Sunday, March 28, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

The one hour voluntary power outage was repeated last night. Lots of fanfare in the media locally, as if it meant something. The WWF who sponsor this annual event do it to raise consciousness for the environment. That's fine, it is good to be conscious. The problem of course is that these eco-groups like WWF, want concerted government involvement in all aspects of our lives because we - humans - are the scourge of Planet Earth. Our technology, our fecundity, and resulting billions, they say has raped and pillaged this planet and stolen habitat from organisms great and small.
One of the most important biological concepts taught in any basic environmental course is "carrying capacity". Usually it is used to describe how many organisms can be sustained within an ecosystem. The entire planet of course is a finite ecosystem and it has a carrying capacity. So more people, less of some other creatures in a natural system. Human technology can distort carrying capacity and make a liar of Thomas Malthus, and it has. Even so there are limits, and groups like WWF that support conservation of habitat and creatures are by implication advocating the downsizing of the human population. Because of the limits to growth, in many respects it is a zero-sum game. It's only a problem if you are among those going to be "downsized". How is downsizing accomplished? One way is to suppress technology, the thing that gives humans the "edge" on planet earth. I wonder, is that the unstated goal of the eco-groups? A return to simpler times, less technical, more natural, organic, back to the earth. The symbolism is certainly there, turn off the power en mass world-wide, light candles to dispel the darkness and be conscious of your carbon footprint. It has a folksy attraction, singing 'round the camp fire, who doesn't like that? It sounds good, but, be aware of the implied and unstated, that part is worrying.
By the way here is what I said last year.

4 comments:

  1. This is really outdated thinking. Our civilization is nowhere close to sustainable. It could be, but it's not. We don't need to downsize or feel ashamed to consume. We do, however, need to bring our methods in line with nature, so that we don't burn through our natural capital before we've figured out how to replenish it. I'm opposed to such symbolism as "Earth Hour." But because it doesn't go nearly far enough. We need 100% renewable energy, and 100% cradle to cradle production, and we need it now.

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  2. I'm not sure we disagree in some areas. But my problem in your comment is the use of the word "we". "We" are not the world. The world is made of individual countries, with individual people all with their own needs, wishes, desires. So there will never be unanimity in action to save the planet. People are a part of nature, to think otherwise is to say we don't belong here on earth. Our use of earth's resources eventually will come into balance. But forcing people to accede to some idea of sustainability is where I draw the line.

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  3. I use "we" because if you live on this planet, you are affected by its constraints. Even though you are correct in saying that all these countries have different priorities, ultimately we all share the same atmosphere, oceans, and we all bid monetarily for the same finite resources. Of course humans are a part of nature, so we should act like we understand how the natural web works. We can use technology to get short term gains that ultimately undermine not only ecosystems but long-term economic prosperity. There is a concept called "ecosystem services," which places a monetary value on things that nature just "does" like oceans absorbing C02, etc. But at a certain point, nature loses the ability to keep up with the services we are demanding of it. I don't have a solution as to how we make this concept politically palatable. But I know that if we push nature too far, it will push back. Economically, our system depends on continued growth. Since we face natural resource limits and constraints, we have to learn to reprocess and reuse what we are throwing away. It is the only way we can continue to grow once we reach natural limits. I'm strongly pro-growth and pro-humanity. But the natural consequences of our current methods of destroying natural capital will actually hurt us worse in that department than anything "environmentalists" could impose.

    Please read the books "Natural Capitalism" and "Cradle to Cradle." They will open your eyes like nothing else ever could.

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  4. "Economically, our system depends on continued growth."
    Actually I disagree with that - its not just growth, its more like "succession" in the biological sense. In biology one group of plants and animals in a given ecosystem are replaced by a new group because the old group made it impossible for it's own continued existence. Our consumer society has replaced carriages, buggy whips and horseshoes with automobiles. At some point we may stop using fossil fuels, but that could be a long way off. But you have tweaked my interest, I will have a look at those books (I've already done a web search). Ultimately I don't think we disagree on many of your points. Thanks for the new "lead".

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