Sunday, 14 October 2007

Roboseyo's global warming idea, and seventh generation sustainability

These will never happen, but. . .

1. L.A. should be shamed into getting a better public transit system, by all the countries and cities in the world.

2. Bill Gates should offer a 1 000 000 000 dollar reward to the scientist/engineer who invents a solar panel that is cheap and efficient enough to make oil obselete.

3. The downtown core of EVERY CITY larger than one million people in the world should have cars permanently banned, and improve public transit enough that the downtown cores can be traversed efficiently by bus and subway. Those buses and subways should be hydrogen cell or electric or hybrid-run.

4. The big-ass car tax. No excuse. Just no excuse for those big-ass cars, unless it's full of carpoolers. (The big-ass car tax has a subclause called the carpooler tax break, along with the hybrid driver tax break, which makes it economically more viable to buy a hybrid, considering the gas AND tax savings.)

5. The big-ass gas tax (Vancouver does this: 9cents a liter of gas goes toward improving public transit). Along with this one goes the public transit tax break. Your primary ID card has a microchip in it and doubles as your magnetic subway/bus access charge card; a record is kept of how frequently you use public transit, and you can claim tax breaks for reaching certain levels.

6. Within a certain distance of the city center (because public transit has improved so much), private car ownership is illegal, or practically illegal because of ownership taxes. Instead, cars are owned only by companies that require travel by car for their business, and company cars are distributed as needed. For weekend trips, etc., hybrid and fuel efficient cars are readily and reasonably available for rental.

7. (This will never happen, more than any of the others, but while I'm playing around in my fantasy world . . . ) -- Any company that deals in oil must put 15% of its gross oil income into alternative energy and conservation technology. Oil companies, accustomed to being energy suppliers, ought to be looking for the next solution: THEIR product is largely responsible for this mess.

Read the book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. It's preachy, but important.

Also, from the last chapter of "Consilience" by Edward O Wilson -- a book I tried to read after having it recommended to me by Maggie, back in third year university (anybody remember her?). I got bored of it (and I no longer finish books that fail to grip my attention: I've even ceased to feel guilty about this), and skipped to the last chapter, which was much more interesting than the chapters trying to explain the biological/genetic bases that necessitated the development of language and art.

He writes:
To summarize the future of resources and climate, the wall toward which humanity is evidently rushing is a shortage not of minerals and energy, but of food and water. The time of arrival at the wall is being shortened by a a physical climate growing less congenial [through global warming]. Humankind is like a household living giddily off vanishing capital. Exemptionalists are risking a lot when they advise us, in effect, that "Life is good and getting better, because look around you, we are still expanding and spending faster. Don't worry about next year. We're such a smart bunch something will turn up It always has."
They, and most of the rest of us, have yet to learn the arithmetical riddle of the lily pond. A lily pad is placed in a pond. Each day thereafter the pad and then all of its descendants double. On the thirtieth day the pond is covered completely by lily pads, which can grow no more. On which day was the pond half full and half empty? The twenty-ninth day.

[My words in brackets: Are these environmental warnings alarmist? It is better, down the line, to assume the worst, and prepare for it, than to hope for the best, and continue living beyond our ecological means, assuming 'we'll find our way out of the woods'] In ecology, as in medicine, a false positive diagnosis is an inconvenience, but a false negative diagnosis can be catastrophic. This is why ecologists and doctors don't like to gamble at all, and if they must, it is always on the side of caution. It is a mistake to dismiss a worried ecologist or a worried doctor as an alarmist."
(Page 313-314)


The single greatest intellectual obstacle to environmental realism, as opposed to practical difficulty, is the myopia of most professional economists. . .
. . . the weakness of economics is most worrisome, however, in its general failure to incorporate the environment. After the Earth Summit, and after veritable encyclopedias of data compiled . . . have shown clearly the dangerous trends of population size and planetary health, the most influential economists still make recommendations as though there is no environment.

(Page 318)

And that's the problem -- people follow their pocketbooks to the voting booth, so until there's a financial incentive (taxwise) to conserve, people won't think about their kids and grandkids; they'll only think about next quarter's raise and the cost of living, right until humanity careens into that huge wall called "Earth's Carrying Capacity"

(Carrying Capacity means the maximum number of life forms any ecosystem can sustain.)

My friend Tamie and a group of her friends formed an integration pact, where they try to live in relationship with the earth, rather than just living ON the earth : environmental responsibility is part of their pact to live with more awareness and responsibility.

