15 October 2007

A bigger picture

Today is Blog Action Day, where 15000+ bloggers all speak out on one issue, the environment. As that is the usual focus of planet doom?, I have decided to focus on the big picture today. What are our most pressing problems and what are we going to do about it. I always vaguely talk about solutions. Today I expand on some of those ideas. It turned out to be a bit of an extra-long rant, but I hope you will enjoy it anyway!


To me, climate change is obvious. Yes, I know, paleoclimate studies tell us the climate has changed many times in the past and that climate change is a natural phenomenon. But many of the more extreme changes deduced from past evidence were not entirely “natural”; rather, they were the result of some greater climate forcing being applied (which have mostly arisen from natural phenomenon).

But the recent changes are unprecedented. The forcing in the case is humanity's uncontrolled CO2 enhancement experiment; since the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century, humans have -- heedless to the consequences – added approximately 35% to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. That CO2 is a radiatively active gas -– absorbing infrared radiation and affecting the climate -- has been known for over 100 years. The effects of this enhancement on today's climate are readily apparent. To name a few:

The effects listed abovecan be thought of as 'primary' effects. These flow through the environment and produce more subtle 'secondary' effects. These aren't any less threatening, just indirect. Just a few

Climate change is not a isolated issue; rather, it goes hand-in-hand with many other environmental issues like overpopulation, overfishing, deforestation, desertification and the like. The root causes of most of these problems are our self-interested greed, the idea that our species exists 'outside' of nature – the Earth was created for us to exploit – and the “she'll be right, mate” attitude taken towards the dilemmas created by our poor stewardship of the planet.

The beginning of the end for these attitudes was revealed in 1962 with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which helped launch the modern environmental movement. Despite this wake-up call, our complacency large remains today. Like syphilitic emperors of yore , we fiddle with trivialities – the latest mobile phone, Britney Spears, or “monitizing” our inane blogs (planet doom? is proudly ad-free)– while our civilization burns around us.

To be fair, we have taken some small steps to rectifying our environmental problems ; for example, more of us recycle now and the use of more efficient light bulbs is encouraged or even mandated in some places. But these are but small initial steps for the long journey ahead. Individual action is important, but nothing less than a re-thinking of our current worldview and a re-organization of society will be needed to overcome the problems we face. Some big, but prudent, steps are needed now to maintain a decent standard of living and avoid a complete collapse of our society. These must be implemented in a global framework; if we don't all pull together, nothing will get done

Some of the things I think need to be done are listed below. These are some broad themes,developed from the various readings I have done over the months/years. They are woefully short on detail. I don't personally have all the answers (and neither does anyone else...). It is obviously impossible to do all of these immediately, but we need to start working towards these goals to avoid an even worse fate.

Reduce Pollution

  • Stop emitting greenhouse gases now! Carbon dioxide is a serious problem, a noxious effluent from our way of life. Cap-and-trade or carbon tax needed to provide the economic motivation

  • Agricultural reform. Current farming practices wreak havoc on the environment. Pesticides, fertilizer runoff, erosion, soil degradation...There's got to be a better way

  • More public transport. Drive less, walk more, ride a bike. We can't all drive a high-environmental impact vehicle for every little trip.

  • Energy conservation. Insulate your house and use efficient appliances. Turn your telly off, it rots your mind anyway.

  • Develop alternate energy sources. Eliminate coal, oil and gas to the extent possible. We've likely hit peak oil anyway, so it's not viable for too much longer. Avoid nuclear if possible. Let's try solar and wind power

Social Reform

  • Reduce the population. There are too many of us. Encourage people to have fewer children. If we don't do it, disease or warfare or some other calamity will do it for us...

  • Stop consumerism. Going shopping should not be a source of entertainment. We don't need most of the stuff that we buy/use. More stuff does not make you happier. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” before you make a purchase.

  • Work for global fairness and justice. The current system works through plunder and exploitation of the poor. This needs to stop. Instead of us-vs-them, let's work towards creating a mutually inclusive society where everyone is entitled to a minimum standard: healthy food, clean water, basic medical care, a safe environment and a right to meaningful employment.

  • Change our personal values. More respect for the environment. Less focus on material things.

Economic Reform

  • Develop a sustainable capitalism. Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the other ones that have been tried. It, in one form or another, is here to stay. But it needs to account for environmental factors. The environment provides many services which aren't currently accounted for. These need to be taken into account to measure the true costs of our actions.

  • Stop militarizing the economy. Our basic capitalistic society collapsed in 1929. It was jump-started by WW2, and the insane military build-up has continued since then. Our whole economy is based on bigger bombs, more guns and always finding an enemy to fight. It is a destructive, poisonous way to live life, and if the half a trillion dollars spent on the largely pointless Iraq war had been spent tackling the problems we face, we would be a lot closer to the solutions we need. This economic system is beginning to break down as well.

So is this a Utopian pipe dream? Of course it is, but it is at least something to strive for. Will we ever reach it? I doubt it, as it involves overcoming a lot of basic human biological nature, like selfishness, greed and looking out for one's tribe. But it is something to try for. The alternative is to give up and continue along our current dead-end path. And that is not possible. We cannot give up. We have a moral imperative to future generations to avert our future course away from its current path. I don't want my family or my children's children to live on planet doom.

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