The Data-Backed Reason the World’s Poor/Meek Will Inherit the Earth
I’m a data hog, voraciously consuming every bit of information I can gather: from fake news, real news, ancient scripture, deep, bleeding-edge research, and discussions within my network, which include the world’s top data scientists, trend forecasters, policy analysts, technologists, venture capitalists, and AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) super-stars. Most of all, I pay close attention to what’s happening around me and make my own conclusions. My opinion is considered sacrosanct by many powerful folks, even though you may not know about me.
I’m a big deal, and the only reason you don’t know that concerns my consistent opinion about modern, extractive, exploitative, debt-fueled industrial capitalism and the unholy culture it has spawned. I don’t like it. Lacking stuff to sell, preaching a message telling people to stop shopping, I’ve been cast to the outskirts of popular culture, showing up here and there in weird contexts, often being shit on and derided by abusive, damaged women on reality shows and the New York Times, who first slammed me for being a bachelor and then slammed me my wedding. I was also tasked with giving a dumbed-down version of my philosophies in a facile documentary about using less stuff likely seen by hundreds of millions on Netflix (read this for a deeper conversation about minimalism).
I’ve been around because I’m hard to ignore and can be appreciated on a corporeal level — i.e. I’m good looking. But I’m seldom presented with the depth I deserve because to do so would make a lot the talents and efforts of so-called world leaders look feeble, inadequate, and imitative. I’m too good and too deep for prime-time.
While my celebrity was marginal before, I have been erased from the page completely these last two years. I’m writing here from exile and the X-list. My placement here ain’t because I got fat or irrelevant. Quite the contrary. I’m mean, lean, and relevant as fuck.
Now 45 years-old and suffering from onset morbid-data-obesity, I have but one conclusion: the world as we know it is irreparably fucked and no longer worth saving.
More specifically, climatic conditions are proving as bad (bad) or worse (lethal) than projections, with increased temperatures driving more violent storms, chronic coastal and inland inundation, rapid drought and desertification, fires, plagues, etc. Each year, it’s clearer what’s driving this carnage: gross global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; mostly CO2 and methane molecules emitted by big industry that traps heat in the atmosphere. The solution, for some time, has been clear: current GHG emissions must stop immediately, then historical emissions — and industrial waste streams while we’re at it — must be cleaned up.
With each year and moment, I have observed the same evil response of world leaders. Representatives of dying generations and their shop-til-you-drop dependents, some quite close to me, transparently tow self-interests and/or the interests of a small cadre of global private capital kleptocrats. At each opportunity to change course, these leaders force non-rich populations to double down on top-heavy, resource-extractive (natural and human resources), non-regenerative, intrinsically violent societal structures. With each year, it’s clear that those self-interested leaders/check-writers/gatekeepers are okay driving their Model X’s into oblivion, pushing the energies of the world’s workers to death’s door and beyond, looting as many of the earth’s resources, holing up in their McMansions, hoping they have enough cash and Costco rations to white-knuckle the balance of their feeble, violent existences in advance of forgettable memorial services…somewhere in their late-eighties would be fine!
I’m so not okay with it. I’m also so not okay with over-simplification, so let me clarify some data:
- Poor nations have tiny carbon footprints compared to rich ones. For example, the average Indian has a carbon footprint eight times less than the average American (1.91 versus 15.52 tons CO2, respectively). So even though India has a lot more people (~3x), even though they allow other countries to outsource their emissions and polluting industries to their borders, the average Indian has a GHG output 1/8th that of the average American.
- America’s poor people — even ones in middle-America with big trucks making your food — usually have much smaller GHG emission than their hyper-consumer economic overlords (yes, even if those overlords are registered Democrats). From a very accessible PBS piece that also covers outsourced emissions to China, India, and Mexico:
The average carbon footprint of the wealthiest households is over five times that of the poorest.
In 2009, households with less than US$30,000 annual disposable income made up 25.7% of the total U.S. population, but were only responsible for 19.3% of U.S. households’ carbon footprint.
On the other hand, wealthy consumers with more than $100,000 annual household income accounted for 22.3% of the total population but were responsible for nearly one-third of households’ total carbon footprint.
- The poor folks living lower-GHG existences are helping rich people increase their wealth and GHG footprints/capacities. The top 10-percent wealthy Americans have 90 percent of the cash. They got this cash by orchestrating a Rent-to-Live existence for non-rich Americans. Wealthy folks own and promote the development of most appreciating, revenue-generating assets (including a good percentage of the equity on notes of personal home mortgages) while poor people pay for and maintain them with their cash, labor, aspirations, and lives/time. The average American worker exists to support large corporate interests, mostly managed and owned by the same small group who own their mortgages, car payments, rent, health insurance premiums, etc. Rich people use their wealth streams to pay for more earth-killing assets, including commodity real estate, investments in new companies for dummy markets for OpEx fee extraction and debt-generation, the expansion of cheap, Chinese and other consumer interests, gas, oil, and fracking, luxury goods, lawyers, and on and on and on. For all intents in purposes, much of society has become little more than a voluntary band of indentured servants and slaves, giving their time, health, and purpose to rich overlords, their boundless insecurity, and their expensive tastes.
