Glimmer of Hope?

by

John Wright

 

I try to keep current with evolving technologies, especially those that address things I believe useful to Humanity. For example, Iíve read five books recently that cover the past, present and future of the environment relative to pollution, population and climate. The seriousness of the subjects makes any concerns about the present sorry USA economy pale to insignificance. The discussions of solutions indicate the general public has not been kept abreast of things fearful and things constructive in the news. Yes, there is the occasional special report on programs like "60 Minutes," but in general the pace of global activity to remedy environmental concerns is yet one more area pretty much excluded from our TV, radio and newspapers. I wonder why this is so?

Perhaps it is deemed important for the general public not to know the larger changes in energy production or transportation or power generation as that knowledge could severely affect willingness to purchase many current products, like cars. Perhaps the general public is seen as too irrational to face environmental danger without freaking out. Perhaps the general public would be bored to death with the subject matter, as their mental processes and general knowledge are so deficient that they canít understand the science intrinsic to understanding global environmental evolution.

One thing is certain Ö there has been a battle royal for decades about needed change in our use of fossil fuels and reproductive practices and their consequences in trying to feed/transport/power expanding populations. To be blunt, damn few people have been willing to declare, publicly, that we have too many people. Letís examine these areas of concern.

Supplies of fresh water for personal use and for crop irrigation are declining severely at the same time we are creating ever more people who need food and water. The worst places are the countries that already have difficulty feeding their people, like Ethiopia, as those countries have the highest reproduction rates. It is, of course, a matter of gross ignorance, some of which is a byproduct of terminal ignorance, otherwise known as stupidity. To be fair, there is a lot of stupidity all over the world Ö but it shows up in horrible ways in poor countries. Thus we have had programs to feed the hungry for well over fifty years, to no avail, as fed but ignorant people keep making ever more people in their ignorance, and simply recreate their own disasters.

In other instances, non-replenishable water supplies in huge underground aquifers are being used up to do dumb things like irrigate crops in desert/dry areas. Almost all of the water used evaporates instead of being used efficiently by the crops. The USA and Saudi Arabia are prime examples.

Moving on to the fossil fuel issue, global warming due to overuse of fossil fuels is not even questionable. Only paid liars, bought politicians and those in the oil and coal industries who pay them continue to resist this obvious truth. The melting and recession of critical mountain glaciers that provide essential water to over two billion people in Asia is proved. There is a similar problem in the USA re. declining mountain sources of water for California. The Arctic and Antarctic ice melts are massive and obvious.

We actually are moving away from fossil fuel use, albeit far too slowly. The use of wind farms, solar cells and geothermal energy are being used extensively now to produce electricity in much of the world, but the amount needed to displace the use of oil and coal is presently far too small. The fear of the climate scientists is that we are too rapidly approaching a "tipping" point where our efforts to contain or reverse global warming will be useless. Every essential measure of climate change in the past ten years has shown the models used to predict change have been far too optimistic. The rate of change is rapid in ways that will harm us extensively in various places in the world, by 2020 to 2030, not later.

Lester R. Brown, the author of "Plan B 4.0" and president of the Earth Policy Institute, has done a thorough job of explaining what we have to do/complete within only the next ten years to avoid disaster. (Hey, go to Barnes and Noble® and buy the book and read it! I cannot do the book or the writer justice in this singular article. Suffice it to say there is much new and useful information on solutions to environmental problems that you can learn for yourself.) It will be interesting to see how the world changes during that time period. I sense that certain of the forecast disasters relative to water supplies will happen anyway, even with Herculean efforts to replace coal and oil power generation with wind farms and solar cells. Part of my feeling comes from knowing global populations in the most heavily populated areas will continue to expand, at the same time that water supplies diminish from critical to disaster levels. We will experience horrendous levels of death globally that make all deaths by wars past and present trivial in comparison. This is my prediction, not necessarily that of the authors of the books I have read. I also predict we wonít hear about most of the disastrous situations honestly as they occur. News blackouts are and will be common.

