I awoke this morning thinking of how hard I have worked, prepared, studied, and trained to get where I am today in terms of professional qualifications for my career. As a provider for not only my immediate family but also extended family, including my employees, I need to stay competitive and employable; I need to keep my skills sharp and always continue learning. In my professional growth to date I have put in years of field work and passed rigorous exams to gain certification as a licensed contractor, business leader, and professional in my field. Scholastically, I have earned a bachelor's degree, professional certification, and am currently a master's degree candidate. I intend to go on to a PhD, again, to stay competitive and sharp. I have also traveled to nearly 40 different countries, learning about other cultures and studying global politics. Even after all of this schooling and experience, I still wouldn't qualify for some teaching jobs without a teaching credential and I wouldn't qualify to work as a plumbing contractor. I wouldn't be qualified to get a job at a local bakery for my lack of culinary experience, and I would not be a very good candidate to run for local office, given my lack of political experience and legislative knowledge. Yet, even without my fancy degrees, certificates, and licensure, I am well qualified to run for the eminent post of the highest responsibility, running the most powerful country in the world. Gotta ask: How the *#@$ does this make sense??
I was moved by the description on this page from the Library of Congress which states that the "Legal requirements for presidential candidates have remained the same since the year Washington accepted the presidency." These requirements are all of the following:
- Must be a natural born citizen of the U.S. (yup)
- Must have lived in the U.S. for 14 years (done)
- Must be over the age of 35 (qualified)
Hey, I'm good to go! No need to understand how political systems and legislative processes work. No need to be schooled on foreign affairs and world cultures. Our military "commander in chief" needs zero military experience nor any training on military tactical command. The controller for the entire U.S. economy does not need an MBA or any schooling in economic theory. The country's CEO does not need any prior management training or to demonstrate any team leadership skills. There is absolutely no metric for measuring some basic level of intelligence nor do we have a standard to evaluate a candidate's ability to make wise, calm, rational decisions. And we have no way to determine a candidate's capacity for kindness and empathy. At the very least, you'd think there would be some psychological examination to evaluate whether or not the candidate for president is a psychopath. Nope. You could be bat sh!t crazy but so long as you're over 35, if you're popular enough with your constituents, the public, and the media, you may just get the job running the entire country. Oh but we have checks and balances. Do we? When the POTUS retains the ability to hire and fire key cabinet members, sign executive orders, veto important legislation, declare emergency powers of control, appoint judges to the supreme court, do we really have checks on the powers afforded by this position?
The Library of Congress goes on to state that "Many people don't know that our country's [founding president] was reluctant to accept the office [of POTUS]. Washington revealed in a speech in 1789, 'I cannot describe, the painful emotions which I felt in being called upon to determine whether I would accept or refuse the Presidency of the United States' (speech). Washington had fully intended to retire to Mt. Vernon...but [his] sense of duty to his new country outweighed his desire to withdraw from public life. Washington was not the only candidate to feel reluctant about the presidency. James K. Polk accepted the Democratic party's nomination as a duty 'neither...sought nor declined.' How often do you hear candidates today speak of duty as a motivation for candidacy?"
I, for one, long for a presidential candidate that is reluctant to serve, like going to war, but feels such a strong sense of duty toward public service that they are willing to make a monumental personal sacrifice for at least 4 years. Instead, we have incentivized desire, greed, and corruption to the position of POTUS by offering unparalleled executive power, popular praise, extraordinary privilege to do and say what pleases almost without restraint and often with little regard to public service - sometimes in opposition to public benefit - all garnished with an attractive salary that includes lifelong pension benefits. In creating this unique position of wealth, power, privilege, and praise, we have spoiled not only the spirit of the office but we have disincentivized the actual duty to execute policy which maximizes public benefit. I personally feel the chief position should be more like jury duty, provide only nominal pay, and establish limitations on the actions and discourse of the public servant, relegating the president to little more than a bot, faithfully (and empathetically...hence the need for a human and not a robot) executing the will of the people (not his/her own will) through legislative process.
