Global Warming: Is Capitalism the Rub or the Fix?

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[Thanks to danielsommers, joneden, and cbuxbaum for pointing us to this idea.]

hummer with capitalism plates

License plate: CPTLISM [scottfeldstein / Flickr]

Here’s a tough question that came up in a dinner conversation and echoes pitches from danielsommers, joneden, and cbuxbaum: Is it possible to achieve dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions — sufficient to save ourselves from the worst ravages of global warming — in a capitalist economy?

In other words, is constant economic growth compatible with stringent cutbacks in the petroleum-based energy that drives it? If we, as a country, need to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050, is there really a technological fix — in the form of clean, renewable energy sources — that will also allow us to continue our consumer lifestyles, that will permit companies to keep making profits? One that won’t require a serious focus on conservation/reduction and possibly a change in our economic system?

Or is the innovation encouraged by our free-market economy exactly what will save us all in the end?


  • herbert browne

    Often it’s the entropy that results from the application of a system- Any system- over time that’s the biggest hurdle to improvements… and not the system, itself. Part of the difficulty in identifying “problems” of an economically systemic nature is that so many systems are in place, simultaneously, ie we have bits of mercantilism, socialism & even feudalism all in play around the world- so it’s kind of misleading to put “capitalism” under the lens and look for flaws to tweak in favor of a more favorable environmental future. Along with the “environmental capitalism” advocates, Robert Reich is a pretty good “big picture” guy… ^..^

  • herbert browne

    ps for “environmental” (future) read “environmentally propitious”… thanks. ^..^

  • progressnerd

    I don’t think the ability for corporations to make profits should be a consideration when the fate of the planet is at stake. That said, there will be plenty of business to be had in providing the renewable energy to reduce our emission levels.

    Will it change our lifestyle? I’m not positive, but I think it will. We may find more and more of each other living in cities, as the classic American suburb becomes increasingly environmentally unsustainable.

  • herbert browne

    Re the “classic American suburb”– I assume that a lawn is involved (unlike the rows of townhouses that are showing up in the present-day developments- which are essentially “people-warehouses”). If the majority of lawns were transformed into “Victory Gardens”, our suburban culture could be part of the solution to our National Carbon Footprint. With present- day electronic communications & information structures, it makes sense to encourage rural (& even suburban) subsistence lifestyles- esp for the recently retired, and telecommuters… and the young (who can pursue suburban homesteading while getting a degree via online courses). It is a little ironic to contemplate a society that has worshiped the individually tended greensward working its way back to the practicality of the small plot of vegetables growing alongside the serf’s cottage… but there’s no reason to keep feeding, poisoning & mowing something that, when tended in a different way, will feed your family (OK- the croquet course may suffer…) ^..^

  • Potter

    Herbert Browne-We no longer have a lawn- it’s moss and clover and patches of dirt. I refuse. I compost, recycle religiously.

    There is so much to say good and bad about suburban living. Towns like the one I live in should be planning for a different future. Our library is scheduled to be relocated away from the center of town – up on a hill miles away. The center of town- a nice long walk, is being vacated. It’s all about the car, and a four wheel drive at that. We are going in the wrong direction.

    We need a lot more laws and regulations,tough ones, including continuing high gas prices.This puts a lot on our leaders who might feel more beholden to the energy industry than to the fate of this planet. There is a conflict we have to solve regarding disengaging from middle east oil and shifting to our plentiful coal which would add more green house gases. Jeff Goodell was on Fresh Air with Terri Gross yesterday and he lays it all out.

    The question is will things change fast enough and radically enough? That is why programs like this planned one are so important. We need the awareness on a regular basis. I feel ready because I am worried. I think I can live very well a lot poorer of “stuff” and go out on the road less. Many of us can commute to work less and build more of a life at home. Buildings and homes can improve as well, go for Leeds ratings which might become mandatory.

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    As background for this show, you might want to have a listen to this show on Big Ideas with William Rees, a biologist and city planner at the University of British Columbia, and the person who was co-responsible for the idea of an ecological footprint. He doesn’t mix words on how serious he thinks things are.

    Following with the Canadian theme, also listen to this episode of The Best of Ideas with Mark Jaccard. He, and I quote from the show intro, “is a professor of environmental management at Simon Fraser University and an internationally acclaimed energy economist and consultant. In this lecture he challenges the assumption that fossil fuels will be the death of us and posits that they may offer the most sustainable future for the planet.”

  • http://www.palliardmusic.com LeSwan

    Two things:

    First of all, Chris and the Open Source Gang, I think it’s time for a follow-up on “Children of the Corn Subsidies.” With the Senate having just passed the new energy bill that mandates Ethanol production to rise to 36 BILLION gallons by 2022, it’s important to talk about the real world impact of ethanol, and not just rosy talking points we’re given by politicians, lobbyists and the MSM.

    -Ethanol is just as much of a pollutant as gasoline, so when it comes to the issue of global warming, it’s simply not a solution.

    -Unless and until more efficient ways to produce ethanol are found, the fossil fuels needed to produce ethanol offset any benefits of this ‘alternative’ fuel.

    -Ethanol contains less energy than gas, which means more trips to the pump, less fuel efficieny.

    -Ethanol can’t travel by pipeline with gasoline because it picks up impurities and excess water. This means ethanol must be transported by trucks, trains, barges, all of which themselves require fuel (and give off emissions), and these are all are far more expensive means of transport than pipelines.

    -With the increase in Ethanol production we are already seeing, the result is that corn demand and corn prices are going up. The price at the pump isn’t appreciably affected, but the price of milk and eggs is on the rise, as its become more expensive to feed the animals. So increased ethanol would seem to put the squeeze on low-income families even more, not less.

    We need a realistic assessment of our energy needs and sustainable solutions. Where is the money for solar and electric research?

    Secondly, a little apropos self-promotion… I wrote a song called “You’ll Never Get to Heaven in Your Hummer” and you can find it here: http://www.myspace.com/goldenhorseranchsquaredanceband

  • cbuxbaum

    We live in one of these suburbs – Marblehead – and we are trying to live according to our principles. It is tough. I mow the lawn with a reel mower and trim the grass up against the foundation with a weed whacker instead of a string trimmer. I am not very good at it and forget that if I don’t mow frequently the reel mower will miss the tall blades of grass. Our neighbors don’t appreciate us much. Marblehead was built long ago as a walking town (we don’t live in Old Town, but the rest of the town is compact as well) and we live right on a bike path, so I try to go everywhere by bike or foot. I commute to work by bike, 5 miles, but I am fortunate. If I get laid off I will be forced to take a job on 128 or Boston. If 128, biking will be out of the question, and if Boston, I will have to figure out some complicated scheme for storing a beater bike at North Station and take the commuter rail, or look into a foilding bike, as the MBTA does not allow bikes on the trains during rush hour (defined broadly as the time any reasonable person would want to travel to work).

