Furthest Right

Environmental holocaust

You have to be really careful with other people. Most often, when they are telling you about some event or another, they’re actually talking about themselves.

“See how important I am that I know this? And now you must acknowledge it, and so I have power over you,” burbles the underlying psychological dialogue. This is one of the reasons why humanity is dysfunctional once you get one step past the absolute basics of life: we are paranoid of each other’s motivations.

After all, language is a slippery master. If I murder someone because I want his wife, I have a number of minutes, hours or days before law enforcement arrives. During that time I can construct a logical statement explaining why I murdered him. Because this statement is made after the fact, it’s unclear whether it’s a reason for the action, or a justification — explanation to exonerate myself — made after the fact.

Very few people will say “I killed him to take his wife.” Most often, they invent pleasant lies based on an appeal to popularity. I killed him because he was a pedophile, a Nazi, or a derivatives-fund investment manager; or even more effectively, I killed him in self-defense, and you would have too, because no one deserves to have to stand helpless while some guy attacks. What would you do?

All this boils down a reason we should be very skeptical of the motivations of others and thus of the veracity of their statements. Often, they’re looking for a reason to sound important, so they’re going to give us a moron-simple solution that correspondingly, doesn’t achieve what it says it does.

Energy-efficiency standards have been embraced by politicians of both parties as one of the easiest ways to combat global warming. Making appliances, cars, buildings and factories more efficient is called the “low-hanging fruit” of strategies to cut greenhouse emissions.

But a growing number of economists say that the environmental benefits of energy efficiency have been oversold. Paradoxically, there could even be more emissions as a result of some improvements in energy efficiency, these economists say.

The problem is known as the energy rebound effect. While there’s no doubt that fuel-efficient cars burn less gasoline per mile, the lower cost at the pump tends to encourage extra driving. There’s also an indirect rebound effect as drivers use the money they save on gasoline to buy other things that produce greenhouse emissions, like new electronic gadgets or vacation trips on fuel-burning planes.

Some of the biggest rebound effects occur when new economic activity results from energy-efficient technologies that reduce the cost of making products like steel or generating electricity. – NYT

The blockhead solutions to potential ecocide are united by a common thread: don’t change what we do, just change how we do it.

In particular, they like:

  • Recycling. Make sure we can easily melt the gadget down into its constituent parts and re-use those materials.
  • Efficiency. Make the gadget use less energy, water or blood of the unborn.
  • Sustainability. Manufacture the gadget from materials we can easily acquire again.
  • Fines. This covers a broad zone from higher gasoline taxes to carbon caps; basically, charge higher consumers more, subsidizing lower consumers.

It’s hard to argue with recycling, for example, as a good idea. But is it a solution?

Using a metaphor: if I’m going bankrupt, it makes sense to start packing a box lunch to save $6 a day. But that won’t stave off the problem. It’s a good idea, but not a solution.

Efficiency is also a really good idea. By itself, it will not end the problem, but as a general design concept, it makes sense — so long as we don’t also weaken the power of our tools and gadgets in doing it.

Sustainability gets murky. While it makes sense to make cheap furniture out of bamboo because it’s easier to grow, we need to be careful — does it also require more intense processing to make it into furniture? I’m all for hemp paper and clothing, so long as we’re not talking using more energy, water or strange chemicals to make hemp comparable to regular paper or cloth.

After that, the sanity ends. The fines ding our biggest consumers so that our lowest consumers can have those resources instead, forgetting that there are more low-level consumers and so with this wealth transfer, we’re actually dooming the environment by bringing more people and their needs to bear on it.

We can see how the above are methods that attempt to ameliorate the problem. But do we have an actual solution?

Yes, but you don’t want to hear it: we need fewer people, less economic growth, and to reserve more wide-open spaces of all ecosystems for plants, animals and the replenishing process of natural homeostasis.

That notion is taboo because it places a limit on “freedom.” You are going to have to tell someone they cannot have that kid, or that second kid; you’re going to have to take away Billy Bob’s 454 truck, and maybe Joe Newyorker’s Mercedes-Benz. You may have to tell Wal-mart to stop selling its fun kids’ toy “Bucket of Flaming Tar.”

When you do that, the usual suspects — neurotic unimportant people who want to appear socially/morally important to compensate for their unexceptional lives — will trot out the old homilies: Who decides? Who watches the deciders? Who protects our rights, our equality? They will threaten revolution, even the morning after talking all night at the Free Trade coffee shop about how global warming is the crisis that defines our times.

In many ways, it’s a haze of prosperity: Gas drilling is going strong again, and as a result, so is the Cowboy State’s economy. Wyoming enjoys one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, 6.4 percent. And while many other states are running up monumental deficits, lawmakers are projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion over the coming year in this state of a half-million people.

Still, in the Upper Green River Basin, where at least one daycare center called off outdoor recess and state officials have urged the elderly to avoid strenuous outdoor activity, some wonder if they’ve made a bargain with the devil. Two days last week, ozone levels in the gas-rich basin rose above the highest levels recorded in the biggest U.S. cities last year.

“They’re trading off health for profit. It’s outrageous. We’re not a Third World country,” said Elaine Crumpley, a retired science teacher who lives just outside Pinedale. – NYT

The story repeats, worldwide. When the money shows up, people find their allegiance to the environment is less than they thought. Or more accurately, the people who raise objections to this new money get run out of town by those who simply want the money. We’ve already got government regulation and it’s not working, mainly because the financial incentive is too strong.

