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The real cure for climate change. - 04 September, 2008
poss says
As many of you know, I have worked for various environmentaly focused organisations, including the Australian department of the Environment, and my current position at Land & Water Australia. As a result, I have become increasingly disillusioned with the nature of the debate around climate change.
All of this came to a head while watching last nights episode of qanda. It became increasingly apparent that even the most vocal and passionate proponents of battling climate Change don't actually realise the root of the problem, and therefore do not understand what is required to fix it.

Thsi is what i mean:

I am sure you know that our use of fossil fuels has resulted in the production of massive ammounts of greenhouse gasses, and this has been compounded by other issues like the huge quantities of livestock we harvest, and by our destruction of global ecosystems. Any one of these issues could be held up as the culprit for the problem we face, but in reality they are all just symptoms of a greater illness.

The illness i speak of is at the very heart of our civilisation, so very central to our way of life is it, that the very rise of man would not have been possible without it. It is the bedrock of our economy, it is what makes the American dream possible. It is responsible for our spread out of Africa, and it is responsible for the colonisation of the Americas. So what is this epic leviahan that spans history and our conciousnesses? what is this creator turned destroyer?

It is the concept of infinite expansion.

Here is a series of videos that explain it better than i ever could.

Humanity evolved in the open savannas and vast forrests, this expanse is planted deep in our phsyche, it drives us to surge ever onward, expanding and advancing. And yet now we are reaching a barrier. A limit which we have never encountered before. We are reaching the limits of earth. We have run out of land to explore and colonise, we have run out of new elements and plants to fuel our rise. Most importantly we are running out of some very key resources at an astounding rate, and we are fundamentally unprepared for the moment when we do.

All our industries and economies are dependant upon growth. If a corporation is not returning an increase then it is seen as a failure, if the economy isn't growing then we are doing something wrong. We are totally fully geared toward expansion. indeed, it may well be the one thing that has kept capitalism alive this long. Because as long as there are untapped resources, then the little guy still has a chance, as long as there is the possibility of some new industry, then monopolies are stifled.

There is a set ammount of energy that reaches earth each year. There is a set ammount of water on earth. There is a set ammount of any resource your care to name, and once we've divided it all up, once its all owned or used by someone, then we are forced into a state of equilibrium.

So then the problem we face is not just a matter of producing clean energy, nor is it a matter of reducing our pollution. It is actually a matter of reforming our entire economic system, so that it becomes static and sustainable. We have to start seeing 0% overall growth as a good thing, We have to find the balance point and stay there.

But doing so is going to require and unparralled effort on our part, it means putting the brakes on everything, it could very well mean a total economic collapse. For this reason it has powerful opposition from the very highest levels, the one solution that can save us all, will disproportionately effect those of us who are best off (didn't you allways kinda know it would?), and that is why we havent heard anything about it.

The thing is, it is not a matter of wether we should do this or not. It is merely a matter of when. regardless of wether you "believe" in climate change (and really, what kind of fool ignores his thermometer out of spite?), or wether you believe it is man made, the fact remains that we are running out of resources.

Assuming we can get every last gram of every resource out of the ground, and that we dont use any more than we are now, then this is where we stand.

there is about 20-40 years of oil
there is about 100-200 years of coal
there is a maximum of 2500 years of uranium, the minimum is as low as 140 years.

And its not just fuel sources, other things are running out too.

there is about 40-80 years of un-mined Silver left.
there is about 50 years of Helium left.

It doesn't even matter if you believe the numbers, because no matter which way you twist it, within the next hundred years or so, we are going to start running out of some really important resources.

We are living in a fishbowl, and no matter where we go, your shit ends up in my drinking water.

When we peer into the future, and that is what humans do best. There are very clearly only three likely scenarios.

1. we develop cheaper space travel (perhaps an orbital elevator) and we spread out through the solar system mining and harvesting what we can
2. There is a massive natural correction in the numbers and influence of the human race. The decline of man, against our will.

3. There is a massive self imposed reduction of population and resource consumption, until we reach a sustainable equilibrium.

Right now we have a choice, but pretty soon we won't.

If we do nothing, then one way or another we end up with option 2.

If we divert a large percentage of the worlds gdp toward research and development, we might end up with option 1. This does not solve the problem, it merely delays the other two options until we have reached the limits of the solar system, or we find another way to expand.

If we manage to abandon the concept of infinite expansion, and transform into a sustainable economy, we can have option 3, and maybe option 1 as well.

This is a critical time, not just in terms of saving our own skins, it is the moment in time when we define humanity. Will we become a ceaselessly expanding race, spreading where ever there are resources, depleting them and moving on? or will we develope a measure of true conservatism, by conserving the things we have.