    Point is, nobody around us is inclined to live as we do, and we get no help to make the right choices.

    I feel like I live parallel to most of the people in my community, making circles that never intersect with those being made by the people around me.

    On another note; it occurs to me that towns or the state could encourage (incentivise) companies to rent small office space clusters in the suburbs corresponding to the geographic demographics of their employees, and so develop some compromise between a central workplace and telecommuting. So a company like John Hancock or Fidelity would place a sattelite office in Vinnin Square (Swampscott) or Salem to accomodate the 5-10 employees who commute from the North Shore, and thereby discourage the long commute and accomanying energy consumption. If done on a large scale it could revitalize the suburban town centers and greatly improve the traffic situation.

    I get the feeling however, that people like the way they are living; they like the long commutes, they like being in their cars.

  • enhabit

    the cold reality is that in the presence of unaccounted for costs such as air pollution, capitalism, which is largely driven by maximum profit, can not provide all the answers….or maybe even most of them. new paradigms must be brought to bear…and plebians must insist…greed ain’t got all the answers.

    of interest, an essay written by nobel laureat Muhammad Yunus on new free market models and social responsibility.

    http://www.grameen-info.org/bank/socialbusinessentrepreneurs.htm

    people like Yunus, Schweizer, Mother Teresa and others have been noted for their happiness..yes happiness. their souls have been fed by their work, imagine that..and without ever owning a yacht.

  • Greta

    cbuxbaum: why is a weed whacker better than a string trimmer?

  • cbuxbaum

    Greta: not motorized, no noise, doesn’t leave disintegrated pieces of polyethelene in the soil

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    Is it possible to achieve dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions — sufficient to save ourselves from the worst ravages of global warming — in a capitalist economy?

    As opposed to what alternative?

    Contrast two systems and pollution. Soviet Russia brought the earth some seriously polluted locations – places that are uninhabitable to this day. Cherynoybl, sure. But also dumps of toxins, entire industrial cites that are septic zone. Capitalistic America has pollution problems, agreed. But we’re miles and miles better than we used to be; when was the last time one of our rivers caught on fire?

    We’ll always have problems and no solution is perfect but capitalism will serve us better than any other system we can come up with.

    cbuxbaum

    On another note; it occurs to me that towns or the state could encourage (incentivise) companies to rent small office space clusters in the suburbs corresponding to the geographic demographics of their employees, and so develop some compromise between a central workplace and telecommuting

    That sounds good but it doesn’t correspond to work as most companies practice it – or at least as I have experienced it. I work with a group of 20 people. we’re from all over the place. I could office in the local strip mall (or upstairs in their business block) with the five people that live closest but I don’t work with them. I actually get a great deal done socializing with my work mates, chance meetings in the hall, chit-chat in the break room.

    That’s the crew in the office. This would fail completely for a manufacturing operation (which my day job is) and the guys in the floor need access to the office crew and visa versa.

  • cbuxbaum

    Brian,

    Certainly it would not work for a manufacturing plant. However, I disagree with the notion that a number of people from different departments could not be pooled together successfully for the sake of saving commuting time and gas. After all, some are suggesting that we all telecommute; that hardly seems viable to me, and also completely disregards the social value of work, but I think something in between could be done. I know it doesn’t correspond to work as most companies practice it but a good idea changes paradigms within an acceptable context, and I think what I have proposed does just that.

  • plnelson

    In other words, is constant economic growth compatible with stringent cutbacks in the petroleum-based energy that drives it?

    At least this questions implicitly acknowledges that capitalism produces economic growth.

    It’s certainly true that if the Chinese were all starving peasants like they were under communism then they’d be making a lot less global warming. Ditto, if all the eastern Europeans still lived in the gray lifeless economies of the Warsaw Pact. And if the Indians were not streaming by their 10′s of millions annually into the middle class to buy cars and computers and cell phones then they wouldn’t be doing their part to make CO2. A chicken in every pot requires burning fuel to cook it; If you ar too ppor to buy a car or a house you’ll have a smaller environmental footprint.

    So the alternatives to capitalism – and would someone please remind us what they are and where we can see some working examples? – will they start promoting their virtues that they keep people poor so they don’t produce so much global warming? At least that would be truth in advertising.

  • rc21

    It amuses me how so many people who work for or post on Open Source love to blame capitalism for almost every problem that exists in todays world. In the end it will be capitalism and the private market that solves this problem, just as it has solved almost every other problem that has come our way.

  • plnelson

    On another note; it occurs to me that towns or the state could encourage (incentivise) companies to rent small office space clusters in the suburbs corresponding to the geographic demographics of their employees,

    There are relatively few large businesses where work could be broken down that way. I’m a design engineer and, of the other engineers and scientist I have to interact with regularly, NONE of them come from my town even though I only live 20 minutes away. And as projects changes the configurations of who has to work with whom keeps shifting.

    I do think that telecommuting has some possibilites but the technology to do, at least, what I do isn’t there yet.

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    cbuxbaum

    However, I disagree with the notion that a number of people from different departments could not be pooled together successfully for the sake of saving commuting time and gas

    That it would do, no doubt. Until you have to spend time driving in for a staff meeting or for a f2f. But never mind that ..

    It would take some pretty good incentives to make me (putting on my ‘wanna be a business guy’ hat) do this for my company. Not that I have a compulsion to gather all of my people into tidy rows! But it’s more that I’ve seen the value of having people work in the same area. There is also the increase rent costs, facilities costs (more roofs will cost more money than a few large roofs), costs for IT.

    The last is something I actually know a little about – it’s expensive to haul data around in sufficient bandwidth to a hundred small offices, and a great big headache for the network guys, and requires some infrastructure changes to handle (say) a hundred locations accessing a central ERP data store.

    Could the government incentives for all that? Maybe. Might be worth the headache in exchange for (say) setting aside tax collection for a decade. But then we’d hear about corporate welfare …

  • plnelson

    I get the feeling however, that people like the way they are living; they like the long commutes, they like being in their cars.

    I don’t know if they like LONG commutes but I have a 20 minute commute and I enjoy transition it provides betewen the hectic stress or work and the domestic tranquility of home. I can listen to music, reflect on my day, etc, It’s like passing through a psychological airlock.

    Also, I hardly ever go straight home -n I almost always do errands or go to evening activities, clubsm classes, etc, on the way home. So I probably wouldn’t do much less driving if my house was a 5 minute walk from my work.

  • enhabit

    is the free market doing such a great job on conservation rc21?

    recognizing the urgency?

    needs a nudge i think.

