A Community in the Parking Lot

Long Term Parking from The New York Times – Video on Vimeo.

 

“Taking a back-road shortcut to catch a flight from Los Angeles two years ago, I passed an obscure airline employee parking lot — and was surprised to see over 70 motor homes. It looked like there was an entire community planted right there in the parking lot of the airport. I wondered, who lived there — and why? I learned that this community was an employee parking lot turned motor-home park made up of pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. And I became fascinated by why and how the residents — people who may have flown us across the country, or walked us through emergency landing procedures — came to inhabit such an unusual place…”

Video & text: Lance Oppenheim, The New York Times.

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Any Imaginable Future

“…New research […] shows that a major ice age was narrowly missed just before the industrial revolution , probably because the development of agriculture had nudged the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just above the tipping point.

“The bottom line is we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented,” said Andrey Ganopolski, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and who led the research. “It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it.”

Floating Icebergs under Cloudy Skies, 1859
Frederic Church, Floating Icebergs Under Cloudy Skies. June or July 1859.

“Like no other force on the planet, ice ages have shaped the global environment and thereby determined the development of human civilisation,” Schellnhuber said. “Now human interference is acting as a huge geological force, so this is a defining paper for the Anthropocene idea.” If carbon emissions are not restricted, he said, they could end the million-year-long period of ice age cycles altogether.

Michel Crucifix, at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium and not involved in the new research, said: “It reinforces previous assessments asserting that humanity’s collective footprint on Earth already extends beyond any imaginable future of our society.”

“Such long-term consequences may seem surprising, given that the emissions will occur over a few centuries at most,” he said. “In fact, the mean half-life of CO2 in the atmosphere is of the order of 35,000 years. Consequently, anthropogenic CO2 will still be in the atmosphere in 50,000 years’ time, and even 100,000 years, which is enough to prevent any glaciation.”

Text: Damian Carrington, Fossil fuel burning ‘postponing next ice age’, Guardian Australia

Flexitarians

andy-warhol-hamburger-1985-61

“Burger King wants to start selling veggie burgers worldwide. The fast-food chain introduced a special line of six meatless burgers last year in India, including a Veggie Whopper, a Spicy Bean Royale, and a vegetarian chili cheese melt. The sandwiches have been so successful that the chain is now considering launching them in other vegetarian-friendly markets, according to Burger King India CEO Raj Varman. “Looking at the response here, the global management is evaluating introducing some of these options going forward to other vegetarian-friendly markets like the UK,” Varman told the India news agency PTI, according to the Economic Times.

“Despite the failures of McDonald’s, adding a meatless menu in markets such as the U.K. and the U.S. could be a smart move for Burger King. Vegetarianism is on the rise, and a growing number of people are defining themselves as “flexitarians,” which means they eat a primarily plant-based diet supplemented by occasional meat consumption.Sales of meat alternatives in the U.S. rose to $553 million in 2012, up from $513 million two years earlier, according to the market-research firm Mintel. Meanwhile, Americans’ per capita consumption of meat and poultry has declined by more than 9 percent since 2007, to an estimated 200.8 pounds in 2014 from 221.6 pounds in 2007, according to the USDA.”

Text: Hayley Peterson, Burger King Wants to Make the Veggie Burger a Global Hit, Slate.com

Pic: Andy Warhol, Hamburger, 1985-6.

System D

“System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of “l’economie de la débrouillardise.” Or, sweetened for street use, “Systeme D.” This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy. A number of well-known chefs have also appropriated the term to describe the skill and sheer joy necessary to improvise a gourmet meal using only the mismatched ingredients that happen to be at hand in a kitchen…

“In many countries — particularly in the developing world — System D is growing faster than any other part of the economy, and it is an increasing force in world trade. But even in developed countries, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, System D was revealed to be an important financial coping mechanism. A 2009 study by Deutsche Bank, the huge German commercial lender, suggested that people in the European countries with the largest portions of their economies that were unlicensed and unregulated — in other words, citizens of the countries with the most robust System D — fared better in the economic meltdown of 2008 than folks living in centrally planned and tightly regulated nations. Studies of countries throughout Latin America have shown that desperate people turned to System D to survive during the most recent financial crisis.

