Amy Goodman recently interviewed climatologist James Hanson, who argued that the collapse of the climate talks in Copenhagen was good for the planet, because cap-and-trade-with-offsets are disastrous, in that they fail to reduce the use of fossil fuels. He proposes that we need to put a price on fossil fuel emissions and redistribute that to the population as a mechanism for discouraging the use of fossil fuels. Hanson characterized the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, including the regrettable use of tar sands of Canada, as a moral issue because lives are at stake, as are entire low-lying countries:
Amy Goodman: So, how did you go from being the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies to getting arrested for these protests?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, these protests are what we call civil resistance, in the same way that Gandhi did. We’re trying to draw attention to the injustice, because this is really analogous. This is a moral issue, analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice, because we are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences. And our parents didn’t know that they were causing a problem for future generations, but we do. The science has become very clear. And we’re going to have to move to a clean energy future. And we could do that. And there would be many other advantages of doing it. Why don’t we do it? Because of the special interests and because of the role of money in Washington.
What is the problem with “cap and trade”?
[T]hey attempt to put a cap on different sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They say there’s a limit on how much a given industry in a country can emit. But the problem is that the emissions just go someplace else. That’s what happened after Kyoto, and that’s what would happen again, if—as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned someplace.
Note: Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow have consistently delivered high quality news without corporate sponsorship. If you click on the above video interview with James Hanson, you will first see Amy Goodman’s short request for contributions to support DemocracyNow. I am urging you consider joining me in making at least a small contribution to support corporate-free news. If you haven’t before viewed the news at DemocracyNow, I invite you to try it; I know that you’ll be delighted to hear important information coming straight to you devoid of any corporate filters, meaningful and thoughtful reporting.
What are the facts about junk mail? You can study them at donotmail.org. Here are a few compelling items:
It takes more than 100 million trees to produce the total volume of junk mail that arrives in American mailboxes each year—that’s the equivalent of clearcutting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every 4 months.
The manufacture of junk mail releases more greenhouse gas emissions per year than the emissions released by 9,372,000 million average passenger cars.
Entire households only average 1 personal correspondence each week, compared to almost 18 pieces of junk mail.
A response rate of less than 0.25% is considered acceptable for the 500 million U.S. credit card solicitations that are mailed monthly.
A few years ago, in a post called “Oil Tetris,” I used the game of Tetris to illustrate the dangers of being dependent on petroleum and the fact that the United States consumes 5,000 gallons of gasoline per second.
Today, I am offering a similar set of images to illustrate my concerns regarding the dangers of overpopulation (and its attendant degradation and depletion of natural resources). As one who has pledged to support the 2010 GPSO effort, I am advocating that we directly and unflinchingly address the issue of whether we have overloaded our planet, our little lifeboat in outer space, with people.
Here’s the general idea: If there were still only 2.5 billion people in the world (as there were as recent as 1950), it would be monumentally easier to sustainably tap into the world’s resources to feed, house and clothe them. In 1950, it was not an empty world; 2.5 billion is a hell of a lot of people. Admittedly, it was not a peaceful world–it never has been a peaceful world, but it wasn’t a world where so many basic critical resources were being stressed and exhausted (including water, oil, phosphates for fertilizer, food supply, ocean fishing and soil).
So here is the illustration. Back in 1950, the baseline for providing for 2.5 people was much lower than it currently is. There was room for error–room to make changes in the way the world was being run while still giving access for most people regarding most resources. Here is the world in 1950:
The falling pieces represent societal needs, and there was more ability to meet those needs in 1950. But now the world is a different place, where 2 billion people live on less than $2/day. It’s a world where huge numbers of people are without water and sanitation. It’s a world were valiant efforts are necessary to keep the food supply even stable, much less to increase it. Back in 1950, we could increase the food supply significantly, because we hadn’t yet filled the world with 6.7 billion people and we hadn’t yet planted virtually every square mile that could be planted. Now, many emergencies regarding resources require desperate responses that aren’t often publicized by the Western media; knowing that there are billions of hungry people throws a damper on our annual Christmas-time consumerist orgy. That’s how difficult it is for affluent Westerners to give a damn about the big picture, making it naive to suggest that we simply need to redistribute existing resources and continue packing greater numbers of people onto the planet. Nor is it easy to reason with many religions that find it utterly inconvenient to limit the ability of their members to “go forth and multiply.”
There is little room for error these days, as represented by the following Tetris board:
The question, then, is whether it is responsible to run our world like a highly stacked Tetris board, where starvation already affects one billion people and yet we continue to add 1.5 million more people to our resource-challenged world every week. Is it wise to live so dangerously?
And for those who are tempted to comment that I should focus on things other than population, such as new technologies and social justice, by all means. I do that almost every week in my posts. But let’s consider whether we would be better off also having the courage to address the basic issue of the carrying capacity of the planet.
If you are feeling brave, take a look at the World Clock. You’ll see that more than twice as many people are being born as are dying for any given interval (click the “Now” button to see the numbers spinning out from the present).