  • plnelson

    That sounds good but it doesn’t correspond to work as most companies practice it –

    I agree. Much work these days is highly collaborative and telephobne and video commuting is currently a very poor substitute for face-to-face collaboration. Both my wife and I work for successful high tech companies in diverse teams with people from marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and other functions. Typically these teams form and last for the duration of a project, and then new project teams form needing different skills and people.

  • sana

    Maybe capitalism will be the cure, in the end.

    But in the meantime, what incentives are there for markets to restrain themselves from harming others through pollution?

    Per our current accounting methods, some costs of pollution, such as the cost of treating people who have become ill, don’t hit the polluter’s bottom line.

    Are there market incentives for polluters to identify the harm to employees or the communities around them? I think that we need to know what harm they are causing. Who will find out for us and tell us?

    Let me know if there is a way we can trust markets to identify the polluters and make them fix it.

    It seems to me there is a serious conflict of interest between markets and the common good. For example, markets are motivated to find a cure for cancer. But it would be against the self-interest of the health-care industry to prevent cancer. We have to first understand this, then fix it.

  • rc21

    enhabit, Yes I agree a nudge is fine a govt mandate is wrong. It will lead to higher taxes, higher prices,an increase in govt bureaucracy, and as usual will hurt the poor the most.

  • plnelson

    But in the meantime, what incentives are there for markets to restrain themselves from harming others through pollution?

    For “markets” to restrain themselves?

    What do you imagine a market is? You and I are the market! A few days ago I visited the Wrentham Premium Outlets mall in Wrentham Mass. 170 stores. I think it’s the biggest mall I’ve ever been to. I couldn’t believe how much STUFF people were buying there. What do they do with it all? Where do they put it? That’s the stuff that keeps the Chinese economy going. And THAT is the “market”.

    So for “the market” to exercise restraint ordinary consumers have to decide they don’t need another set of deck furniture, a new LCD TV, a new camcorder (I just bought my first one!) , another pair of shoes, a Sleep Number mattress, an HD radio, an 80G ipod, or a body of body wash in a scent they haven’t tried yet or a new pair of pants to wear on the Prairie Home Companion cruise to Norway.

  • Ben

    Is there an option other than making capitalism function according to our needs beyond the failure to harness something of our own creation?

    Most of our major current problems with large scale pollutants and their attendant industries (jobs that are always not to be sacrificed to the need for cleaning themselves up,) have had their beginnings in no small part with large government led initiatives that make them possible in the first place. These huge initiatives paved the way for economies to flourish in their wake. Despite our lauded ‘rugged individualism,’ anyone in the western states is familiar with what a desert most of the west was before Hoover and Roosevelt. The money followed the push and created the markets and jobs of one of the most powerful economic engines in the world. It didn’t happen in an entrepreneurial big bang, it’s been one long high stakes, fat funded, competitive technological push for decades.

    Think of it. For better or for worse, (often both simultaneously) Eisenhower’s National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 built a nation of economies that didn’t exist at all when it was enacted and it was 90% funded by federal sources for more than 35 years. There’s no reason something as significant as that can’t happen again under the right leadership. Mitigating Global Climate Change (along with a host of other environmental disorders) can be done best through incentives and encouraging new business patterns, but not without some unwelcome regulations and a lot of courage.

  • http://www.exquisitesafaris.com/index.php/journal/more/philanthropic_travel/ philanthropictravel

    Global Warming: Hot Air?

    The Sky is Falling!

    Question Authority: Think for yourself…

    Where is the balance in this issue?

    Counterpoints:

    Francis Sullivan, a carbon offset expert who led attempts by banking group HSBC to neutralise its emissions, said: “There will be individuals and companies out there who think they’re doing the right thing but they’re not. I am sure that people are buying offsets in this unregulated market that are not credible. I am sure there are people buying nothing more than hot air.”

    http://www.exquisitesafaris.com/index.php/journal/more/carbon_offsetting_eco_travel/

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Capitalism thrives by devaluing nature, not replenishing what it takes in the form of natural resources. Capitalism devalues humanity by always seeking the cheapest labor. Capitalism creates wealth and power for the few but is unsustainable in the long run and is unjust by its very nature.

    here are quotes from: Revolutionary Ecology: Biocentrism and Deep Ecology by Judi Bari

    http://www.judibari.org/revolutionary-ecology.html

    “capitalism conflicts with biocentrism around the very concept of profit. Profit consists of taking out more than you put in. This is certainly contrary to the fertility cycles of nature, which depend on a balance of give and take.”

    “If human production and consumption is done within the natural limits of the earth’s fertility, then the supply is indeed endless. But this cannot happen under capitalism, because the capitalist class exists by extracting profit not only from the workers, but also from the earth.”

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    and from Edward Abbey…

    “The industrial corporation is the natural enemy of nature.”

    “Capitalism: Nothing so mean could be right. Greed is the ugliest of capital sins.”

  • rc21

    If it was not for capitalism we would all still be living in caves with a life expectancy of around 30 years.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Caves indeed! The artistic achievement of the famous caves at Cavet and Lascaux serve to illustrate that humanity reached its pinnacle in caves. Agriculture was the big mistake that got us kicked out of paradise and led to the evils of walled cities, war, pestilence, disease, slavery, corruption, empire, colonialism and yes, capitalism. Maybe we died a little younger but it wasn’t slow ugly death from cancer or leukemia it was from Sabertooth Tiger bites and the like roaming as we did for so many centuries in small egalitarian bands. Most likely we roamed as seasonal nomads with our tee-pee, wikiup or ger. Once we were equestrians, artisans, hunters, storytellers and shaman. Today we are sales clerks, fry cooks, cable guys, shoe-shine boys, sweat shop laborers, a few radio personalities and capitalist devil slave masters. We are bad science fiction coming true and we are killing our planet. The capitalist devil slave masters are so blinded by greed they can’t even stop being greedy to save their own lives.

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    The artistic achievement of the famous caves at Cavet and Lascaux serve to illustrate that humanity reached its pinnacle in caves.

    Sarcasm, right Peggysue?

  • http://www.citytowninfo.com avecfrites

    One of the classic examples of market failure is the “tragedy of the commons”. An example is that if everyone shares the same grazing pasture, it will be overgrazed and fail to work. The fix for this is private ownership, where everyone manages their own grazing pasture.

    But what is the equivalent for our shared atmosphere? We can’t divide up the air and let people live inside their own airspace. Since the tragedy of the commons clearly applies here, but we can’t use private ownership to solve the problem, we need to augment pure laissez-faire capitalism a different way. And that way seems to require government regulation. Otherwise, what is the logic whereby a polluting factory cleans up its act?

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Brian,

    Actually, I don’t think, (and I have a very strong background in art history), any finer art has ever been produced that the art in those caves.

    avecfrites,

    Maybe private ownership may be the problem. Private ownership means some will have and some won’t. You point out that we all breath the same air. We do need to collectivly regulate it so that we can all breath more easily.