“This spontaneous system, ruled by the spirit of organized improvisation, will be crucial for the development of cities in the 21st century. The 20th-century norm — the factory worker who nests at the same firm for his or her entire productive life — has become an endangered species. In China, the world’s current industrial behemoth, workers in the massive factories have low salaries and little job security. Even in Japan, where major corporations have long guaranteed lifetime employment to full-time workers, a consensus is emerging that this system is no longer sustainable in an increasingly mobile and entrepreneurial world.

“The growth of System D presents a series of challenges to the norms of economics, business, and governance — for it has traditionally existed outside the framework of trade agreements, labor laws, copyright protections, product safety regulations, antipollution legislation, and a host of other political, social, and environmental policies. Yet there’s plenty that’s positive, too. In Africa, many cities — Lagos, Nigeria, is a good example — have been propelled into the modern era through System D, because legal businesses don’t find enough profit in bringing cutting- edge products to the third world. China has, in part, become the world’s manufacturing and trading center because it has been willing to engage System D trade. Paraguay, small, landlocked, and long dominated by larger and more prosperous neighbors, has engineered a decent balance of trade through judicious smuggling. The digital divide may be a concern, but System D is spreading technology around the world at prices even poor people can afford. Squatter communities may be growing, but the informal economy is bringing commerce and opportunity to these neighborhoods that are off the governmental grid. It distributes products more equitably and cheaply than any big company can. And, even as governments around the world are looking to privatize agencies and get out of the business of providing for people, System D is running public services — trash pickup, recycling, transportation, and even utilities.”

Text: The Shadow Superpower, Foreign Policy.

We’ve been here before

KITCHEN DEBATE

“… [The] more we speak of the future, the more we have need of historical perspective. We have, of course, (always) been here before, given long history of visions of how ‘new’ technologies were going to transform the world. As early as 1893, Answers magazine enthused about how the electrical home of the future would be ‘fitted throughout with … electric stoves in every room [which] can be lighted by pressing a button at the bed-side … [its] doors and windows fitted with electronic fastenings’.’ In the context of contemporary excitements about cyber-shopping, one can readily see the transformative potential in a situation where:

the inhabitant of London could now order … sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth and reasonably expect their delivery upon his doorstep; he could, at the same moment, and by the same means, adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages.

However, this is in fact John Maynard Keynes writing in 1900, describing the potential significance of the introduction of the landline telephone as a tool for home shopping and virtual commerce . As long ago as 1909, the Futurist Marinette was convinced that ‘we stand on the last promontory of the centuries! Time and space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed’. Ten years later, in 1919, Le Corbusier announced that ‘the problem of our epoch is the problem of the electronically mediated home’, and by 1928 Paul Valery was speculating on the possibilities of ‘a company engaged in the home delivery of sensory reality’. In 1959, the designers of the ‘Miracle Kitchen’ which went on show at the American National Exhibition in Moscow promised that ‘household chores in the future will be gone for the American housewife at the touch of a button or the wave of a hand’.

“There is also a long history of visions of how it has been imagined that technical advances in communications — from the telegraph to the telephone to the Internet — will somehow lead to ‘better understanding’. The telegraph — or the ‘Victorian Internet’ , as it has been redescribed by Tom Standage — was heralded as ushering in an era of world peace, for this very reason. In fact, the hysteria, or ‘telegraph fever’, that surrounded the laying of the first transatlantic cable in 1858 surpassed even that surrounding the coming of the Internet today: it was the occasion for 100-gun salutes, celebratory flags were flown from public buildings, bells were rung, and there were fireworks, parades and church services. The whole event took on a religious aura and there were claims that the fact that, as the new invention now allowed people to ‘see and hear everyone else in the world’ , it would somehow lead to a uniting of the human race. Even the august Scientific American referred glowingly to the new invention as an ‘instantaneous highway of thought between the Old and New Worlds’, and there were bold claims that it was now ‘impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should … exist, while such an instrument has been created for the exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth’ .”

David Morley, Media, Modernity and Technology.London/New York: Routledge Press, 2007. pp 236-37.

Image: Today’s Highlight in History:
Fifty years ago, in 1959,
during a visit to Moscow, Vice President Richard Nixon engaged in his famous “Kitchen Debate” with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. (The impromptu exchanges occurred in the kitchen of a model home at the American National Exhibition, with each man arguing for his country’s technological advances.) Nixon and Krushchev defend their systems.