One thing is sure, unless we shift the debate, and actually start talking about the real cause and the real cure, then we will end up with option one. Wether we like it or not.
Total Topic Karma: 12 - More by this Author
poss says
+0 Karma
last line was meant to be option 2

and here is that video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY
- Author's History - 05 September, 2008
poss says
+0 Karma
this image sums up option 1 nicely
- Author's History - 05 September, 2008
(Guest) Gabba says
+2 Karma
You are basically right. Until our numbers and resource use are brought under control, one way or another, nothing else counts (in the long run).

But the vast majority of people do not want to hear this stuff, let alone voluntarily implement it.

Option 1 is simply not going to happen, even with a working space elevator of some kind. And, as you point out, it does not fundamentally solve the problem anyway, just delays it for a while. It is infinitely cheaper to solve the problems down here on earth.

I fear it is going to be an unpleasant version of option 2.
- Author's History - 05 September, 2008
dazelnut says
+3 Karma
I don't understand economics. I don't really understand why growth is the altar to which we bow.
Presumably in the present day it goes something like this: well if we don't expand our economy (population growth assists this) then some 'developing' country that we now exploit for the benefit of our own 'standard of living' will exploit us, and we'll be forced into sweat-shops to make those plastic toys that McDongles gives away with 'happy' meals.

Is 'growth economics' then pragmatic?
We can redefine what it means to progress - Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness index is a step forward - but we are still faced with the threat of those other looming powers.
If ye don't exploit, prepare to be exploited! < - >Similar logic that attempts to justify nuKuler weapon depositories.

I don't believe that expansion is 'natural', it is just what has proved most effective for those who expanded to the detriment of those who didn't. Presumably most communities which didn't base themselves around growth and armament were destroyed/assimilated etc.

One expands, another shrinks. As competing nations bent on growth, our competition is a form of unification. We are united!
The earth is our foe.
We may not expand, but we may shrink (#2).

I Would love to hear from an economist who can explain why these things 'must be'. I've heard many economists debunking growth economics. But what about those who support it ? I am eager to learn! I would like to hear from the 'other side'.

*oops, went off ranting/now too tired to revise!*
- Author's History - 05 September, 2008
otto9otto says
+3 Karma
As an engineer, I will now comment on economics: An economist will assert that we will most certainly find out way out of every bind mentioned above, provided there is economic incentive to do so. This may sound maddeningly irrational, given the intransigence of some issues, but history backs this claim up.

Putting my engineer hat (ain't it cute!) back on, I support the economist. Rapid progress is being made on clean energy, resource recovery (today's dumps will be tomorrow's mines). I do not believe it is far-fetched to envision harvesting helium from the moon or the solar wind. I don't know how abundant silver is on the moon - we may end up mining asteroids and Mars.

Fully embracing option #3 will only delay the inevitable. Going backwards is not progress. Technology is truly our only way out.
- Author's History - 07 September, 2008
dazelnut says
+1 Karma
Thanks for your reply otto!

Now, my thoughts on this...

I do not deny that the market will do such and such PROVIDED there is economic incentive. And fortunately there is economic incentive for clean energy etc.
Unfortunately however, there is also economic incentive to do otherwise. Double unfortunately, this incentive is what I dare to suggest as in Short-term interest. (to some extent this is true of green too)

What does the market know of ethics in order so it may choose and save us ?? Nothing. It is a tool.
It is of course up to consumers to choose. - Though I do not believe those pulling the market's strings to the extent that they can, can wipe their hands totally clean by saying "we're just giving them what they want" -

Anyhow, 'at the end of the day' it is up to us as consumers to dictate the markets direction, but this power is in many ways made impotent, especially by our (my) lack of understanding of 'growth economics' necessity, and all this talk of noble concepts such as 'progress'. Progressing is progress, going forward, backward, inside, outside are different things. What is progress?

Is it winning a war, expanding territory, visiting the moon, building the nuke, the highest GDP etc?

Hans Rosling (http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/hans_rosling.html) has a series of lectures in which he explains how the world is improving when measured through stats on the infant mortality rate, GDP, life expectancy rate etc. Much of this 'progress' can be safely attributed to technology. Good good!

At the end of the last lecture he gave with TED, he ranks the importance of 'progress' in certain fields: environment, wealth, mortality etc. His conclusion is that while many of these are important, it is culture which is most important; it is culture which makes life worth living.

I think he has a worthy point, but not just for the worth of life; it is culture(s) IMHO which has the potential to decrease the likelihood of dying at another (wo)man's hand among other things. It is also culture(s) which direct communities toward what their goals are, proclaiming them as 'progress' and thereby choosing them as market incentives.
Technology is only useful as an aid to culture.

1 ) will just delay the inevitable. I think we really oughta set about fixing our imbalances first.

PS I don't consider us doomed. And sorry if this sounds catty. Just my opinion

- Author's History - 08 September, 2008
otto9otto says
+1 Karma
Regarding market incentive, trusting consumers to "do the right (pro-ecology) thing" is bound to fail. The individual, short-term benefit is insufficient. I base this view on an influential essay by Garret Hardin entitled The Tragedy of the Commons. This is where the proper role of government lies: providing economic structure to "do the right thing" which is, of course, to take care of the commons! I do believe that, when the threat is sufficiently obvious, citizens everywhere will lobby their government accordingly, as is beginning to happen now with greenhouse gasses.