- From where I stand, it is not about black, brown, yellow, and/or white. The problem is, and always has been, about rich and poor, value generators and value extractors. Pay attention and stop infighting, especially if you’re a poor worker.
First Principle: If Rich People Are Causing All the Harm, And Benefiting from Harm, They Cannot and Will Not Undo Harm
In 2016, I was in LA for real estate marketing firm Hanley Wood’s Hive Conference. I was the guest of Ross Chapin, a pioneer in low-cost, community-centered architecture and planning. The conference’s broad theme was “housing innovation,” which ostensibly was my beat. Innovation for me meant lightweight, energy efficient, nature-and-people-centrically design compact-single, but mostly multifamily housing like Ross made; I saw this sort of housing as a viable, market-based response to the myriad environmental, economic, and social crises occurring in the housing market.
Ross and his cadre of housing activists like Raines Cohen brought a dose of reality to the conference, which was otherwise a celebration of predatory, arcane, unbearably-ugly, land-raping single-family development. There to handle the whole “environment” issue was Cradle-to-Cradle™ licencer and OG green-hued Corporate prophylactic, Bill “Little Willy” McDonough. I’d seen Little Willy speak a few times before and shared an intimate relationship (I have family that worked with him on a big project). I knew his shtick well.
At the end of his paint-by-numbers keynote, there was time for a Q&A. In my eternal naivete, I thought he might have filling for the millions of potholes he left in his overwrought, big-business-paved highway to a sustainable housing future. I asked Willy how he reconciled the imperative to reduce per capita GHG emissions with the North American’s market focus on inherently unsustainable, car-dependent, over-sized single-family development?
He read my question, took a Hitler-esque dramatic pause and retorted:
I have one word: Tesla.
Bill “Little Willy” McDonough
That was his mic dropping answer. My guess is it was a stock answer because the crowd burst into applause. It was the answer that gave them plausible deniability. The guy from the Blood Diamond famil and doing PR stunts in Las Vegas has it figured out.
Anyone applauding that answer back then was dumb AF. To continue applauding in an era of depleted lithium stores is bordering on a severe mental disorder. To paraphrase Albert Einstein:
Rich people are causing all the problems. They won’t don’t have the intelligence or motivation to fix them.
The Least of These…
I was reminded of how useless rich people are in shaping social and climate policy the other day when I heard my current home, Boulder, Colorado is cracking down on the homeless tents and encampments one can find on a number of Boulder’s public lands. The city’s liberal and compassionate leaders and don’t want these people, the least among us, to suffer outside, dwelling along Boulder’s gorgeous creek, sharing days, joints, and jugs of wine in the great outdoors (NB: I’ve been homeless and have lived around the homeless, and despite its hardships, I find the lifestyle a lot less vulgar than those of most single-family home dwellers).
I was considering the profound irony that Boulder — once considered progressive in terms of its friendliness to drifters and love of nature — should be cracking down on the city’s most vulnerable, least environmentally impacting, lowest GHG-emitting citizens. Meanwhile, the state has done everything in its power to provide Jared Polis’ super-polluting 1-percent cronies with infinite choices for $14,000,000 second homes — even when, or especially when — it’s in an environmentally vulnerable area.
Boulder — and other cities commited to scientifically-backed strategies for reducing per capita GHG emissions — — should support and look to homeless populations for housing leadership as their lifestyles and environmental impacts are in line with IPCC mandates.
- Those living without homes (streets, tents, cars) or in substandard, improvised housing (shanties, favelas), and very low-income housing (projects, trailers) have negligible embodied and operational environmental impact. Because of anti-poor bias, no investment dollars flow into optimizing these structures — solving for waste, sanitation, ventilation, comfort, and fire safety problems — and their intrinsic pro-people-and-planet structures. Hubristic, high-overhead, Euro-and-Capital-centric operators spend little time imitating poor people to solidify their questionably place on the top of the technological leadership and ensure a paycheck, even when their solutions are overwrought and unscientific.
- Homeless and other poor populations are far more likely to live socially interdependent, resource-conserving lives with far stronger social bonds than rich people. These benefits are so strong, they remain in face of the artificially harsh conditions they must endure (e.g. poverty-state economics, industrial police-jail-shelter complex coming to get them, etc.). Crime, violence, extreme substance abuse and mental illness is often a response — not a cause — to living with those conditions and in a world that appropriates madness. More cops and shelters are making things worse.
