Saturday, 3 March 2012

Environmental Degradation

In my last post I talked about the effect a growing human society has on the natural resources which are vital to its survival. For some reason Blogger wants to list this post ahead of that one, but it will make a lot more sense if you read the post on Growth and Depletion first.

The other side of the coin when it comes to depletion of natural resources is the degradation of the environment that accompanies that depletion. To me, our industrial society seems like a highly successful scheme for converting natural resources into pollution. We are told that this is necessary in order to maintain our "lifestyle" which is, as some would have it, "not negotiable".

But in reality we are completely dependent on the natural environment for the necessities of life. As that environment degrades, our lives and the continued survival of our species is placed in jeopardy. The choice is not between us or the environment, but between us and the environment – or nothing. In North America, perhaps more than anywhere else today, most people are living in denial of this fact.

The environment is suffering in many ways, but for a person like me, who approached this subject via the idea of Peak Oil, the one at the top of the list has to be climate change. Unfortunately, opinions on climate change have become so polarized that it is almost impossible to have an intelligent discussion. Actually, I should say anthropogenic climate change -- climate change caused by human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels which releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is the heart of the argument -- that our highly "carbonized" lifestyle is causing climate change and we are already beginning to suffer some pretty serious consequences, with more to come. The obvious conclusion is that we need to change, to stop releasing so much CO2 into the atmosphere. Many are unwilling to even consider change and this includes some pretty powerful concerns with a vested interest in "business as usual". In my opinion all the arguments against anthropogenic climate change boil down to one simple statement: "if it's true, then we'd have to change". If change is unthinkable, that is a pretty powerful argument. And a lot of money has been spent to make that argument over the past decade.

On the other side of the argument are scientists, trying to have a scientific discussion with a populous that doesn't for the most part understand science. It has not been going well, nor do I expect that it will until the process of climate change has gone so far that it is impossible to ignore. At that point it will be getting very late to stop and reverse the process. But for anyone who is at all interested, there is an excellent article in Skeptic magazine: How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused. Skeptic takes great delight in ridiculing pseudoscience. If they are supporting a theory, then maybe there is something to it after all.

Personally, I think there is a flaw in the idea that change is unthinkable. For at least the last few centuries, we've seen nothing but change – it has been the only constant. We've called it progress, and it has become our religion. Many of us, myself included sometimes, are tired of change, or at least of changes that don't really make things better. We are assuming that the changes it would take to wean us off fossil fuels would inevitably lead to a lower quality of life. I would suggest that the direction we are headed, by pursuing "business as usual" is anything but positive, that the changes we need to make to save the environment and stop Peak Oil from causing a complete disaster, may actually be positive changes and turn your world and mine into a better place to live. I'll have more to say on this a few posts down the road, but keep it in mind.

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