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    Otherwise, what is the logic whereby a polluting factory cleans up its act?

    This comes up with a project I’m involved with.

    An answer is: enlightened self-interest. The guys running the factory have to live on the same planet as the rest of y’all. A prudent manager would see that dumping waste into the environment is fouling his own nest.

    But this argues that the manager have things like ‘morals’ and ‘integrity’. You can’t count on ‘em, and as a society we seem determined not to teach qualities like that.

    The best answer is that the government (you know, by the people, of the people) is an interested party and imposes prudent and reasonable regulations.

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    Actually, I don’t think, (and I have a very strong background in art history), any finer art has ever been produced that the art in those caves.

    Art appreciation I’ll leave alone.

    I was speaking of the rest of your post

    Agriculture was the big mistake that got us kicked out of paradise and led to the evils of walled cities, war, pestilence, disease, slavery, corruption, empire, colonialism and yes, capitalism.

    Sarcasm?

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Brian,

    Just re-read my post above… no, I am not being sarcastic (I know it can be hard to tell in email). I am completely serious.

  • http://www.citytowninfo.com avecfrites

    Brian:

    It’s worse than a lack of morals and integrity. Even if managers of a publicly held company wanted to reduce profits in order to reduce emissions, the shareholders wouldn’t let them. Company officials are obligated to maximize shareholder value (the stock price); anything else is considered a breach of fiduciary duty. Publicly held companies exist only to produce financial returns; they are like robots programmed to do only one thing. Only if they could justify reducing profits in the name of public relations, in a way that would increase profits later, could they do any social work. It is the single-focussed nature of public companies that makes regulation important.

  • rc21

    Peggysue, Agriculture was a big mistake. Right. If we had not learned to farm and just stuck to hunting as a way to feed ourselves you would be complaining about our mistreatment of the animal world.

  • plnelson

    Since the tragedy of the commons clearly applies here, but we can’t use private ownership to solve the problem, we need to augment pure laissez-faire capitalism a different way. And that way seems to require government regulation.

    The Economist magazine recently had an article about this. Th Economist tends to be a fairly conservative magazine so it was interesting that they came to the conclusion that carbon-trading doesn’t work, at least not very well, so they advocated a CO2 tax.

    Of course the problem with a CO2 tax is that it can only be imposed by governments. So if the US government imposes a CO2 tax then the CO2 production simply gets moved to China, and, as you say, we share a common atmosphere.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    rc21: The folks who lived in my neighborhood in pre-agriculture days had a saying, “When the tide is out the table is set”. These days we have to be careful about eating seafood because of all the mercury in it but in the old days Salmon was plentiful and I would have loved it then as much as I do now.

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    Peggysue,

    I would have loved it then as much as I do now.

    I’m not going to hazard your age from your picture – I’ve learned that much in forty years if not much more – but the odds are pretty good you wouldn’t be alive to enjoy salmon if you are much over forty.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Brian,

    I’m 55 so you are correct I may not still be alive but if I were, which could be possible, I’d be eating those nice soft salmon cheeks that I wouldn’t need all of my teeth to chew.

    This seems to be drifting away from discussion of Capitalism/Global warming and I am cheating a bit because the Pacific Northwest was such a rich environment that the tribal societies here were a rare exception economically. They were non-agricultural people who created complex statified societies. But they were no capitalists. They had such wealth they established potlatches, huge feasts where they gave everything away. Potlatches were an institutionalized way to redistribute wealth.

    Capitalism has no interest in redistributing wealth. The only way to maintain continual profits is to keep getting something for nothing without giving anything back. That is why capitalists will keep clear cutting forests and guzzeling gas until Mother Nature stomps down hard.

  • armadillo

    Realistically, to what degree is increased regulation possible given the U.S. mindset? To what extent would such regulation hamper the economy, and hamper innovation in turn? How do we slice the research/regulation pie?

    Boring questions, of course…best answered by folks with a background in math, statistics, and economics. It’s more fun to debate whether capitalism is inherently at odds with environmental concerns, or whether cavemen were happier than paper pushers.

  • plnelson

    Boring questions, of course…best answered by folks with a background in math, statistics, and economics. It’s more fun to debate whether capitalism is inherently at odds with environmental concerns, or whether cavemen were happier than paper pushers.

    This is the big problem with our democracy. (and with places like ROS) . . .

    We live in a complex world where it is not possible to make good decisions without an understanding of math, statistics and economics. (not to mention history, geography, science, etc). As citizens in a democracy we have a positive obligation to be well-educated. It is literally UNPATRIOTIC to be ignorant or intellectually lazy.

    If we love our children we have an obligation to take good care of them, and this includes being INFORMED. If we love our children we make sure they have a healthy diet, they have the appropriate vaccinations, we make sure we know what they’re studying in school, how well they’re doing, who their friends are, etc. Ignorant parents are not very good parents. So if we love our country the same principles apply – ignorance is no excuse because we have an obligation not to be ignorant.

  • 1st/14th

    Maybe we died a little younger but it wasn’t slow ugly death from cancer or leukemia it was from Sabertooth Tiger bites and the like roaming as we did for so many centuries in small egalitarian bands.

    Onward to year zero comrades! Actually, death from such wonderful “ye olden timey” ailments like cholera, rickets, vitamin deficiencies, pneumonia, sepsis, lingering internal injuries, child birth are/were excruciatingly painful and malnutrition deaths take a long time. And its not a question of “maybe” prehistoric man died younger, we did, there is not question about it. Average life expectancies (if one was able to make it past the age of 6) was probably around 30-35 years.

    Private ownership of resources is an excellent option for conservation. Every year I go bowhunting in one of Georgia Pacific’s private forests in Alabama. It’s a very well managed and sustainable operation.

    Put simply, technology is the cause of and solution to all of mankind’s problems (technical problems that is). Technology is created by incentive, and capitalism provides the greatest incentive by playing on our innate greed.

  • Ben

    Math and most higher thinking wouldn’t exist without agricultural surplus and vice versa. Peggysue is on to something that reaches a little further than merely championing marxist cave dwelling bloggers. I think she may be speaking to something that hasn’t been discussed much for at least a generation, and it is the abundant natural wealth of this continent and its ability to sustain not only its residents but those overseas as well. Those amber waves of grain above the fruited plain and all that.

    What do we need that is not available at our doorstep through managing our own resources well? Isn’t this the heart of the issue? Why is it so difficult to make it work? Maybe it is difficult because a very few want so much more than total abundance that they have to exert control even over third world markets. Or in the words of William Burroughs: “control needs control like a junkie needs junk.” Neither capitalism or socialism, or any other -ism I have a name for addresses this gross overreach. Yet the polis are supposed to buy into the idea as a showing of national patriotism, imitate it, and engage in an endeavor to make the rest of the world adopt the same model because of it’s ‘superiority’. This is turning out to be a short sided and scary aim. Capitalism doesn’t inherently lead to enfranchisement more or less than socialism definitely leads to equal benefit. What’s the -ism that applies to the current situation? I’m not sure it’s isolated to economic descriptions.