- Anecdotally, homeless populations are far less likely to be fat and spend far more time in nature than most housed Americans. They know how to cook, do stuff, and entertain themselves without social media.
- Rich people, as mentioned above, are, scientifically speaking, doing the most damage, disproportionately responsible for the deaths of people, flora, fauna, and the planet’s homeostatic mechanisms. They knowingly and repeatedly make choices that kill people and undermine the structures of civilization in the service of short term profit motives. They don’t know what’s good for themselves or others and must be approached accordingly. They are unwell. There are opportunities for redemption and karmic purification, but not before an admission of guilt, and not until the harm stops.
Going From Buying to Making the American Dream
I’ve lived in roughly 38-living situations, from large single-family homes to vagabonding with my bicycle to living in abandoned Brooklyn Heights townhouse to over-hyped micro-apartments to the back of my Honda Odyssey. I have written continuing education pieces about space efficient design. A couple years ago, I wrote a white paper for America’s second largest hardware store about the future of housing. I helped shape market and product forecasting for the world’s largest retailer, IKEA, and their innovation team.
No one gets and knows housing like me, and I’m here with some bad news: The American Dream of home ownership and career advancement is — and always has been — a story used to keep people working for their economic overlords. This narrative needs to be dismantled. We need places to live, we need to be useful, we need to eat, but true security comes from within, and it’s time “consumers” wake up to this reality, and stop being played like chumps. As part of dismantling these lies, please understand:
- There is no housing shortage, but rather a housing distribution problem. Any communication to the contrary is false.
- Single family housing is an inhuman, ecocidal form of housing designed primarily as way to increase wealth and revenue streams for the already-wealthy. Their design, and correspondent economics, directly oppose personal and planetary health and well-being (too large, geographically isolated, hard to maintain, require driving to access, etc.).
- Debt is bad, borrowing against the future, yet it’s the only currency U.S. economists promote. It’s fucked up.
Ever since we “won” WWII, Americans have been fed lies about how they should use debt to accumulate homes, stocks, careers, educations, cars, and other suddenly-requisite accouterments of modern life would complete them. We are now learning those systems’ primary purpose was, and is, to make a relatively small — and contracting daily — body of rich people even richer at any material or human cost.
While this lie has managed to persist for almost 80 years, data hogs like me will point out that when wealth disparity hits a critical point, the arc of history points to adjustments bordering on open revolt — an option, that while reliable for disruption, is not always the best catalyst for change owing to its heavy collateral damages. Hasn’t there been enough violence?
Tune In, Lighten Up, Move Out
When climate change really kicks in — and to be clear, it’s barely started — it’ll displace and kill millions, if not billions, and transform the vast majority of appreciating and revenue-generating assets into liabilities. No one owing 90-percent of their equity to a bank or paying rent to some REIT-backed developer is going care for their a submerged home or apartment. I’m sure this is already happening on some level, but it’s sufficiently small as to be covered up. The bleak long-term economics of rebuilding will soon be impossible to ignore.
The good news for the average American is that because they’ve been so tapped out, they have little to lose. The consequences of defaulting on a mortgage or breaking a lease — not to mention defaulting on credit cards, auto-loans, student, and medical debt — will seem trivial when your house and car are floating away down the street. Repairs will be too costly, aforementioned rich folks will freak and throw other rich folks under the bus, making their group even smaller. The masses of Rich Dad, Poor Dad flippers and investors, iBuyers, and other new, predatory, passive investor categories will wonder what the fuck to do with a bunch of molding — or parched dry — single-family tracts and worthless notes.
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
This is their problem, not yours!
Another one of your not-problems is that money lending, economic chicanery, and siphoning profits and resources have limited long-term evolutionary value. Weak crypto bros watch out: physically and spiritually strong, adaptable people will regain their important role in society in a new post-climate, post-debt world.
Your challenge, if you’re willing to follow, if you’re a survivor like me, is to start the process of physical, spatial, economic, and existential lightness — bit by bit disengaging in the violence and destruction of modern, global, extractive, exploitative capitalism. Start looking for small ways to increase personal adaptability and resiliency, reducing the number of connections you have to rich people and their nonsense, to create lightweight, often homemade solutions for environmental, economic, and existential salvation.
That’s what I’m going to help with and I’d offer some here, but this post is getting way too dense and long.
I will help my readers understand the data, the history, and realtime economic dynamics we need to understand preserve and increase the quality of life on earth for as much life on earth. I will do my best to provide tangible steps for freeing us all — yep, even the perps — from the shackles of the modern day slavery system that’s pretending to be free market capitalism.
Stay tuned for specific information about what this looks like.