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Environment, energy and politics

By John Thompson in Op-Ed
Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 06:51:33 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

Environment, energy and politics. This article began as a comment on "greenrd's recent article on The Skeptical Environmentalist [see Amazon customer reviews] but started to take on life of its own in my head and spread well beyond the other discussion on the book. I haven't read this book, so perhaps somebody who has can answer my question: By what measure has the environment been determined to be "better" now?


I will agree that in the developed countries at least, pollution is now better controlled than it had been in my youth (1950's) and that (in developed countries, again) sensible efforts to preserve wild areas and evaluate the environmental impact of human development have been done, but does that really mean that the environment as a whole has become "better?" Certainly, rainforest destruction seems to be continuing unabated, fishery harvests are declining, etc., so there appears to be at least some room for argument on that point.

Counterarguments, too, can be brought to bear: global warming due to human activity, although contentious for political reasons, is a well-accepted hypothesis in the scientific community. The worst that can be said about it scientifically is that the long-term environmental significance of such warming is largely unknown.

But in my view, the single greatest environmental threat we face is the loss of species diversity. This loss is most dramatic in the tropical rain forest areas, where hundreds of species are lost every year, but also is occurring in the temperate areas and in the developed countries who rightly claim significant environmental improvements in pollution control and wilderness preservation.

You might wonder "what could possible be the environmental risk of losing some obscure species of snail darter or tropical orchid or insect?" And I would have to honestly answer "We don't know." But bear in mind that an axiom of statistical population biology is that ecological stability and longevity have a direct relation to the species diversity of the system. That is, the less diversity in a system, the more likely it is to become unstable and destroy itself. The large-scale mono-culture systems of modern agriculture are only sustainable by continuous effort (read: application of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, cultivation and so on) to suppress the destabilizing effects of lack of species diversity in the system. It can be argued that the only way the developed world has been able to sustain itself so far is by using a disproportionate share of the world's fossil fuel energy supplies. It has long been noted that the USA, with only about 4% of the world's population nonetheless consumes over a third of the world's natural resources. Clearly, it is not realistic to expect the rest of the world's population to be able to work their way up to a similar level of consumption.

Which brings me to another concern: like rest of our modern society, modern agriculture is greatly dependent on a continuous supply of inexpensive energy, largely in the form of fossil fuels. Supplies of these fuels are finite; although there is some debate how long we have before fossil fuel supplies become too expensive to extract, it is indisputable that they will some day come to that point. It strikes me as the acme of irresponsibility to base energy policy on a known, finite resource like fossil fuels. Rather, we should be preserving our fossil fuels for the applications that truly require them. For example, people can be transported much more efficiently on bicycles,trains and buses than in personal automobiles, but (in the USA anyway) no serious effort is being made to improve public mass transit systems. Our (USA) political leadership says we must break our dependence on foreign oil, but to do this they do not suggest reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in general, but rather on increasing our production of domestic fossil fuels, including those thought to lie beneath ecologically fragile areas. Such a policy can only be described as criminally short-sighted.

Lacking a sensible long-term energy policy, and allowing the trend to decreased species diversity to continue unabated is a recipe for disaster. At this point in time, we may still have the means to turn this trend around. But decades or centuries from now, when the fossil fuels are gone and global species diversity radically reduced, humanity may find itself painted into a corner. Without inexpensive energy and adequate species diversity, ecological systems will be difficult or impossible to maintain in a condition suitable for modern society or even human life, and certainly not at a level capable of sustaining our burgeoning human population.

Life in general will, no doubt, continue despite our best efforts but there is no guarantee that humanity itself will be among the species able to survive a global ecological collapse, should it occur. But certainly, unless we make a dedicated effort to find and develop new non-fossil energy sources and adjust our energy consumption to fit a sustainable level based on known, available resources, we are headed for trouble. It may not happen in our lifetimes, or even our children's or grand-children's lifetimes, but unless we effectively address the issue, it *WILL* happen.

Many critics of sustainable energy point out that we don't know how long fossil fuels may last. There may indeed be vast fossil fuel resources yet to be discovered, and eventually other sources such as fusion power may become economically feasible, but at this point *WE DO NOT KNOW THIS*. Sound, responsible long-term energy policy cannot be based on such pie-in-the-sky daydreams.

I am not suggesting that such a change will be easy. On the contrary, it will require drastic changes in how our society operates and in our personal expectations. Many powerful people and industries will oppose it. Social unrest is not out of the question. But the fact remains that the longer we wait to address the issue, the less likely it is that we will be able to make a successful transition to a sustainable energy society. At this point, we still have a good supply of inexpensive fossil fuel. We (the developed world, at least) have the money to fund extensive research into sustainable energy. All we lack is the political wherewithal to make it happen.

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Environment, energy and politics | 39 comments (31 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Contentious article... (4.00 / 11) (#2)
by ragabr on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 04:59:01 PM EST

First of all, I'd like to agree with what I took your point to be, that the measuring stick for environmental well-being at this point in time is pretty arbitrary. The further back you look, the less and less accurate measurements get to base the judgement on.