  • armadillo

    Ben, one “ism” that should be considered is “blank-slatism”. It’s the sort of unquestioned belief that says that a little bit more grade school indoctrination is all we need to coax the next generation away from their desires for status and a high standard of living (read, “reproductive opportunity”) for their descendants.

  • cpaynter

    I would generally say that capitalism could well be an appropriate system for solving the climate change dilemma. However, the current American derived model of global capitalism, and its companion of large bureaucratic government, seems wholly inappropriate to solve the problems of global warming.

    The weakness of the current capitalist model is that every corporation, in its attempt to maximize market efficiency, internalizes profits, and whenever possible, externalizes the negatives. The appropriate model would require that the negative externalities of a product be reflected in its price. Like say reaching 1000 ppm concentrations of CO2 and the risk of future human extinction. With the proper market signals, people would buy less of goods and services that contribute to the problem in favor of better net-zero CO2 alternatives.

    The problem as I see it is not one of capitalism vs something else, or regulation vs laissez-faire markets. It’s one of bureaucracy and paralysis, both in the market driven corporate structure and in government. We seem to have lost the concept that markets should be designed to serve people, not that people should serve the marketplace’s desire to forever increase profit to corporate boards and shareholders. Corporate lobbies use the federal bureaucracy to protect their current line of market products. A functional capitalist system would result in radically innovative products, and may in the process replace many of the 20th century corporations with the best of the new innovating companies.

    There seems to be a lack in the marketplace of ideas and products to stimulate ingenuity and inspiration for people (aka consumers) to look at new ways of solving problems on the demand side. There still seems to be both a lack of new products and a lack of marketing to grow demand for those new ideas that do actually get to market.

    Proportional transportation, (to coin a phrase), is a good example. We seldom need a full-sized 3000-6000 lb vehicle to make a day’s commute, or a trip across town. Here’s a guy in Maui who has an electric assist bike with far better than 20 mile range and at upwards of 40 mph.

    Electric Bike riding 20 miles…

    It’s an example of how battery technology (lithium polymer) has dramatically improved in recent years with light weight with high energy density. It could today provide a zero-carbon alternative. And already does for some of us. I get 20 miles per charge on my e-bike with a NiMH battery pack with about half the total energy capacity of his lithium pack. Each 20 mile trip costs me a fraction of a penny. (I wish local governments would start building better pathways to accomodate ebikes and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs), but that’s another subject.)

    There should be a whole variety of different sized electric powered vehicles on the market by now. Lightweight carbon fiber bodies would make for longer range midsized (and larger) electric powered vehicles. And the electric vehicle of all sizes are around 90% efficient using current technology. Compare that with the best that 100 years of internal combustion advances have acheived, with at most 35% efficient gasoline engines. And that’s the gas vehicle effiency after you get the oil extracted, transported, refined, and into the gas tank. Ethanol fuels will only reduce CO2 by an additional 3%, so I see that as a way to keep people wanting old technology, still filling their gas tank at the corporate owned gas/ethanol station with mostly imported fuel, and of maintaining current market profitability of both the vehicle manufacturer and the fuel provider.

    If we were to pair electric powered vehicle technology with the expansion of renewable energy and modernizing the electric grid, the transportation contribution of CO2 could be drastically reduced fairly quickly. But people would have to think differently, and be given new and better ideas about how their lifestyles could change for the better. If you reduced your annual transportation costs by $10-15k, you could work that many fewer hours. That’s increasing market efficiency, right? Doing more with less. Less consumption, higher quality of life, more leisure. In the end, life isn’t an economic equation. It’s about how much we enjoy living.

    The usual corporate markets and government mandates seem to be moving us in directions that make little sense to me. They will make large profits for someone but I question the intent if the end result is to combat global climate change.

  • armadillo

    I’m no expert, but…electric power and ethanol production both rely primarily on some way of creating heat. Assuming that heat comes from coal, electric vehicles don’t offer a radically reduced greenhouse footprint (particularly if you include manufacturing and disposal in your analysis).

    If you assume hydroelectric, solar, or wind-generated electricity, then electric vehicles are obviously superior to gas-burning vehicles. But the same logic applies to ethanol production if we heat the corn-mash with alternative fuels.

    If and when cellulosic ethanol can be efficiently produced, some of the assumptions go out the window. In the end, I’m pro-anything that reduces our dependence on oil, which has a weird habit of lying under the soils of repressive regimes.

  • plnelson

    Proportional transportation, (to coin a phrase), is a good example. We seldom need a full-sized 3000-6000 lb vehicle to make a day’s commute, or a trip across town. Here’s a guy in Maui who has an electric assist bike with far better than 20 mile range and at upwards of 40 mph.

    I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to keep a whole corral of specialty vehicles in gigantic oversized garages – this one for a shopping trip across town, this one for the morning commute, this one for the family vacation, etc. Furthermore, the minimum I would accept in a vehicle that I would take on the road is a something with “5 star” crash rating, keeping in mind that most accidents happen close to home.

    The main problem with using market forces to address global warming is this: If we do NOTHING to address global warming then in 30 years the climate in Massachusetts, where I live, will probably resemble that if Northern New Jersey. In other words, the economic cost to me will be trivial – slightly higher AC bills, a few more cans of DEET for the longer mosquito/tick season, etc. And even this will be compensated-for by lower heating bills.

    In other words, at the level of the individual American consumer, in many cases, the economic cost of global warming is tiny compared to the costs he will experience in any serious effort to mitigate it. But we value living in a (politically and economically) free society. So if we leave it up to free choice it’s just not clear that the intrinsic and rational set of economic incentives would priduce significant behavioral changes.

  • cpaynter

    I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to keep a whole corral of specialty vehicles in gigantic oversized garages

    It’s also not realistic to expect the largest vehicle required, designed to pull the boat 3 weekends a year, to also fit the daily commuting needs. You will never get to 80% CO2 reductions without reducing the tonnage of rolling metal in the daily commute, especially if it has a 35% efficient engine. It’s an equation of pure physics.

    The average vehicles per American household must be at least two vehicles in each garage. And most also have one or more bicycles hanging on the garage wall in addition to the vehicle(s). It’s a big diverse marketplace, so there are many different combinations of vehicle ownership, mass transit, etc. that will fit various personal choices. It should be an issue of making alternative choices available, making people aware of them, and then allowing the individual to upgrade a current vehicle for a more intelligent choice.

    the minimum I would accept in a vehicle that I would take on the road is a something with “5 star” crash rating…

    I don’t accept the premise that an efficient lightweight carbon fiber vehicle is inherently unsafe. A Grand Prix class racing vehicle can go into a cement barrier at 200 mph and the driver gets out and walks away with maybe a mild concussion. Suspending the cockpit (or passenger compartment), using crush zones of foams is a cheap and very effective design solution.