Furthermore, the position should require at a minimum, the following qualifications (like any job position of high ranking power), in addition to the existing requirements:
- Must hold a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from an accredited university. A PhD is preferred.
That's right. Must be educated. What, pray tell, is the argument to the contrary? George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were not formally educated? Show me a man (or woman) that can lead like Washington or Lincoln and I'll show you the next president. The world is not the same as it was 400 years ago. Today's leader must be educated.
- One of the aforementioned degrees must be related to the physical sciences.
This is to ensure that our leader has a solid understanding of the functions of the very thing that supports all life on earth...the earth.
- One of the degrees must be related to business, economics, politics, or social studies. An MBA is preferred.
- Must have at least 10 years of experience in an office of public service. Military service qualifies. May substitute up to 4 years with a degree related to political science.
Any application for position of CEO of any reputable company (and the U.S. is a reputable "company") will require a minimum number of experience in the relevant field. No board of directors is going to trust the execution of their corporation to just any schmo off the street...except congress.
- Must pass a physical and mental examination proving minimum capacity for service (no crazies please).
- Must serve at least 4 years in the U.S. military.
The position of POTUS should not be coveted, else we will get what we have thusly designed: a swamp of corruption. The position should not be sought after by anyone other than those seeking the greatest challenge of their life. The job should be highly competitive and difficult to achieve by anyone other than top performing individuals. The American people deserve nothing less than the best leader possible. Again, like jury duty...only you have to train like a Navy Seal, be educated like a rocket scientist, and demonstrate mastery of the four virtues of Marcus Aurelius to qualify. Oh, and it only pays minimum wage with no pension after retirement. Sound appealing? No? Good! Who in their right mind would want that job?? Exactly!
Disclaimer: The following science-based philosophical commentary is intended to spark contemplation about the current pandemic and not in any way intended to discount or dismiss the tragedies that are resulting, including economic hardship and loss of life.
Virus, Part II: Sociopolitical
In 2016 (most recent data available), the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded almost 9.5 million deaths world-wide from heart disease, while the U.S recorded over half a million for that same period. So far, COVID-19 has killed 62,784 people globally (WHO) and 18,559 domestically (U.S. CDC). This means that for the 2-month period from mid-February through today, COVID-19 represents only 17% of heart-failure-related deaths in the U.S. and 4% world-wide.
According to the CDC and WHO, respectively, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries such as heart disease, stroke, COPD, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and suicide account for 9 of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. and 7 of the top 10 globally. These health problems collectively account for over 23.5M deaths globally (WHO) and over 1.8M deaths in the U.S. (CDC) every year. Compared to these, COVID-19 makes up only 6% of deaths in the U.S. and 2% world-wide over this 2-month period.
In mid-March, the Federal Reserve released a statement that it would be providing $500B in relief money to the U.S. Treasury (Fed) and just a few days ago approved a second disbursement of $2.3T in loan funds (Fed), adding to the emergency funding of $2T from the CARES Act (U.S. Treasury). In total, the money being injected into the U.S. economy amounts to nearly $5T, about enough money to buy Switzerland seven times over (IMF). So, the U.S. government has shut down about 80% of the country’s economy and, together with the Federal Reserve, has provided an historically unprecedented economic relief package that is around 100 times larger than the cost of the recovery stimulus of the 1930’s New Deal (Forbes), all in response to a health threat that so far accounts for less than 10% of deaths relative to what the U.S. experiences every year, and has been experiencing regularly for many years now. Furthermore, whereas the New Deal of the 1930’s and the economic boom following WWII were in response to socio-economic collapse and catastrophe, the current social retreat and economic shut-down is in preparation for a perceived threat, the implications and impacts of which remain largely unknown.