Some problems I had with your article were your statement that global warming due to human activity is generally accepted in the scientific community. K5 has had a couple of stories on this topic, this being one of my favorites. I think the real scientific consensus, at least among those who are being as politically unbiased as possible, seems to be "we don't know and even after more research we still might not know." Because, in the end, we only have semi-accurate measurements for an incredibly small part of this planet's lifespan.

The species decline is arguable on the same grounds. In the past, people just weren't that interested in keeping track of extinction rates, and we have no idea what they were in the areas that remained unexplored at the time. I'm not blind, and I'm not going to say that humans don't have a significant impact on species survival, but the real question is, is it important? A large number of Greenies, and people in general, like to ignore that we're animals, just as much a part of the world's natural cycle as anything else. Is it any worse that we're causing the extinction of these species compared to rocks falling from the sky?

In the end, most of the ecology movement seems aimed at making me feel guilty for living comfortably. I know that's not the reason many people do it, but many more seem to be just living in this romantic dream world of natural man, pulling fruit off of trees and being friends with all the animals, with no real needs or wants other than universal harmony. Well, that or the militants who feel guilty about something they can't really define, latch onto the ecological movement and use to in an attempt to make everyone else feel as guilty as they do.

-------
And my tongue would be made of chocolate. Mmmmm. Chocolate.
-rusty
Contentious comment ... (3.14 / 7) (#25)
by schrotie on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 11:50:41 AM EST

Hi there,

it actually is your bloody comfortable life what everybody is concerned about. There are those romantic naive greens that simply like nature. But even they realized that you can't argue that way in a world that has lost all ideals and is only governed by money and your comfort.
It's also true that science is not sure if we're screwing the climate up. And that it might never be. There is only strong evidence that we're going to spoil our last chance on this planet. We might even get an ice age if we accidently manage to stop the gulf stream by increasing the temerature. No, scientists are not sure at all what'll happen. And not sure what role we play.
Great so they don't know, let's party on Garth. You should try russian roulette man. That's your game. Lot's of fun. And totally unproven that you'll not make it.
By the way ... It's not at all uncertain wether it's getting warmer. We're getting temperature records galore. The deserts are expanding. Draughts are more frequent. But you're not just some pathetic african, right? You're probably something better since you are sitting in front of a computer. So expanding deserts don't yet spoil your comfort while there's enough fuel to burn for your air condition. And hey! We don't really know if releasing greenhouse gases makes it worse, do we?
I don't mind if the third fries, it's hotter there, I'm not surprised. (Bob Geldorf, The great Song of Indifference). Your song?

As for the "species decline" ... you obviously ate some close to criminal misinformation there. Sure it's arguable. As is everything in science. But even you would not play russian roulette on wether the law of gravity holds, would you? Feel invited anyway. One CO2 source less.
The species decline is not measurable for just some 50 years but for a loooong time through fossile record (as is the climate - at least partly. Climate is very well documented over the past 100.000 years through greenland glacier drills). Earth has seen 5 majour extinctions since the cambrian explosion 500 million years ago. The last one was 60 million years ago and took the dinos and the better part of all other species. The current extinction rate, documented over many thousands of years everywhere humans appeared after leaving africa, is quite impressive. We are wittnessing "The sixth Extinction" (a book by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (Doubleday, 1995)).
I don't want to argue the value of biodiversity here. If you choose to wake up just go to a library. It's all been said over and over and over again. Or enjoy your comfort while it lasts. If you're old enough - or die young enough - and if you manage to keep your eyes wide shut, you might even get through with it.

I don't mind at all.

Thorsten

[ Parent ]

Ha! (none / 0) (#30)
by Anonymous 6522 on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 06:56:26 PM EST

It's not at all uncertain wether it's getting warmer. We're getting temperature records galore.

Well maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but such warming has happened in the past, no? Where's your proof that humans are the ones causing it now? I'm not looking for educated guesses here, show me that there is very little possibility of some non-human process (even one that is unknown) causing this warming. I expect you to have such proof it you use phrases like, "It's not at all uncertain."

Climate is very well documented over the past 100.000 years

I'm sure there are climatologists that would disagree with you.

The current extinction rate, documented over many thousands of years everywhere humans appeared after leaving africa, is quite impressive.

Well. if those cute little species cannot survive with humans around, I can't think of anything more natural than letting them die off. Conditions have changed, they are unfit and they cannot adapt, so they die. Live with it, that's how nature works. It's the wholly unnatural world that some environmentalists want, with very few extinctions, and the preservation of unfit life, that bothers me

[ Parent ]

"Ha!" yourself man ;-) (5.00 / 3) (#31)
by schrotie on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 05:43:08 AM EST

Hi there,

first of all I'd like to ask you for the grounds on which you rated my article 2. Just interested so that I can write something better next time.

