FACE THE FACTS AND SAY IT LIKE IT IS
Commentary by Paul B. Brown, August 9, 2013
We may have the technical means to reverse global warming, mass extinction, and overpopulation, but I don’t think we have the societal means. Commonly proposed solutions are far too little, too late.
For perspective, here are just a few stories from one day in my free daily esamizdat newslink service (contact me to subscribe): Oregon Fires To Burn Half-Million Acres, 5 Months; Climate change pushing marine life towards the poles; Powerful California water district backs tunnel plan; ‘Drip, Jordan’: water supply as a focal point of occupation; Monsanto and Big Food Pull Out the Big Guns; Bagram: Torture, Detention Without End at US Military’s ‘Other Guantanamo’; What It’s Like to Spend Years in Solitary Confinement; Why ALEC Fabricated Public School Failures; Cache of spent fuel rods grows at Comanche Peak; German and US Spy Agencies Share Vast Metadata Trove; Is U.S. Exaggerating Threat to Embassies to Silence Critics of NSA Domestic Surveillance?; A way of life on the brink of extinction in the Louisiana bayous; EPA Fracking Study Rebukes Agency’s Own Safety Claims; Fracking Gas Flares Double In Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota; Oil companies frack in coastal waters off California.
These are all related: can you see the connections?
Hint: the one percent are consolidating their power over the 99 percent so they can continue business as usual in the military-corporate state, at the cost of other humans’ lives, the environment, and perhaps our very species.
What are the real problems that are no longer scientifically debatable? The planet is heating up from insufficient reflection of solar energy due to lost reflectivity (caused by loss of ice cover, caused by global warming) and trapping of more heat by greenhouse gases (caused mostly by burning fossil fuels). Positive feedbacks such as loss of reflectivity, desertification, increased forest fires, and emission of methane from warming tundra and the ocean floor, are speeding up this process. Destructive weather events are increasing, sea level is rising and oceans are becoming acidic as a result of these processes. As a result of these processes and loss of habitat, pollution and over-killing of life forms, species we depend on are going extinct at least as fast as they did in the largest recent extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs. The planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable for human beings.
The underlying cause of these trends is undeniably clear: Humans are consuming resources unsustainably, that is faster than they can be replenished by natural processes. Many resources, such as rare elements, can’t ever be restored. The equation describing this defines our total consumption as the product of number of people times per capita consumption, and both are skyrocketing.
That’s all established fact. The following are my personal opinions, largely shared by experts.
Consider tax schemes proposed to use market forces to reduce CO2 emissions. None would work because they would be too little, too late, especially because market solutions provide little incentives for the one percent, who do the most harm. The best tax scheme I’ve seen for reduction of CO2 emissions is one that’s rarely discussed. Everyone would be taxed for carbon combustion in any form, from fossil fuels to “renewable” fuels, for any purpose including the transport of food (an average of about 1500 miles). At the end of the tax year, everyone gets an equal share of the revenues as a tax credit. Those who used the most carbon would have a net loss, those who used the least would have a net gain.
But we are out of time for such a slow method to work, if it would work at all. The one percent would still have little incentive, although we could expect major changes such as the rebirth of small farms for local food consumption. We have to stop making carbon available for combustion by ending fossil fuel wars and using the money previously devoted to military support of oil supply lines to re-employ military personnel to rebuild infrastructure for carbon-free electric energy supply and storage; divert all carbon waste to biochar (inactive elemental carbon) which we would use for farming, construction, and sealing of coal mines and gas and oil wells; and convert all vehicles (including trucks, rail, ships, airplanes) to renewable electricity with swappable batteries.
With current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, the planet would continue to heat up for centuries, species will continue going extinct at record speed, and we would be fried, especially in the case of runaway warming caused by positive feedbacks – even if we stopped burning carbon today. Therefore we need to do much more: increase albedo by painting manmade surfaces white; pull carbon out of the air as fast as we can with rapid-growth trees, algae, whatever will do it fastest (and converting that biomass to biochar); reduce forest fires with better management of forests and more aggressive fire fighting; reverse desertification and return as much land to forest as possible; and neutralize acidification of oceans.
None of this will be adequate unless we reverse the mass extinction. We have to reduce our footprint to restore habitat for endangered species, and perhaps use genetic engineering techniques to restore important extinct ones; reduce fertility to one child or fewer per woman; and reduce heroic efforts to prolong the lives of those very elderly and terminally ill who are capable of informed consent. That’s how bad things are. A sustainable population might be four billion very modest consumers on a healthy planet. A recovery-mode population is undoubtedly less than a billion, and quickly, on a badly wounded planet that needs all our efforts to heal.
The longer we wait, the lower that number will get. In order to reduce our footprint, we also need a tax scheme to reduce all forms of consumption, similar to the one for carbon combustion, and to encourage home production of energy and food. It will take more than a tax scheme to achieve this, however (think one percent again). Money saved can be used to increase energy efficiency and go to all-electric energy use (e.g., to heat homes).
This can’t happen in our current society. The one percent won’t allow it. I don’t know how to overcome them, because only an informed citizenry can do that and implement the changes I suggest. Information itself is controlled by the one percent, so our citizens aren’t informed. I don’t think there is enough time left for, and our government may be unresponsive to, civil disobedience or other forms of non-violent action. Insurrection is unlikely to succeed in our militarized surveillance state.
Maybe there are adequate societal changes that are possible, but they need to be based on facing reality and saying it like it is. People will die just for doing that, but people will die anyway. Here we go-o-o.
Paul B. Brown, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Physiology, WVU, Morgantown, WV.