Technologies developed and being developed to improve our future re. climate and water are terrific, like compost toilets that use no water for flushing, and hydropower, biomass, wind and solar power generation projects that are already providing over 100 gigawatts of electrical power globally. Of course, we need 1200 gigawatts at current levels of demand, and that demand will only increase as we replace internal combustion engines with all electric cars and oil based home heating with electric/solar heating in a vastly improved insulated environment. That these technologies can do the job is no longer in question. The issue is whether governments will demand the changes instead of, like here in the USA, pandering to the ignorant people with promises while crushing legislation to halt the use of oil and coal. You see we donít have time left to fool around with bastards in business or government. They have to go now.

For the record, I wrote an article a few years ago that demeaned the use of electric cars on the premise that conversion of petroleum to kinetic energy showed zero benefit for electric cars vs. the traditional gasoline engine. This was based on the inherent inefficiencies of electricity production, transmission and voltage change inefficiencies of transformers. Well, I am still correct if we consider power generated using oil or coal. I am wrong if we use wind or solar power to generate the required electric power, for those methods consume no fossil fuel whatever. Today it is obvious that most of our generated power in the USA comes from petroleum or coal consumption, so our hybrids or all electric cars are not saving fossil fuels. They are simply being consumed at an earlier point in the power generation process. What I deeply hope is that we grow up and make major investments in wind farms and solar energy solutions for electricity generation.

Well, if you knew for a fact that gasoline will cost $15 per gallon five years from now would you buy a new car any time in the near future with only an internal combustion engine? If home-heating oil will cost $12 per gallon will you buy a marginally insulated home with an oil furnace, old or new? There are certain environmental and economic realities that demand we transition from present older technology to new technology without destroying the economy in the interim. I really donít know if that is possible. I have doubts about how the transition will be managed without causing massive economic disruption for the bulk of our population in the USA. That, in turn, can delay the truly essential changes like virtual elimination of fossil fuel use. Remember that what harm has already been done environmentally, particularly in regard to greenhouse gas concentrations, will take many decades to remedy, even with all the right and timely moves to eliminate use of fossil fuels.

Much of the economic evidence related to the decline of our economy masks some of the fundamental reasons why the problems occurred in the first place. I am going out on a limb to make certain of these assertions but lets see if we can relate markets for certain items to coming changes in technology instead of poor economy decisions. Why is Las Vegas real estate in such bad shape? Is it because people arenít gambling in a bad economy or is it because it isnít viable to live in Las Vegas going forward in time due to environmental considerations/environmental overload? Iím not saying we will give Las Vegas back to the armadillos, but even a cessation of growth can indicate something other than the propensities of common gamblers. Are automobile sales very low for used as well as new cars with only internal combustion engines because of the poor economy/job losses, or, is there unrest about coming fuel price increases, which will occur as oil production declines due to implementation of alternative energies or because of carbon generation taxes? Is the housing market bad due to oversupply? If so, is the oversupply a direct result of job losses or equally a suspicion that the homes will be subject to very high property taxes and high costs of retrofitting insulation, etc., as heating and cooling costs increase? Overall, the general question is Ö do we have evidence that supports the idea that a poor economy is a partial result of suspected major changes in how we will live Ö and what we will have to buy in a vastly changed society Ö and what losses we will incur if we continue to buy/own the old stuff? At this point I will not take a strong position, but for the first time I am developing some suspicions that could potentially exert strong influence over my own plans for future purchases and investments.

Is the environmental subject one of evolution or cataclysm? Using a market economy to determine how we allocate goods and services in general is good, but using that short term approach to the allocation and use of environmental resources is a total disaster. It has favored only the immediate future in terms of profit generation, with no allowance whatever for future harmful impact on all of society. Thus, running the world from the basis only of economics has led to disaster, for economics fails to consider true costs in the present for prices to be paid in the future. Think cataclysm if we continue to follow a global economy model to decide how we do things, instead of an ecology model.

As I noted earlier, our present problems with our sick economy pale to insignificance compared to changes that must occur now to how we do things related to food, water, transportation, employment and any area that is resource consumptive, either directly in materials or indirectly in energy consumption. Personally, I find it hard to believe even though Iíve been exposed to some of the best writers and opinions of respected scientists like Jim Hansen of NASA. And if I have difficulty accepting reality because of the changes implied to my life and yours then think what a hard sell it is to convince those made wealthy, directly or indirectly, by oil, coal, etc. Perhaps now you will appreciate my earlier comments about information missing from the news media about change in other areas of the world. What is by force afoot to accommodate climate change makes conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq look absolutely silly. Where in the hell have our political leadersí heads been in the past thirty years?