    Most people feel safer in a large SUV. Many of the ads emphasize security to entice people into buying them. But statistics show that your chances of being injured are several times higher because they are terrible at accident avoidance and are very good at rolling over when they leave the roadway. So there are also issues of perception versus reality that should be considered in this discussion.

    There will be resistance to any kind of change. I know first hand from participating with local government that it is a contentious issue as new methods of transportation clash with the conventional ‘big vehicle’ roadway, the striped bike lane and the pedestrian sidewalk. Every group expects that they own their allotted right-of-way. So when a Segway rolls past people out for a walk, they complain that they are unsafe. When an e-bike rider passes cyclists churning the pedals uphill, there’s another conflict of who owns the bike lane. And if you impede the open roadway of a driver in a full sized vehicle, they often let you know that they own that portion of the roadway. So we should expect some redesign of our road infrastructure for new and varied uses.

    The interesting thing is that the usual anti-government, anti-taxes constituency should be some of the strongest advocates of these newer, lighter forms of transportation. The most expensive piece of the infrastructure is the construction and maintenance of concrete and asphalt roadways to support today’s heaviest vehicles. The initial cost and ongoing maintenance of today’s mixed use bicycle paths is a very small fraction of cost compared to a conventional roadway. Lighter vehicles means lower costs, and lower taxes.

    I’m not suggesting it will be an easy transition, just that it’s technologically feasible, even with current technology. It’s economically feasible. Whether people will ever become informed about alternatives is a good question. (How many commercials have you seen for an e-bike or a Segway or a full sized electric vehicle in the past 5 years? I’m sure it is fewer than the number of big truck and SUV commercials you saw if you watched an hour of television yesterday. And why is that so?)

    I don’t recall the source but someone made the comment that the transition to efficient electric powered transportation is more likely to emerge from the high tech industry. The computer industry completely transforms every component every few years. The idea of a major innovation in the auto industry is adding bigger cup holders.

    Tesla Motors is one of those new innovating companies. In a good capitalist strategy, they are first targeting the highest profit, low production segment of the car market. But they have plans to scale up production, reduce costs, and provide more options to the masses.

  • http://www.treebankinginc.com TreeBanker

    It’s obvious that capitalism and the industrial revolution are major contributors to the increase in greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.

    It’s also obvious to me that capitalism is the only force that can pull us out of this problem.

    Waiting for the government to institute regulations on something as intangible as gasses in the atmosphere isn’t an option.

    While our “leaders” argue about whether or not there even are any gases in the atmosphere, industry giants are already taking steps to position themselves to survive and thrive in an unknown future.

    Recently a new breed of socially conscious entrepreneurs has emerged on the scene. They stradle the line between for-profit and non-profit business.

    I believe these business people will lead the way to the solutions we collectively seek.

    Yes capitalism contributed to many of the problems we’re struggling with today but capitalism is also the our best chance for the innovation we need to correct those problems.

  • enhabit

    did capitalism land us on the moon?

    well it sort of did.

    a little gov’t coordination can help sometimes.

  • Potter

    I caught bits of “Live Earth” last night in my Walkman earplug and then rushing to an old black and white TV with rabbit ears we have ( so we don’t have to see blood and flames in the news). I did not see it on a wide screen with full blast surround sound.

    Still it was a lot of noise to my ears. There were plenty of flashing lights.

    Electricity. Some performer absolved himself, said he now powers on biofuel. And some in the audience said they got there by carpooling.

    Al Gore came out. Speaking of lights- he’s one. Everything he said and asked us to do, to pledge, was right and I am convinced urgent. One of the pledges was to urge that no new coal plants before we can capture it’s GHG’s

    Back to the noise, interrupted with at least one SUV commercial ( not kidding).

    Why didn’t they go completely acoustic with a few mikes? Why didn’t they go mostly dark with a few lights? Why didn’t they forbid SUV commericials?

    Critics say that Live Earth lacks achievable goals, and that jet-setting rock stars whose amplifier stacks chew through power may send mixed messages about energy conservation. On her tour last year, Madonna produced an estimated 485 tons of carbon dioxide in four months, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.

    Neil Finn, the singer-guitarist who penned the band’s 1987 breakthrough “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” said Saturday’s event drew a line in the sand for rock concerts: from now on, offsetting the carbon emissions caused by powering big shows must be factored into the cost of putting them on.

    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/07/07/arts/NA-A-E-MUS-Live-Earth.php

    ABCnews reports:

    Skeptics had worried that organizing such a massive production in nine venues spanning seven continents would leave a carbon footprint more lasting than the ecological message itself. But by mid-afternoon, the Giants Stadium parking lot in New Jersey was surprisingly clean, give or take a floating napkin or two.

    (That clean parking lot reassured me.)

  • rc21

    Nothing in New Jersey could ever be described as suprisingly clean.

  • http://pawtucketri.blogspot.com Frymaster

    rc21 – You know not of what you speak. I surfed Sandy Hook, and it was, in fact, clean. I was surprised.

    Also, I disagree with your monolithic view of capitalism. I really think the world is more complicated than your posts suggest.

    Some things humans do have great positive consequences for humanity. Some things humans do have disastrous consequences for humanity. Capitalism can do good and bad; socialism can do good and bad.

    And if you think that socialism and competitive economies can’t mix, you should ask some Finns, Swiss, Danes, Swedes, Germans. Pretty much every country but the US on this list compiled by the noted Pinkos at the World Economic Forum has high levels of what the CIA World Factbook used to call “social services” but now calls “welfare benefits.” I think the Vice President edits when he can’t sleep.

    Read carefully the CIA WF’s entry on Norway’s economy. Their oil production has already peaked, and they’re taking an intelligent, measured approach to transition to their next economic engine. Germany guaranteed artificially inflated electricity prices to incentivize existing, low-yield photovoltaic technology. Economic disaster? Not according to the DAX which bested the FTSE over the past 12 months thanks to Germany’s outrageous growth in exports.

    This is not madness. It’s not Chairman Mao coming to take away your Hummer. It’s well managed markets. Well managed.

    That’s all.

    Mass pollution occurs not because of economic theory, but because of industrial practices designed at a time when sustainability was not an issue. Now it is an issue. You can’t just make whatever waste you want and toss it out back. Would you suggest an unregulated market in nuclear waste?