It's human nature to think about money first -- I remember one day, when I was in high school, saying to a member of the baby-boomer generation how recycling was important, and he answered, "Well, you know, the recycling program costs the government a lot of money -- I don't know if it's worth it." If you're thinking about the next quarter, maybe; there's an old Iroquois law that every decision must be considered for its impact on the seventh generation to follow, and a movement is beginning in environmental circles to pressure corporations and leaders to implement seventh generation sustainability principles in their decision making, rather than just thinking of next quarter's profits, or next year's re-election push.

It's frustrating how, in the face of the overwhelming evidence Al Gore presented in "An Inconvenient Truth", corporations and their media lackeys have gone ad hominem on him, and attacked first Al Gore for using a private jet, and then the nine scientific errors/conjectures in his documentary, enabling them to ignore the hundred other facts that are true and verifiable, and try to discredit him. It's frustrating how I can see this stuff happen, yet I still like my hot shower in the morning.

But something's gotta be done. Sooner rather than later. Population growth, overfishing, conservation, alternative energies. Humans are a pretty complex creature, and it's hard to say how much our biology could bend before poisoned air and water are the end of us, before food shortages cause regional tensions to blow up into full-scale war. Remember what happened to the Jews after they were blamed for the great depression? A lot of countries were happy to hand their Jews over to the Nazis because they thought they were responsible for the depression. Who will be the scapegoat next time?

It's good to see people are finally talking about the environment as a legitimate concern -- in the early '90s environment was still some scary thing far in the future, while now people are taking it seriously. I just hope we're ready to make the changes necessary, in time, or it will be too little, too late.

And global warming is just the beginning -- overpopulation will occur long before coastal cities get flooded with water from the molten ice caps. This article argues that the tragedy in Darfur was caused first by an overtaxed environment, that the displaced people started fighting because they had no food or water, and needed to co-opt arable land. This kind of catastrophe will become more commonplace as water supplies dry up, species go extinct, land loses its arability, and entire populations must move to areas where there is no space for them. Just wait till the water table in the American midwest is finally tapped out, and see what happens then.


bradj said...

That's it, I'm moving to Mars. Who's with me?! I recently heard a 'thinker' honestly stating that that is the only salvation of mankind: find a new planet. I'm not going to go that far.

I also wouldn't go as far down the legislative road as you have here. As a non-car owner, you might just be prone to being detached and judgmental, Rob. :-) It's not so easy to change an entire culture (world?) that has enjoyed the personal autonomy of vehicle ownership (and even more, has dreamed of it for ages!). At least, not in democracy. Think about the implications of no automobiles -- how many un/semi-skilled people around the globe would be suddenly without employment? How much innovation would we be missing due to no industrial outlet? There has to be a way to achieve sustainability on all fronts, including mass-poverty prevention.

As per your point about oil companies going into alternative fuel: they're dabbling, but it's human history that new frontiers are never conquered by the prevailing institution. I think we've finally reached a "climate" where the next innovation can emerge. Rather than swinging a big "thou shalt not" hammer at the world, the powers that be could do much more to foster this innovation and encourage its adoption. So I agree there too. (Carrots are more attractive, and ultimately more effective than sticks.)

The bottom line is that it will only be better if it really is better -- safer, cheaper and truly environmentally sustainable, not just pushing our problems in a different direction. (See "Car vs. Horse", circa 1915.) For me to re-orient my life, I need a practical option I can afford, and I need to be convinced of the difference it'll make.

Roboseyo said...

"practical option I can afford, and I need to be convinced of the difference it will make"

--that's why I suggested enough tax breaks on hybrid car drivers that it's financially worthwhile to pay the extra up front and get one.

--I'm not saying cars can be banned entirely, but I do think it's senseless and wasteless to have so many people driving their cars into the downtown core traffic logjams, running their engines and building road-rage waiting for lights to change. I added the "within a certain distance of the city center" qualifier because I recognize that it gets harder to be a non-car owner in the suburbs.

meanwhile, most north american cities' public transit systems are stuck in that chicken/egg "we'd improve it if more people used it/ more people would use it if it were improved" conundrum.

(however, I also think cities should be less centralized)

cities should also be made more bike/moped/motorbike friendly, so that alternative means of travel are viable.

that individualist culture rife in north america (more there than anywhere else), the dream of freedom that is sold with "owning your own car" is hard to de-program, I know. There must be some way around it. The association of car as status symbol is so harmful and irresponsible, though. I feel like those jerks driving hummers around are basically doing the same thing as the comic characters who light cigars with hundred dollar bills: basically saying, "I can afford to drive it, and fill it with gas, so what're you gonna do about it?"

melissa said...

xoxo you're my very favourite crotchety old liberal (for me, it's weird being a conservative christian and traditionally associated with right wing politics, but to actually be so leftist. Interesting, eh?)