So, what exactly is the known threat? Spread rate, mortality rate, and total potential death toll remain at least partially unknown at this point. The only known threat that is catalyzing action is the potential for catastrophic loss of life. According to researchers at Imperial College London, a partner to WHO, if the coronavirus were allowed to spread unchecked we could experience somewhere around 40 million deaths worldwide (Walker et al., 2020), approximately as many civilians as were killed during WWII. So, yes, a major response to that sort of threat is appropriate. However, many well-qualified scientists and researchers from institutions such as MIT (LTG), NASA (Climate), the U.N. (Brundtland), and a hundred other prominent universities and institutions have predictions of their own: that the death toll resulting from unsustainable lifestyles fostered under socio-political systems that do not appropriately manage and account for natural resources and respect natural processes will likely climb into the billions, substantially eclipsing the death toll of COVID-19…and all other causes of death, combined.
Thus, logic supports the conclusion that if we perceive a threat on the order of tens of millions of lives lost (but not much impact beyond mortality) and in response we mobilize nearly all major political resources across the world, liquidate tens of trillions of funds, and halt a majority of socio-economic systems in most of the world’s leading economies, all in a matter of a few short months if not weeks, then surely – as the collective global unit in which we’re operating now, ex. war ceasefire in response to epidemic (UN) – we ought to be willing and able to temporarily pause our current, unsustainable socio-economic system of unmindful consumerism and linear, single-bottom-line capitalism, at every level, perform a serious introspective evaluation and holistic assessment of the treatment of the natural world (and each other), and begin a new way of living that is consciously designed to respect nature and the fact that all humans, not just 40 million of us, will be facing potential extinction if we continue to degrade earth’s ecosystems and over consume her natural capital.
Perception is the problem. Many people would argue that the coronavirus threat is upon us whereas the fallout from climate destabilization, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem function failure isn’t yet proven, let alone presenting any real threat at this time. The assessment that a stable future is not at risk and that the health of (human) life-supporting ecological function isn’t already in decline is grossly inaccurate and indicates a dangerous level of ignorance. Yes, I said it. If you’re not aware that there is a much more serious threat to human life than COVID-19 then you are not paying attention. The difference is that COVID-19 is an acute threat; one that is relatively easy to target. The threat of global ecosystem collapse is much more difficult to comprehend let alone for which to conceive of a solution. No amount of social distancing will protect us against the fallout from ecological bankruptcy.
If we require a real threat, like COVID-19, one that is directly killing people now, in order to mobilize drastic action, we need only to look at the current leading causes of death: the NCDs previously mentioned. In 2016 (again, most recent data available), 88% of deaths from NCDs occurred in high-income countries (WHO). This data suggests that there may be a correlation between the greatest human health threats of today and the luxurious lifestyles endorsed by “western culture”, i.e., western pharmaceuticals, a fossil-fuel-based economy, social competition/individualism, unmindful entertainment and distraction, single-use/non-recyclable/non-biodegradable consumables and individually-packaged goods, etc. I realize many people are going to be threatened by this suggestion because on many levels it attacks the “American way of life”…oh, like COVID-19? Or like the larger threat of ecosystem collapse will? Look, either we design-in change or change will be forced upon on. Either way, change is coming.
I, for one, welcome the social disruption that the coronavirus has catalyzed, minus of course the tragedy of death; but let’s be realistic: death is a part of life and viruses are a natural occurrence. Yet, no one seems to want to have that discussion because death is perceived as depressing and that sort of discourse is unpopular. But someone (in politics) needs to begin the dialogue of population versus resources and global carrying capacity. The issue is complex but the fact of the matter is very simple and comes back to a designed culture that includes some sort of population control in order to avoid nature’s version of population control as the latter is likely to be much more dramatic, chaotic, and possibly painful.
The bottom line is that our take-make-use-lose way of living is not sustainable. Something had to hit the pause button, someone needed to call a timeout, and COVID-19 did just that. Now it’s up to us to use the one thing that sets us apart from all other animals and affords us the position as apex species: our brain. We must take this opportunity to examine our life choices and social design…and by intention create a better, more conscientious way of living that is more harmonious with nature.
