our 5-million-year family history is in large part a story of extinction. Today humans are the sole survivors, the only member of this diverse family — which scientists long ago called hominids but have recently renamed hominins based on new genetic evidence of relatedness — to emerge from a brutal gauntlet of intensifying climatic extremes …

… The rising instability, particularly over the past 700,000 years, forged the very human talents that have allowed us to become a planetary force and an agent of crisis and instability. At the same time, however, this evolutionary legacy also gives me good reason to believe that humans can — with wisdom and luck — make it through the dangerous passage ahead.

Other big ideas I’ll leave it to you to explore:

  • Progressive externalization” of the brain’s developmental program (” a collaboration between biology and culture”).
  • Human culture as a nurturer of man’s survival, and also as “a manufacturer of crisis.”
  • Geo-engneering, the “temptations [and pitfalls] of technofix.”
  • Civilization’s growing complexity and increasing vulnerability.
  • Modern civilization at risk because of its dependence on stable climate, cheap energy and growth.
  • Globalization is contrary to traditional human evolutionary survival strategy, which depends on modularity and redundancy (a survivability strategy is often not the most efficient strategy).

The hope that Dumanoski speaks of at the end of the book is hard-headed, and does not ignore the possible desperate future we may be facing.

But she never doubts the survival of the Earth.

What’s clearly uncertain is the fate of the civilization man has built so profligately upon it.

Bitnami