In this matter, the sad truth is that the only “real” environmentalists are found among those who are not making a big show of buying green products, implementing carbon caps, installing lo-flush toilets, and so on. They know these things are mere distractions.

Happy’s problem is that it has run out of water for its farms. Its population, dropping 10 per cent a year, is down to 595. The name, which brings a smile for miles around and plays in faded paint on the fronts of every shuttered business – Happy Grain Inc, Happy Game Room – has become irony tinged with bitterness. It goes back to the cowboy days of the 19th century. A cattle drive north through the Texas Panhandle to the rail heads beyond had been running out of water, steers dying on the hoof, when its cowboys stumbled on a watering hole. They named the spot Happy Draw, for the water. Now Happy is the harbinger of a potential Dust Bowl unseen in America since the Great Depression.

‘It was a booming town when I grew up,’ Judy Shipman, who manages the bank, says. ‘We had three restaurants, a grocery, a plumber, an electrician, a building contractor, a doctor. We had so much fun, growing up.’ Like all the townsfolk, she knows why the fun has gone. ‘It’s the decline in the water level,’ she says. ‘In the 1950s a lot of wells were drilled, and the water went down. Now you can’t farm the land.’ – The Telegraph

If you want the real story on humanity’s collision with environmental destruction it is that the story of a small Texas town without water repeats itself like wallpaper worldwide. Sometimes the resource is water, sometimes it’s fish, and something it’s land itself. When too many humans crowd into a place, they drain it.

Since we gave up on all those bad old things like colonialism, aristocracy and culture, we have fewer controls than ever on our impulses. Do you want to start a fast food restaurant that stays open until 3 AM and sells ten pound beef burgers? Go ahead, it’s great. When it fails we’ll tear it up and throw it in a landfill.

Old-school feudal social orders told most people that they had little to expect. Unless you were lord of the manse, you probably got a small cottage, a cow and a few suits of clothes. In our modern world, by contrast, you can buy whatever you can get credit for. So people on peasant incomes buy half-million dollar homes, BMWs and then abandon it all when their ARMs run out. More landfill.

Scientists have developed a new satellite-imaging technique that allows them to have a better bird’s eye view of when carbon-rich peatlands were cleared and to what extent they have been replaced by palm oil trees.

The work, which depends on a blend of satellite images, marks the first attempt to systematically quantify carbon loss from peatland destruction across the region and directly tie it to oil-palm expansion.

Published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that about 6 percent of carbon-rich peatlands in Peninsular Malaysia and the islands of Borneo and Sumatra were cleared to make way for oil-palm plantations by the early 2000s. In the process, about 3 percent of forest-dwelling birds across the region were lost and massive quantities of carbon were released from clearing peatlands, according to the authors’ estimates.

By last year, the study concluded, an area in Southeast Asia roughly the size of New Jersey had been felled of its forests. – Scientific American

The vanguard of environmental defense is not some alchemical egghead in a lab trying to make “green” lead, but someone who can find out a political system that can stop the rapid expansion of the 20th century. With all the old rules gone, anyone can aspire to a resource-intense life — and everyone will, and want the same for their children.

We thought we would make a Utopia by relaxing the rules on individuals. End the religious infighting; accept everyone. End the class war; make them all equal. End the crime; make it easy for them to afford luxuries. But now the bill is due.

Our solutions aren’t solutions. They aren’t even particularly well thought-out. They’re justifications: we can’t talk about the real problem, and the real solutions, so here’s an entertaining idea that will make you feel like you’re really out there being an activist by buying a product:

It would be interesting to try to estimate the contribution of low-flush toilets and other restrictions on water flows to the disease environment. The theoretical effects are a matter of logic: low-flush toilets aren’t a free lunch. All else equal, weaker toilets result in dirtier, more disease-prone environs. The San Francisco case Jeff mentions suggests too that weaker toilets probably require harsher cleansers.

While I don’t know the precise history, I’m pretty sure that water-saving regulations were adopted at different rates in different places. This should provide a setting in which the researchers would be able to estimate the contribution of water-saving toilets, showers, and faucets to the disease environment. – Christian Science Monitor

And while we humans do what we do best, which is to recede into our minds and play with fanciful solutions that solve nothing, the problem marches on unattended. Every day passing puts us closer to having to pay the piper, and yet the ominous weight of that event makes it impossible to address. We feel like we’re on an out of control train racing toward a collision, with no option except suicide or cowering in the luggage rack.

The modern-day slavery expert explained to CNN that the current $90 rate for a human slave is actually at an historic low. Two hundred years ago, a slave cost about $40,000 in today’s money. The reason for this price slide: a massive boom in the world’s population, especially in developing countries, has increased the supply of “slaveable” people.

And this has basically turned a human being into a cheap commodity – Bales says like a Styrofoam cup that’s cheaply replaceable if damaged, “If they get sick, what’s the point of paying for medicine – it’s cheaper to let them die and acquire a new one than it is to help the ones you’ve got.

At this very moment, between 12 million and 30 million slaves are working around the world. That’s according to low and high estimates from sociologists and the International Labor Organization. – CNN

We embarked on this Utopian path to end slavery, and to end oppression. What we created instead was a worse form of oppression, in which kleptocrats rule most of the world and our species heads toward extinction, and a greater form of slavery. Giving every person unlimited rights created unlimited want. And from that we get brutal economic competition, brutal environmental exploitation, and finally, new and more intense forms of slavery.

Our solutions are not working and it is pointless to pursue them. There is only one solution: set aside more land for nature, and in order to do that, we must slow our growth and our population growth. As long as that remains taboo, talk about the environmental is just more hot air to warm our climate.

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