  • http://pawtucketri.blogspot.com Frymaster

    plnelson,

    I think the costs of global warming on people like you and me will be a little more than a can of bug spray. And it’s not just tree-huggers who would agree with me. An exec at the EPA told me that Swiss:Re, the largest re-insurer in the world, has been all over him about GIS info related to non-porous surfaces, aka, impervious surfaces.

    Why? Money.

    Small rises in ocean temperatures mean larger and more frequent coastal storms. Enormous expansion of non-porous surfaces (big box/parking lot) over the last 20 years puts more rain into river systems than ever before. The same rain storm that did not flood 25 years ago may flood now. Except the storms won’t be the same. They’ll be bigger, more productive, and more frequent.

    Even if you don’t live near a river or the ocean, your home insurance rates are going to go up and up and up for the foreseeable future. That how shared risk works. And if you do live near a river or the ocean: SELL.

    The fact is that big institutions, mostly in Europe, are taking the lead in demanding environmental changes because these changes make business sense.

    American leadership, where are you?

  • http://vclosets.com mr. closets

    I believe the real issue underlying global warming and most other environmental degradation is overpopulation. There are simply too many people. You won’t hear that argument discussed in the USA because population growth is closely related to economic growth, and nobody want to go there. Do we really need multiple billions of humans to insure the survival of our species. At what point do admit that we have stretched our infrastructure and resources to the limit. No to mention the adverse impact our overpopulation has had on decline of other species. mr. closets

  • http://pawtucketri.blogspot.com Frymaster

    I think Gandhi put it best, Mr. C. “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

  • enhabit

    the population issue is a show in itself mr. closets.

    consider that the world population was:

    1 billion at the start of the 19th century

    3 billion at my birth in 1959

    6 billion plus today

    and consider that in the last 8000 years we have removed fully half of the world’s forests….that’s just one environmental detail

    a quote from our own EPA:

    “Rapid population growth, unprecedented rates of urbanization, and the proliferation of megacities with population exceeding 10 million will challenge the management capabilities of many developing nations. Growth will put enormous pressures on water supplies, agricultural soils, forests, and other renewable resources. While the average age of populations in the Third World is falling, longer life spans in much of the Western industrialized world is leading to an aging population with increased pressures on natural resources……

    If billions more people try to move toward U.S. per capita rates of fossil fuel consumption, resource use, and waste generation, it would be environmentally disastrous and fundamentally unsustainable. As a result, the United States has a special responsibility to help to create a new model for development — one with minimal environmental impacts. As a world leader and the largest consumer of the world’s resources, the United States has the capacity and responsibility to help other nations protect their environment. Pioneering new approaches to sustainable development and sharing new environment technology may well be our greatest contributions toward the future.”

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency

    Source: The Environmental Future: Emerging Challenges and Opportunites for the EPA, January 2002

    hmmm….we have seen widespread extinction over smaller changes

    thanx for the e-mail ROS but why so late? i’ve missed a lot.

  • Phil Henshaw

    Well, I guess I’m a couple months late in picking up on the thread. The consensus seems to be that the creativity of “capitalism” will be needed and will work if government “imposes prudent and reasonable regulations”. At present though, there’s no discussion of how to regulate some of the bigger problems, like the basic conflict between the economy’s need to multiply both its size and speed of change and somehow not overwhelm our ability to invent solutions fast enough and discover means of regulation that remain effective.

    Several people have brought up the question of whether profit is legitimate. I see it as the result of the whole of a business operation producing more than the sum of it’s parts. That’s the identifying feature of emergent natural systems, and I think not a bad thing in itself. The problem comes in when using the profits to multiply investments automatically. It’s the ‘automatically’ part that is really the clincher. It means “figure out how to make people continually double their consumption every 20 years, no matter what”. Saying it with more or less of an edge, or positive or negative spin, doesn’t alter the basic dilemma, that this is what we do.

    The climate models suggest we need to cut CO2 80% in 40 years. That basically means cutting the economy’s use of fossil fuels for everything we do to 1/5. The catch is that the economies will be expected to double twice in the same period, every 20 years. That means in 40 years the economies will be 4 times as big and to reduce the total CO2 we will then need to have reduced our CO2 use for what we now do to 1/20….and then keep cutting that in half every 20 years.

    In the same way that the problem with profits is not the creativity of business but expecting to automatically multiply it, the problem with using efficiency to reduce CO2 is that improving the efficiency of things gets harder and harder over time, not easier and easier. If cutting waste in half every 20 years was that profitable we’d have been doing it. There’s always been strong economic pressure and interest in reducing waste, but the data shows that improving efficiency is itself in long term decline. If we’re just going to transfer the impacts to something else, that’s not accomplishing anything either.

    The economists when confronting these problems talk about ‘decoupling’, an expectation that continual multiplication of wealth and consumption will become detached from the use of resources and their impacts when that becomes necessary. It’s the necessary solution and so the models now show that we adopt it. Thus…, apparently, there are aspects of capitalism that are very creative and parts that express magical thinking that is a direct threat to the stability of the earth’s ecologies… We just need to figure out which is which.

    What will happen, just following the logic of it, is that as this becomes more and more evident the ideas of what regulation is ‘prudent and reasonable’ will change. I prefer looking to natural systems to understand how they manage to stabilize growth systems that remain vigorous and healthy. That’s presently not part of the plan though. The basic principle of steering that it takes the least effort to start turns early, and leads to loosing control to start turns too late seems to apply here I think.

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  • joel

    Various aspects of climate change, “global warming,” environmental degradation, etc. have been referred to as “causes” of many of society’s problems when, in reality, they are results of a far more important phenomenon, the huge, unsustainable and growing current human population, the prime cause of the

    other causes. The technical methods of alleviating the growing short-comings of our life-giving environments will be obsolete by the time they are implemented… outstripped by the size of the population.

    You might find the views of Eric Pianka interesting and edifying:

    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/Vanishing.Book.text.pdf

    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/Everybody.html

    http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/bio213/why.html

    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/

    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/Controversy.html

    The otherwise perhaps flawed domestic policies of China may not be to our liking, but their “one child” per parents should have our blessing and be adopted by the rest of the world as soon and completely as possible. It is nothing less than mandatory. It is the fastest (60 years), the cheapest (zero cost), the most easily participated (no one need do anything – merely do not have a second child) method with essentially no counter-acting side effects.This action obviates the need for all the programs now being touted and it will put the world back to the number of people, resulting from millions of years of linear growth, which existed about 250 years ago, when it was hardly under populated, but it was before the ruinous logarithmic growth that has occurred since. As Dennis Meadows said:”Any environmental issue that doesn’t list overpopulation as the main problem is a lost cause.” Or, as this line on the stationery of The Committee of Concerned Scientists states:”If we do not solve our overpopulation problem ourselves, sagely and humanely, the problem will be solved for us by Nature, efficiently and savagely.”