Click the “Deaths” tab and note that for every 100 deaths, there are also more than 60 abortions, and yet the Earth’s population still spirals out of control. Click around on the other tabs and you will probably find yourself transfixed by magnitude of these numbers. Notice the vast amount of forest being decimated by clicking on the “Environment” tab. Under the “Energy” tab, notice the incredibly disconcerting “Oil Depletion Timer,” indicating that we have 40 years of oil left on the entire planet (you’ll need to do the math, dividing the days left by 365–this estimate is based on the admittedly laughable assumption that it would be economically viable to scoop up every drop of oil). Notice the ghastly numbers of entire species being lost each week (almost 300 extinctions per week). Notice the many thousands of preventable deaths every week (under the Death tab), including ghastly numbers of children dying from preventable things like lack of nutrition.
The World Clock sends me into an existential swirl. Watching these numbers accumulate fascinates me and, regarding some categories, horrifies me. Regarding the needless deaths, for example, it occurs to me that no human being has sufficient cognitive capacity or sufficient empathy to properly understand or react to numbers of this magnitude. It is impossible to feel sufficient empathy for the needless deaths of thousands people, week after week.
Last year, I posted on an effort by Global Population Speak Out (GPSO) to discuss the need to discuss overpopulation. But many people are too horrified to even consider this topic. One such person repeatedly vilified me in the comments, arguing that I was an elitist (and worse) because I merely dared to raise this issue.
But this issue of overpopulation is too important to ignore.
[more . . . ]
Post Carbon Institute Fellow Rob Hopkins gives us the hard facts that we are running out of oil and it is taking immensely more energy to extract the oil that remains. Can technology solve the impending crisis? How shall the transition proceed? This talk parallels many of the observations of Hopkins’ earlier paper, entitled “Searching for a Miracle,” both of which should serve as a wake up call for massive conservation efforts. We need to be “loving and leaving all that oil has done for us,” and getting ready for the transition:
The fundamental disturbing conclusion of the report is that there is little likelihood that either conventional fossil fuels or alternative energy sources can reliably be counted on to provide the amount and quality of energy that will be needed to sustain economic growth—or even current levels of economic activity—during the remainder of the current century.
This preliminary conclusion in turn suggests that a sensible transition energy plan will have to emphasize energy conservation above all. It also raises questions about the sustainability of growth per se, both in terms of human population numbers and economic activity.
Robert F. Kennedy recites some startling facts demonstrating that if you want to see how to really invest in one’s economy, you should follow the lead of China, not the United States:
The Chamber has continued to argue, idiotically, that energy efficiency and independence will somehow put America at a competitive disadvantage with the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Chinese have shrewdly and strategically positioned themselves to steal America’s once substantial lead in renewable power. China will soon make us as dependent on Chinese green technology for the next century as we have been on Saudi oil during the last.
While the U.S. is busy using massive amounts of tax dollars to prop up corrupt Wall Street banks, China is weaning itself off of fossil fuels.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Unspoken Reality of ‘Peak Oil’“, in which I tried to convey the scale of the problem we face. “My main motto never changes, the era of low oil prices is over,” said Dr. Fatih Birol who is the Chief Economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA). Now we have even more confirmation that peak oil has arrived. Today, the IEA released their 2009 version of the annual World Energy Outlook, in which they attempt to forecast supply and demand through 2030. And once again, the IEA continues to forecast that there will be plenty of supply, if only we can muster the needed capital investments. Unfortunately, the needed capital investments are enormous:
The capital required to meet projected energy demand through to 2030 in the Reference Scenario is huge, amounting in cumulative terms to $26 trillion (in year-2008 dollars) — equal to $1.1 trillion (or 1.4% of global gross domestic product [GDP]) per year on average. (p.43)
As if that weren’t bad enough, the release of the report has been almost completely overshadowed by yesterday’s Guardian which has alarming allegations from two different whistleblowers within the IEA
According to Witold Rybczynski (writing in The Atlantic), it’s time to get serious about living sustainably. Currently, we do that by going out to buy the latest and greatest gadgets for saving energy. There’s a much better foundation for accomplishing this goal of living sustainably:
The problem in the sustainability campaign is that a basic truth has been lost, or at least concealed. Rather than trying to change behavior to actually reduce carbon emissions, politicians and entrepreneurs have sold greening to the public as a kind of accessorizing. Keep doing what you’re doing, goes the message. Just add a solar panel, a wind turbine, a hybrid engine, whatever. But a solar-heated house in the burbs is still a house in the burbs, and if you have to drive to it, even in a Prius, it’s hardly green.
Instead of putting little Band-Aids on the big problem, Rybczynski argues that we ought to move back to the city. We would save much more energy by prohibiting spread-out low-rise buildings than by pasting solar panels on them. “A reasonably well-built and well insulated multifamily building is inherently more sustainable than a detached house.” He advocates three or four story “walk-ups,” which don’t require elevators. These can create sufficient density “about 50 people per acre, to support public transit, walk ability and other urban amenities.”
Another important approach is to focus on the way we construct our commercial buildings. When we combine residences with commercial and institutional structures, buildings consume 48% of our energy, more than any other sector.