So if we don’t return to “normal”, to what sort of lifestyle should we return? The list of corrections is long and includes topics like equitable income and income caps, designed-in ethics, and proper valuation of natural capital. But that discussion is beyond the scope of this report. Suffice it to say that one major element of this pandemic is that it has shined a sobering spotlight on the luxurious lifestyle that is “enjoyed” under the current design of consumer-based capitalism. We, as a society, used to eat out at restaurants regularly, go watch movies at the cinema, gather up for recreational games of basketball, golf, and pickleball, head out to the countryside to fish or hunt for pure sport, and if we have nothing else to occupy our time: we shop, for whatever, it doesn’t really matter so long as we’re shopping. And when we’re not out engaging in extemporaneous pastimes we’re at home posting or watching videos of cats on YouTube, dancing on TikTok, chit-chatting about politics on Facebook and Twitter, binge-watching The Biggest Loser or enjoying “the game” (some sporting event). The extreme example of having too much time on our hands is the abuse of recreational drugs and alcohol, a topic also beyond the scope of this discussion.
While none of these activities are inherently bad – except perhaps the drug use and maybe hunting for sport – all do require natural resources, be it energy, materials, chemicals, etc., and as such all of them have an inherent ecological footprint. At the very least, we ought to be mindful of this fact but we also ought to be mature and responsible enough to take the next step and consider the cascade of ecological impacts that our life choices impart: If we waste food at the restaurant or grocery store in Florida, how does that affect the food production system in Indiana…or India? If we clear-cut forests in Colorado or (over) use water in Southern California, how does that impact the fisheries in Utah? If we randomly shop for whatever at will, use and waste plastic like oil is going out of style, run our central heating systems in Alaska like we’re living in Texas or our air conditioners in Texas like we’re living in Alaska…what is the impact of our lifestyle on the natural world? If we really believe ourselves to be responsible people, then we will be willing to ask that question and also be willing to act in response to the answer; to reduce our waste and limit our superfluous activities. Wait, did he just suggest we not be permitted to do whatever we want, whenever we want, using (and wasting) as much natural capital as we please (so long as we can afford it monetarily)? Something like that, yes. Again, exactly what the coronavirus has presented: stop all nonessential activities and reevaluate the efficiency of our ways.
To be clear, what I am not doing is advocating for pure socialism where everything is shared, there are no varying levels of income and equity, and no one is allowed to go out and shop or go fishing to blow off steam or escape or celebrate life in your own special way. What I am advocating for is mindfulness and moderation. My message is simply this: be mindful of your actions and the impacts that your actions have on others and on nature.
For me and my family the lesson of the virus and reevaluating for efficiency has literally translated to us sacrificing space on our small plot of suburbia in order to develop what is essentially a mini-farm. Where grass and ornamentals used to grow, now we have vegetables; where we used to have open space (for whatever purpose), now we have a chicken coop with egg-layers and storage for canned goods, dried foods, essential tools, etc. We’re planning a solar electric system to reduce our dependency on utility power, and a rainwater catchment system to reduce our dependency on the municipal supply. If the coronavirus has brought one issue to the surface, it is that we need to focus on what is essential: family, community, and more efficient use of resources – which means less dependency on markets and spontaneous shopping. We need to trim the fat, to get lean and optimize our existence, just like nature does. Actually, what seems to be distilling from this experience is a lifestyle a lot like humans used to live several generations back, and many still do in non-industrialized regions. After all, humans are nature and need to exist in the natural world and within natural processes. We can’t forget that we are connected to all living things. No matter how much artificiality we bring into our lives with fake grass, fake trees, fake climate (indoors…so far), fake bodies, and all sorts of barriers against the natural world with our cars and houses and pharmaceuticals, we can never eliminate the fundamental fact that we are animals too; we need the earth, we need to connect with the dirt, we need fresh air that contains not only oxygen and nitrogen but also nature’s cocktail of pollen, mites, mold, etc. We need fresh water to drink and we need a healthy ecosystem with a high degree of biodiversity. Every single day we are inundated with marketing that attempts to convince us of the things we need but what we really need is what nature provides. Everything else is nonessential.
Next up: Virus, Part III - Spirituo-philosophical
Disclaimer: The following science-based philosophical commentary is intended to spark contemplation about the current pandemic and not in any way intended to discount or dismiss the tragedies that are resulting, including economic hardship and loss of life.
