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New Age Doctrine is out to lunch on three issues.

It is easy to criticize excessive consumption, competitive marketplace values, and dollar-dominated political institutions and multinational corporations.

We would like to suggest that a similar but more courageous critical eye be applied to peer views on three core issues affecting our planet villages, recycling and democracy.

Cities versus Villages

As energy and material resources become relatively more scarce, cities will grow larger and denser, while villages, towns and suburbs will atrophy and become even more precarious luxuries than they are today.

The reason is that daily life and business are more efficient, and require fewer resources the closer people are to each other. That is why cities exist, and why they have grown steadily for seven thousand years.  It is why towns and villages come and go as quarries run out, highways move, rivers change paths, and industries adopt new technologies.

There are three ways to confirm this fact about the future of cities yourself.  Use a simple physical example, look at some comparable historic examples, and look at current trends that have developed since the 1974 oil shortage.

1. Compare the material resource cost of housing 50 people (15 families) in a five-story apartment building at 710 Bush Street, in San Francisco, with the cost of housing the same families in 15 houses even in energy-conservation conscious Davis, a moderate-sized university town near San Francisco.

The ratio of the usage of materials by a village to that of a city is worse than 3:1. The ratio of energy consumption, including travel, is still worse. The personal experience of anyone who has lived in a community can confirm this vUlage to dense city ratio. Twelve people living together can live on the same income as three people each living separately. The synergy of compact space, shared resources, and close personal contact is felt on a human scale, as well as an economic one.

2. The history of city growth reveals the same information. Density is a by-product of scarce resources. Cities that were built in the last century, when resources were relatively scarce, and cities that have high costs because they are surrounded by water, tend to be dense. Consider Manhattan, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Vancouver B.C., Kowloon, and the Old City of Stockholm, which are all dense island or peninsula cities, with major growth before the 20th century. Compare these to contemporary cities which were built during a period of cheap oil, such as Los Angeles, Tulsa, Sidney, Melbourne, Dallas, Phoenix, and Tel Aviv.

3. The strongest evidence that cities will grow and that towns, villages and suburbs will decline, as resources become relatively more scarce is the experience of the last six years in the U.S. Since the oil shortage and gas lines of 1974 cities have had a dramatic re-birth, with massive influxes of upper income people moving from suburbs to downtown areas. This so-called gentrification (gentry moving back) has resulted in the condominiumization of existing apartment buildings and hotels and the rapid construction of dense, town-house condos. There has been a simultaneous outflow of lower income families to the outermost suburbs, with an attendant racist reaction and a rise in the activity of the Ku Klux Klan.

The reason upper income people give for moving into the heart of the city is that their jobs are too dependent on their being there to risk transportation delays and breakdowns. As transportation costs and problems increase, the highest paid members of our society will be in the dense downtown where they are the least affected. Europe, with its high oil prices, experienced gentrification of its cities in the late 1950's, much earlier than the U.S. 

Denser cities wUl be the economic consequence of resource scarcity in the future. It is also the environmentally sound way to preserve our resources.

Recycling

Recycling and conservation are good, logical, and desirable ways to deal with resource scarcity. The trouble is that they are nearly trivial as a policy issue and, in terms of saving significant resources world wide, they are a travesty, allowing most people to ignore the serious, underlying issue of steadily rising incomes.

In personal terms, a simple calculation will show the relative unimportance of recycling/ conservation in comparison to rising income. Assume a household of three, two adults, one of whom works, with a gross annual income of $10,000.  If they recycle all of their garbage into a garden, recycle all glass, aluminum, bi-metal and paper, cut their water, power and fuel use by 25 percent, the annual value of the resources they save maximum of $1,600. This is wonderful, but what do they do with the money they save? If they invest it or spend it, that money will be respent by many others, and the "others" will consume much more than is saved. To be effective in saving resources, we must reduce our income, not turn around and respend it.

More likely, they will do what the majority of households in the U.S. have done, and both adults wUl get a job, bringing their annual income up to $20,000. The following table shows the effect of an income rise on resource use.

Another way to look at it is that a massive conservation/recycling effort would save 15 percent of our current resource use if we all made a determined effort and were backed up with supportive legislation. Yet the U.S. resource use has increased by 15 percent just since 1974. All we can do with conservation/recycling is step back six years. Or stay level for the next six years.  Once thorough conservation/recycling was achieved, we would again be increasing resource consumption by 25 to 35 percent every decade with the same social values that have produced that kind of resource consumption for the past 100 years.

As long as the value of "making a lot of money" is highly rated and widespread, we will continue to consume resources rapidly, regardless of how effective conservation/recycling programs are. When reducing income is socially important, resource consumption can be reduced or stabilized at current levels.

Worldwide, the same phenomenon is occurring. National incomes are rising very rapidly. The ten richest nations consume so much that their (our) increase in resource consumption in one year exceeds that of the whole rest of the world in five years. The big users of resources, you and me, must slow down dramatically or no worldwide conservation can be meaningful.

Democracy

Democracy is what this country was founded on, what several million men have died for in two world wars, what we impose on nations we defeat in wars (constitutions, elections, etc.), and what our peer group suggests as the solution to the problems of big government, big labor, and big business, and nearly everything else. The universal solution found in all "new age" literature is more local self-governance, decentralized democracy. The reason that this is universally suggested is that we don't know of any other form of governance than what we call "democracy," which is really elected representation.

Elected representation, on any level, local self-government or the U.S. Congress, is a ludicrous farce that needs a drastic overhaul. The same people who want more democracy, when asked about the U.S. Congress in a Gallup poll, say overwhelmingly that their representatives are "crooks." People view local elected officials similarly; the occupation group that is given the lowest rating is that of elected representatives. The majority of Americans are so repulsed by the election process that they don't even register to vote. The people who do vote usually have to choose from relatively wealthy male professionals. When elections of local boards were held extensively during the War on Poverty, apathy and corruption were often the result.

The reason for this institutional failure is that people who are willing to "stand for election" are significantly unrepresentative. They are agressive, verbal, self-serving, needing of excessive attention, and are efficient in suppressing their feelings and emotions.

We need much more experimenting with our governance systems before we ask for more of the same. One alternative is to have random legislatures. With this approach, decision-making bodies are selected by lottery from all the people affected. It is truly representative.

Another alternative would be to modify our current election system by offering the voters a ballot choice of "none of the above." When a majority voted for "none", a new slate of candidates must be chosen.

Many traditional cultures, and some modern non-violence organizations, use pyramids of electors, with a rotation of elected positions, and use the consensus decision making process.

Many forms are available when we seek them out; we need to experiment with them.