Most of all we have to realize and accept that global population is far too high and far too demanding on environmental resources to grow food without destroying the very environment in which the food is grown. Yet we are using all extra available cropland in the USA now to produce corn for ethanol to continue past practices in transportation, i.e. cars with gasoline engines. The effect? Grain prices soar, so food is more expensive. Say what!? And we are losing significant capacity globally to provide good cropland and water due to climate change and idiotic past projects, e.g. the Aswan dam. All these types of projects did was allow the populations to expand (triple in the case of Egypt, between 1956 and 1980, from 25 million to 75 million) and thus recreate the original food and water problems, but now with unintended environmental side effects, like soil salinization, which destroys the soil.

Various countries that are losing their ability to feed their populations are buying or leasing massive amounts of cropland in other countries so as to feed their own people without importing food at high cost. Even China is doing that. And this is a solution? No, it is a perpetuation of the ridiculous. Saudi Arabia is leasing land in Ethiopia to grow food Ö and note that Ethiopia is too poor/ignorant to grow food to feed/manage itís own people! Even Libya is going to plant lots of acreage in the Ukraine in wheat. Well, maybe this is better than wars of conquest, but these are sidesteps to manage current problems, not long term solutions. By the way, have you read much about that activity in your newspaper or heard about it in detail on TV?

Mandatory birth control and reproduction limits globally are not subject to a vote Ö they must and will happen, like it or not. Areas that do not constrain population growth will be the very areas of extreme high levels of death, numbering in the hundreds of millions globally as available water and food become ever more scarce in particular geographies. This type of problem, leading to starvation and genocide, has already happened in multiple areas of Africa, but to date with fewer deaths Ö merely a few million! Why more scarce? The reason is that farming methods and climate change are reducing the ability to grow food, e.g. soil erosion/loss of topsoil and dust storms, serious expansion of desert areas, combined with use of non-replenishable aquifer water and chemical fertilizers/soil salinization. And when the water flows from the Himalayas into the rivers in China and India fail, just what do you think we can do other than reduce populations in as kindly as manner as possible? Legislate an increase in the Monsoon season???

Malthus was infamous in the 19th century for writings that warned us that we were making too many people. At that time in history world population was less than one billion Ö and today? Do the math. We have about seven billion people, and we are having major problems simply with feeding them, and most of all our methods for so doing are flat out not sustainable. Look at the rate of change in global population in only 150 years. Where do you think this is going, and more to the point, why? All the wonderful changes in agriculture advancements (the Green Revolution) have been overcome by our fecundity. We have used really neat inventions, like the automobile, far to excess, for we have too many people who all want to do the same thing, and that shows how ridiculous we have become. Do realize, however, that if we had a global population of only one to two billion people we could all be doing everything else we like to do today, even with all the inefficiencies, and we wouldnít have any of the environmental or economic concerns addressed in this article. Are we too dumb to get it?

Fallout effects from necessary changes in declining populations of employed people will destroy the entitlement programs that are based on our present ponzi scheme approach, used by our federal government to fund Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The days of fiscal irresponsibility are coming to an end at national as well as personal levels, as physical realities dictate that we canít continue our past and present ponzi schemes, for we now must constrain population itself. The most interesting aspect of it all is that we canít legislate our way out of physical realities related to climate or water availability when we continue to have growing populations. Doesnít it make you wonder how we ever could have put ourselves in our present situation? Clearly, those with political instead of scientific minds made the stupid mistakes related to the ponzi schemes. Let me be very clear Ö the age of political thinking without scientific competence is over Ö or we are over.

Ah Ö as the old Chinese insult says Ö "May you live in interesting times." We (the fortunate ones) sure are going to do exactly that. Global evolution in the next ten to twenty years will be punctuated by disasters and successes the likes of which in number and magnitude we couldnít even imagine a mere twenty years ago. Dorothy, no this isnít Kansas, and youíd better be damn glad it isnít, but to be candid we have to leave the fairy tale and deal with hard realities.

Peace (I hope Ö even a glimmer).