Excavating late human civilization

Sifting the detritus of the late plastocine, archeologists have found that when coffee packaging came to exceed coffee, people recycled a bit to feel better. And not just those Nespresso pods: feeble prayers to angry Gaia included coffee cup “recycling”.

Coffee drinkers were not alone in the production of rubbish that was ceremonially, if not practically, recyclable: excavations along roads of the era find accumulations of McDonald’s coke cups, beer cans, energy drink cans, juice packs, and water bottles. The large quantity of containers for water, sweetened water and water substitutes has been a puzzle for archeologists. Now, the study of these reservoirs of rubbish has led to an improved understanding of the collapse of human civilization, and to an adjustment of the dates at which that the collapse is believed to have started.

The thickness of the strata of containers suggests that while late humans were well (and perhaps over-) hydrated, they had lost the art of plumbing: lead pipes may have done in the Romans, but drink container waste from the early 21st century is consistent with the absence of a reliable domestic supply of potable water – how else can the use and awkward transport of these costly containers be explained? Thus, the growing numbers of discarded bottles, cans and cups as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first is now seen as indicative of the loss of much of the basic infrastructure that had been built up over the previous centuries, and suggests that the collapse of human civilization may have begun a century earlier than scholars had previously believed.

Henry Adams, back when America was on the brink of terrible things

Papal_States_Map_1870

Reading The Education of Henry Adams is for a while a pleasant and edifying distraction from today’s troubles, but he will keep pulling one back in. Here he is visiting Rome as a young man in 1860, while his own country was edging toward civil war:

“Rome was actual; it was England; it was going to be America. Rome could
not be fitted into an orderly, middle-class, Bostonian, systematic
scheme of evolution. No law of progress applied to it. Not even
time-sequences–the last refuge of helpless historians–had value for
it. The Forum no more led to the Vatican than the Vatican to the Forum.
Rienzi, Garibaldi, Tiberius Gracchus, Aurelian might be mixed up in any
relation of time, along with a thousand more, and never lead to a
sequence.”

He might well be asking how we today wound up back in the 1930s.

The Education of Henry Adams (1907) is available, free, in various formats from Project Gutenberg.

Traffic evaporation: are you serious?

Some reflections on shopping, the school run, filters, and the possibility of actual and significant traffic evaporation.

Last night I attended the first of the information sessions for the consultation on the Green Lanes Area Transport Study, and I am afraid I was not always patient. While some people become less temperate when sitting alone at a computer keyboard, but I become more so – I am better able to edit myself. So if any of the project staff who were present at the event reads this, please accept the apologies of the tallish middle-aged American bloke who was exasperated that a large study of traffic has almost nothing to say (except on the one case of Wightman Road) about traffic reduction, and limits its analysis with the assumption that the overall number of car trips is fixed.

I am an economist, and, while economists disagree with one another about many things, our fundamental starting point is that people make choices between alternatives.  Continue reading

Green Lanes consultation: deference to traffic

New Green Lanes area traffic consultation is now available. There are some good elements to it, worth supporting, and there are tweaks that are worth proposing. The consulation documents outline some complicated and contentious issues concerning bikes and parking on Green Lanes, and what to do with Wightman Road. Overall, however, the proposals are timid: they do not contemplate or attempt any substantial reduction in traffic, which is to say that they don’t really set out to solve the problem the plan is meant to address. Haringey surely can do much better. Continue reading