Virus, Part I - Scientific
Many, possibly most, people have the concept of a virus that it is a malicious bug, a germ, that is out to infect and reproduce for its own survival; much like the image below. It isn't. It is not a bug or a germ like one might think of bacteria or a microscopic parasite. A virus is an oddity, not characterized by the (scientific) prerequisites of "life" and as such, viruses are not considered living organisms, i.e., they are not included in the phylogenetic classification system that categorizes all (known) living things. Instead, a virus is basically a very tiny package of genetic code, either DNA or RNA, with the capability to transmit and deliver genetic change...also known as evolution. This function of gene transfer - analogous to sexual reproduction - increases genetic diversity: an essential element of long-term survival for any species, including humans. Viruses are the most abundant biological entity on the planet and are considered by some to be essential reservoirs of genetic diversity. Unfortunately, the host of a virus may respond negatively to the new genetic material, hence diseases like AIDS, flu, COVID-19, and certain cancers that can result from a viral "infection". Some hosts, however, may not develop diseases as a result of contracting a virus and still others may benefit from the accession of new genetic material. So, the idea that a virus is a parasite or a germ that is attacking us, that it is something we need to go to war against; this idea, while valid for some, doesn't entirely account for the important function viruses have contributed to the millions of years of natural evolution that has brought us to this point in the timeline of history.
Next up: Virus, part 2 - Sociopolitical
Why solar? Why Good Sun and not Good Water or Good Biodiversity? That's a good question. I mean, as far as issues that could be supported through nonprofit work...there's wildlife conservation, pollution, water security, food security, socio-environmental justice, poverty, gender equality, political reform, education for all, healthcare for all, nuclear disarmament, and of course climate change, just to name a few. So why choose solar: something that to most people is just another (for-profit) technology and is therefore deemed to have little direct impact on the issues that most people care about? Let's explore.
In my eyes, the advancement of solar energy is one of the only solutions that can simultaneously address so many other important issues. Here's how: Solar energy is the only viable input to an otherwise closed (and non self-sustaining) system. Particles of sunlight penetrating the Earth's atmosphere constitute the singular external source of energy to our planet, providing the necessary ingredient and catalyst for all of life on Earth. If you don't understand quite what sunlight does for us or how important it is, consider just this one simple fact: If we remove sunlight from the equation, it would take just a few weeks for all life on earth to die off (minus some hypothermophillic bacteria, which would die off soon thereafter). At their basic forms, oil, gasoline, diesel, biomass, wind energy, and even coal are all forms of solar energy (which is a form of thermonuclear energy). Water is purified by sunlight, whether through UV radiation or evapotranspiration. Food obviously needs sunlight (UV radiation) to grow. Humans, whether we choose to believe it or not, need sunlight to stay healthy (and alive). All of life as we know it is made possible by our Sun.
So if the Sun is a precursor to, and necessary component of, all of life on Earth, then why not start with solar energy as a potential solution to many of the problems we are facing? Solar energy, harnessed in the form of technologies such as photovoltaics (PV), thermal collection, UV purification, concentrated solar power (CSP), and passive solar design can provide direct solutions to problems such as:
Certainly there are constraints to the use of solar energy. It is of course not a catch-all solution to all of the problems we're facing. For many years, the founders of Good Sun worked in the for-profit contracting sector of the solar industry. Believe me, we fully comprehend the limitations of solar technology. But we also see the potential of a still-developing technology within an emerging (clean tech) market. One of the major problems with the emerging solar market is the issue of reuse and recycling. This is why Good Sun has adopted a program of repurposing used solar panels to build a bridge between the millions of still-viable solar panels flowing to landfill in the "developed world" and the millions of people still living without electricity in the "developing world". It just makes sense not to waste resources on a finite planet, and help others out while addressing the waste issue. This is why we do what we do: because we want to help others who may be less fortunate and help make the world a better, cleaner place to live at the same time. And this is why we chose solar as our solution: because it's efficient in that this clean tech has the potential to address multiple issues with one tool; the potential to feed multiple birds with one worm. At Good Sun, we, like nature, prefer efficiency.