Regarding cultural progress, I would describe the above as such.
- Author's History - 08 September, 2008
dazelnut says
+1 Karma
You put it very succinctly and I agree with you too, but only depending upon the choice that the peeps make in avoiding disaster.
Do we get around it (for now) by putting a colony on mars, or do we make a progressive and fundamental CHANGE and ensure that this problem and others like it do not occur again by addressing the source(s): conflict, economic growth, infinite expansion (linking back to poss) whatever they may be?

What do others think?
- Author's History - 10 September, 2008
poss says
+0 Karma
Daze, thats what I'm saying, there aren't multiple causes. They are all just symptoms.

Personally, when ever I'm faced with problems on this scale, I jsut imagine

If I had no concience, and a huge ammount of money, and allready controlled everything, what would I do?

And strangely enough that is usually what ends up happening.

In this case, it seems to point toward option 1
- Author's History - 10 September, 2008
otto9otto says
+0 Karma
Those darn economists: A changing climate of opinion?
- Author's History - 16 September, 2008
Hrishi says
+1 Karma
well.. i think this problem is more of a psychological level that economical!! Actually nowadays, all problem end up on economics.. let them be.

If you look at the evolutionary charts, you will see that all the species except ours are evolved just for survival. but when human evolved, we had given been granted the wisdom.. the power to think beyond the limits.

And this is the major cause of the disastrous balance shift in nature. if you see life in any ecosystem, say forests, the balance is very well preserved if not intervened. But the technology helped us to overcome this balancing force and we end up on a higher level.

I think it's just a matter of time that the balance will be reset.

I think we are heading towards option 2. There is no point in avoiding or delaying it by directed efforts. We might make it worse.
- Author's History - 07 October, 2008
Hrishi says
+0 Karma
sorry for the typo's in above post!!
- Author's History - 10 October, 2008
Devon says
+0 Karma
The stable human population of the planet earth assuming the current average rate of consumption of resources is somewhere between 1 and 25 million individuals. there are close to 6.5 billion individuals on the planet earth right now. There is no cure to global warming or the depletion of resources we must reduce the population of the earth to this level (or lower to compensate for pre-occuring damages) in order to reduce our consumption of resources and the impact of society to the level at which it must be in order to further prevent damage to all four spheres of the earth. We can reduce the population by many ways.
A, removing the life from a significant amount of individuals.
B, preventing a significant amount of individuals from reproducing
C,Reduce our consumption of resources and our impact on the earth as well as employing any of the other methods A,B,D,E although the population on earth would be larger in number and a statistically more significant part of the whole. where the whole is defined as the current population of the earth.
D, transferring a significant amount of the population away from earth and onto other habitable extra global bodies.
E, a combination of any or all the above mentioned methods

In any case we must reduce the total human population significantly in order to stop the progression of the depletion of natural resources and global warming.
- Author's History - 06 August, 2009
thoughthorizon says
+0 Karma
@Devon: is there a source for the figures of stable populations based on consumption? I'm not disagreeing, just wondering where the figure comes from.

It's clear that our entire societal structure is based on the concept of infinite growth, but also on the concept of consumption being a positive thing. Our entire economic structure is based around "consumers", economics is measured in "growth" (of consumption), we're constantly told by the media to worry if this year's christmas "consumption"/expenditure is lower than expected.

The environmental problems we face from global warming are worrying, but from the perspective of the human race the rate of resource expenditure being demonstrated by our societies as they currently stand, is - as described by the OP - a serious source of concern from the perspective of simple quality of life issues.

@Otto9otto: history only supports the theory of change in the face of economic incentive when there is room for rapid expansion into a new area of consumption. Closed environments/societies bound by resources have historically not survived intact (eg. Easter Islanders).

Hoping for a silver bullet technological cure is a slippery slope: your suggestion that the economist's view that change will come when the 'market' demands it based on economic incentive is short sighted. The economics of the situation we currently face clearly outline the need for immediate and rapid research into stemming the tide of consumption of non-renewable resources, but instead we consume more.

I agree entirely with your observation that people will not "do the right thing" - this is particularly the case when the entire fabric of our culture is based around the exact opposite behaviour.

The conclusion? Tough times ahead.

The solution? I can't think of one which will result in positives all around.
- Author's History - 29 December, 2009
medicalrodent says
+0 Karma
hippies, yes yes lets chuck all progress and stick to green/crap energy that is inefficient, use those ecofriendly clown cars that run 50km/h=biking speed... no actually better yet lets just climb back up the tree and flingpoo at eachother.


- Author's History - 15 November, 2010
george says
+0 Karma
You lost me here: "Thsi is what i mean:"

- Author's History - 31 January, 2011