“The system is set up to force us all to participate in the system and thus perpetuate the system, or pay a very high penalty.”
– John Beckett. (from the comments)
There has been a lot of talk about environmental issues online, and I mean a LOT. I am sure Earth Day has something to do with it, but another source of discussion has also been the statement up at ecopagan.com. I am not going to make a link tree here. However, it was an article by John Beckett that really inspired this post. It got me thinking, which got me writing. So here is the first part.
There are so many interrelated parts to these ideas, inevitably I will only be able to touch upon certain parts.
That being said, I will use Beckett’s article as a general framework.
Point the first: “Western culture is based on fossil fuels and fossil fuels are running out. ”
So much of our economy is based on fossil fuels, it is not even funny. Synthetics, rubbers, plastics, electricity, and obviously fuel and oil. Sooner or later, likely sooner, those things will start to diminish, and eventually will run out. At the point where demand exceeds supply, this is called Peak Oil. Many things would start to decay, as less facilities and supportive infrastructure are no longer needed. Refineries, rigs, drills… jobs. Unless alternatives are found.
And even then, the alternatives aren’t all that great. Solar and wind are better options, but also consider that PV cells require the mining of rare earths metals from places like Africa, and wind turbines are made of many of the same materials (especially in the magnets, which have to be trucked in.) Even by trying to switch to alternatives, we are still sanctioning many of the practices that contribute to pollution, habitat destruction, strip mining and many other forms of environmental crises.
Point the second; Human population has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth and continues to grow.
Population growth is accelerating, and the world already carries over 7 billion people, and this number is expected to only grow in the coming decades. Now let’s be fair, population growth alone is not the only factor involved in environmental decay. There are countless factors, but population, when combined with general resource consumption (which is far from equitable), and the ease of extraction brought on by technological innovations to meet the needs of an ever growing population, that does cause a problem. It leads to the clearing of forests as a faster rate, for lumber and farmland. It lends to the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and an increase in the need for high-intensity agriculture. The daming of rivers for power and water, and so on.
I have talked quite a bit on this blog about how hunter-gatherers were generally more ecologically friendly then modern civilization, in so many ways. However, I want to be clear when I say this is not a viable option for 7 billion people. It would be unrealistic to expect everyone to go back to that lifestyle. Not just unrealistic, but downright catastrophic. I can only imagine unleashing 7 billion hunters on the world. The effect to both humans and the environment would be, in all likelihood, fatal. The animals and plants would be over hunted and over exploited, and the the humans would fight over the ever diminishing things that are left.
In such a scenario, the population would dwindle real quick. That is not an ideal or practical solution.
Point the third; So what can we do?
So, John Beckett asks; “What could we do? We could put strict limits on reproduction with the goal of a massive reduction in the human population. Put even stricter limits on production and use of fossil fuels. Make mandatory changes in where and how people live to reduce energy consumption and put people close to their food supplies. A massive redistribution of wealth from rich countries and individuals to poor countries and individuals to deal with the environmental and economic disruption.”
First off, and estimates very, America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world from a economic standpoint. Viewed through an environmental lens, this is not a good thing. If the rest of the world lived like America does, we would need three planets worth of resources, at least. Some countries struggle for access to such basic things as water.
Reproductive limits just don’t work. China is a good example, whereas expectant mothers traverse boundaries to have more then one child. I would expect similar results in the West if such policies were instituted. Mothers would go to other countries to have children. Plus, we can make all sorts of arguments about violation of liberty, human rights, and such things in regards to limiting reproduction. It is not a viable option.
Making mandatory changes all sounds good to, but on an international scale, not all things would be applied equally or fairly. Same for the “massive redistribution of wealth.” The environmental issues we face are global in nature, and only by global agreement, or some kind of “one world government”, could these suggestions even become remotely possible.
As such, I agree with Beckett’s conclusion; We won’t do any of these things. As I mentioned above, part of it is individual. I want the right to raise a family. I enjoy my new house, my electricity, the truck I drive. In many ways all these things are part of the problem. I like knowing my wife is comfortable and happy. The same for myself. At the same time, I am a debt slave to maintain this level of comfort. So much of my life is spent working to pay for that, my place in the system. And I am perpetuating that system at the same time. That is the price I pay, and many others pay.
As I have said in other posts, I need the truck to get to work, to pay for the house and electricity I use. I spend all my time working just to afford these things, to even be able to write the words on this screen. And that is just the monetary costs. What about the environmental costs? I burn gasoline every day to get to work, in truck made from metal and parts that come from across the globe. All that to afford the house that is built with wood, metal, plastic, all of which had to be extracted, refined, and transported. In many disciplines, that is called an externalized cost, the consequences of my lifestyle I do not see. I am disconnected from all of that. I don’t see the deforestation for the timber, or the mines for the metal, or (in some cases) the deplorable conditions of the people that work in those mines.
That is me perpetuating the system, and the alternatives are less then ideal. Do I go homeless instead? Do I give up my job, my home, my vehicle? Do I give up everything I have to be more environmentally friendly? That is not a decision I am willing to make.
The system I perpetuate is flawed.
And in many ways, it is already too late. The world of our descendants will be very different, hell I may even see it in my life time. That thought alone is enough to cause crippling despair. The bankruptcy of Detroit is a good example here. That is what economic collapse looks like. That city hemorrhaged population and business as a result of many factors, and now much of the city stands abandoned and in decay.
That is only the beginning. What happens when the oil dries up and there is nothing to sustain the massive petroleum and chemical industries? What happens if water reservoirs start to dry up? The infrastructure that currently supports these things dries up to. Workers and business disappear, and so does the tax base that supports other things like government and roads.
But something I have learned through my studies, is that most collapses are political and economic in nature. Political structure break down when they are no longer people (taxpayers) to support them. But the people will endure. Our civilization may well collapse, but the people will endure. The Mayans, as Beckett points out, and many other people are testament to that.
So really what are our options? Maybe Beckett says it best;
” It’s too late to leave our descendants a richer, more secure world than we have enjoyed. It’s not too late to begin laying the foundations for the world that is to come.”
Beckett is going to be posting on his thoughts about what that coming world may look like, and I will be following this with interest. I too, have many more thoughts on these topics.
(Disclaimer, DGR stands for many things I do not sanction or endorse. )