    Cheers

  • anrik

    We must change according to time. Global warming has good and bad point but we should think always positive .We can enhance through Global warming.

    _______________________________________

    anrik

    Addiction Recovery Missouri

  • pabelmont

    THERE IS LITTLE DISCUSSION OF THE CONTRIBUTION OF HUMAN POPULATION SIZE TO

    THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM.

    One thought that no-one seems willing to make [or even to contemplate making] “out loud” is this:

    the impact of HUMAN

    POPULATION SIZE (and, of course, the further, marginal, and much less

    important impact of further population growth) on the natural world.

    (Concern for HUMAN POPULATION SIZE seems to reside in the great

    American REALM OF THE UNSPEAKABLE, along with International Law and

    justice for Palestinians, my personal hobby-horses along with

    environmental concerns, and with the now somewhat more respectable

    subjects of the weaknesses and worse of unfettered and robber-baron

    capitalism and governance.)

    (Universities should find a way to speak of the “THE UNSPEAKABLE.”

    Had they done so in respect of, and long prior to, the economic

    meltdown, its impact might have been smaller. Ditto the global warming.

    What is the use of “academic freedom” if the most important topics are

    ‘out of bounds”? )

    REGARDING THE ADVERSE IMPACT OF (PRESENT) HUMAN POPULATION SIZE

    People — however “responsible”, “hard-working”, “hard-headed”,

    “ethical”, “sensible”, “common-sensical”, “deep”, “shallow” — broadly

    refuse to contemplate the problem of HUMAN POPULATION SIZE “out loud.”

    What will it take to induce “great persons” to speculate that the human

    population SHOULD [or even "should perhaps"] be no greater than, for

    example, 10% of what it presently IS?

    LOVE THE CHILD BUT WHAT ABOUT (NUMEROUS) CHILDREN?

    How do we come to grips with the contradiction that people may love

    children (“people” as individuals, “children” as individuals) but desire

    to limit the number of them (“people” as a collectivity, “children” as a

    collectivity) due to their anticipated adverse cumulative impact? How

    can we be “pro-life” regarding the general life of the planet and

    “anti-life” (as some would undoubtedly characterize it) in the sense

    that we recognize and are willing to speak and act affirmatively to

    limit the number of new human lives brought into the world and its

    several locales?

    AND OLDSTERS?

    (I omit the parallel discussion of the excessive numbers of elderly,

    such as myself. Even if, it may be hoped, wise, we oldsters are

    certainly numerous and becoming more so.)

    ECONOMIC IDEOLOGY (GROWTH-BASED CAPITALISM)

    How do we come to grips with an ECONOMIC IDEOLOGY (GROWTH-BASED

    CAPITALISM) which appears to demand, for its continuing success, that

    the human population continue to grow — if we are able to see that

    continued growth of the human population is destroying the world (and

    capitalism with it)? If the EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES, WHO WILL SPEAK UP?

    Human impact on the remainder of the world is, roughly, at any moment,

    the “product” of “number of people alive” with “per capita impact”:

    “TOTAL IMPACT” = “PER CAPITA IMPACT” * “CAPITA COUNT”

    “TOTAL IMPACT” = SUM

    (“LOCAL PER CAPITA IMPACT” * “LOCAL CAPITA COUNT” )

    over all non-overlapping LOCALES

    Thus, as “LOCAL per capita impact” rises in most places (especially

    China and India, these days) and as “local capita count” continues to

    rise in most places, “total impact” necessarily rises.

    With higher “total impact” world temperatures and sea levels rise,

    glaciers and ice-sheets melt, storms become more severe, agricultural

    productivity changes, insects die here but proliferate there and change

    habitats, often moving higher places to find accustomed temperatures, so

    that mountain forests die of pests that never used to be able to survive

    at the higher altitudes).

    It should be possible to mention the impact of population size without

    necessarily raising hackles further by contemplating the means to reduce

    it.

    THE ANALOGY OF THE TRAIN RUSHING TOWARD A WASHED-OUT BRIDGE

    But, a train rushing at 100 MPH toward a washed out bridge is surely

    going to stop, either because the engineer applies the brakes or because

    the train tries to cross the bridge and falls into the chasm. The

    question is not “whether” the train will stop, but “how”. Same with

    population size (and continuing population growth, of course).

    THE BELIEF IN A MAGICAL RESCUE

    Policy-makers are (implicitly) assuming that someone will repair the

    bridge so that the train can continue rushing along at 100 MPH, heading

    toward the next washed-out bridge. We assume A MAGICAL RESCUE.

    The “GREEN REVOLUTION” of the 1960′s was such a MAGICAL RESCUE, and

    its magic was an example of “repairing the washed out bridge” instead of

    stopping the train. Although it granted the world TIME to consider

    population, no-one was ready to grapple “out loud” with population and,

    thus, the “green revolution” merely left the run-away train rushing

    toward the next washed-out bridge — this time, exhaustion of petroleum,

    global warming, exhaustion of potable and agricultural water, etc.

    I don’t find this very sensible. But it is exactly what we’ve done so

    far on Global Warming and what we did on economic meltdown (until late

    in 2008).

    ON THE DUBIOUS MERITS OF REMAINING SILENT IN ORDER TO REMAIN CALM

    AND

    THE CARPET MADE LUMPY BY ALL THE PROBLEMS SWEPT UNDER IT.

    Ostriches are ill-equipped to see the approaching enemy and are thus

    able to remain calm until the enemy arrives. REMAINING CALM is all very

    nice but should not be our goal. That’s how we dealt with the

    “sub-prime” loan debacle. Our “carpet” is getting very “lumpy” because

    of all the desperate problems “swept under” it.

  • http://windmountain.wordpress.com flow

    How does someone with kids complain about the population problem? This is the supreme, the ultimate exceptionalism: we acknowledge — intuitively — that human population is the problem, but then justify having kids!

    You will never find a meaningful, rational, extended discussion of this problem in the political theatre because its resolution requires a world disrupting encounter with the shadow. We live on a planet but we live in a world. The “world” we live in is a product of paradigm. Most people are ill-equipped to confront “the dragon” within, regardless of the amount of treasure or the unfortunate plight of the magnificent virgin to be ransomed!

    This, I suggest, is exactly what Emerson is referring to when he discusses the notion of conformity. It is also the quintessential wisdom embodied in the ageless maxim: know thyself. Contemporaneously we may term it cultural conditioning, until we liberate ourselves from it, we will dwell in a vanquished world characterized by ceaseless struggle and continuous conflict.

    A genuine encounter with the shadow requires the intestinal fortitude to grapple directly with the diabolical (i.e. that which blocks, that which obscures). It is the shadow that is the source of all evil in the world, and until we exorcise it, we will continue to project it. But most of us are too busy raising kids or trying to fix the problems in the world to engage in this kind of introspective adventure.