You'll get no proof. Never. Science is not about final proofs or truth or anything. Science is about educated guesses. It's about optimizing the guesses. Even if there was a grand unified theory of climate you'd probably get no final say on the matter because of chaos, complexity and one Mr. Heisenberg. If you want truth, final answers and stop thinking then go to church. You'll be pleased about how simple life really is.

So we do have these educated guesses and even a majority of scientists doing work in that field agree on the basic points. You probably can't appreciate that. In a field as complex a climate so many scientists agreeing on their guesses is something immensely significant.
Your argumentation is ridiculous. It's the argumentation of the coorporate world, I know, and it's so comfortable, agreed. But still ... you argue that since there is no proof (only strong evidence) that our conduct is disastrous we can continue on our path. Considering what's at stake the argumentation should be th other way round. As long as we don't know if our actions are harmful we should refrain from them. We should do everything to make sure we don't spoil the planets ecology. Because we, or our children, need that ecology to function. If there's any chance we loose it we should try to prevent that. Humans buy ensurances for everything. But don't even think about ensuring their continued success here.
Imagine there's a comet approaching earth. Something that would seriously harm the system and kill billions of people. It's still some way off and scientists are not sure if it will hit or closely miss. They will only know, when it's too late to change the course. Still they propose to start a project for changing it's course. This would be very expensive but would probably avert the peril. And it would also spin off very useful new technologies. But you sit there comfortably saying "Naah, they can't proof it'll hit. Forget those wimps!"
I'm not talking about going back to the caves or sitting in the dark. I don't even talk about cutting down on your beloved comfort. Drive 5 litre cars instead of 12. Use public transport where appropriate. Don't put golf courses in the desert. Don't use air condition if nobodie's in. Don't turn it to artic deep freeze if somebody is. Use the best available isolation for houses. And so on. And do a lot of research in regenerative energies.

but such warming has happened in the past
Well worse things have happened. The ocean level has changed tens of meters. There's been ice ages and dry periods. All very natural. I'm not asking for anything natural though. If the water level rose 10 meters New York, the archipelagoes of the pacific, the netherland, northern Germany and many many other coastal areas would get drowned. If we get an ice age, cities in the northern hemisphere will be swept away by glaciers. All very natural. But not very promising. Humanity needs a stable system not the chaotic yoyo earth climate is. And we certainly do not need to make it worse.

if those cute little species cannot survive with humans around, I can't think of anything more natural than letting them die off
Arguing with terms like "natural" only demonstrates your limited insight into the subject of your comments. Take e.g. Europe. "Naturally" it's a huge forest (beech trees and others) intersected by a plethora of clearings, meandering rivers, meadows and so on. The "natural" Europe looks nothing like the actual Europe. Saving the environment is not about saving some obscure concept of naturality. It's about saving a certain endangered species of nasty primates.
Biodiversity is value and you're a shareholder. It stabelizes the system. We cannot affort the soil being washed away and the ground water lowering. We cannot afford the oceans rising and deserts expanding. And we might just want to give biotechnology a chance before we devoid it of it's ressources.

It's the wholly unnatural world that some environmentalists want, with very few extinctions, and the preservation of unfit life, that bothers me
unnatural, unfit life??? Watch you words, you sound like a Nazi (no I don't accuse you of being one, I just propose choosing a less suspicious mindset ... or language).

Regards

Thorsten

[ Parent ]

My small-time thoughts. (3.63 / 11) (#3)
by valeko on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 05:13:48 PM EST

I'd like to praise this article as being very thoughtfully and correctly written.

That said, many people upon reading it and others of its kind will wonder how the author expects them to personally assist in averting an ecological meltdown. Most people are not policymakers, and are in no capacity to guide environmental policy. You can protest and lobby against various industries and practises, but what can you really do as a citizen, as an individual? The answer to this question varies.

My answer has been to avoid cars. I'm turning sixteen in a few weeks, and I live in a small, suburbanish town. Obviously, there is enourmous social pressure exerted by mainstream consumer society compelling me to drive an automobile. I have no such ambitions. It is entirely possible that later on in my professional life, I may be forced by sheer circumstances to drive - I can accept this. However, for the time being, I refuse. I do not concur with this parasitic consumer mentality - that as a youth, I imperatively need to get somewhere in my car. There is just no place where I actually have to be that I cannot reach between being driven by someone else, walking, and riding my trusty bicycle. I don't "have" to get anywhere, and I will not take future employment at a place that constrains me to driving. I realise that not everyone my age has this luxury, but I do, and I will use it.

The predominant mindset is that because the infrastructure does not accomodate transport in vehicles other than cars, particularly here where I live, then the individual has no choice but to surrender to these constraints and drive a car. I beg to differ. There may not be any plausable public transport, bike lanes, or sidewalks - but surrendering your mobility to an automobile is just perpetuating this unfortunate status quo. Don't do it. Buy a bicycle. It'll take a while to adapt, but eventually you will feel an internal reward of sorts for shedding the financial expenditures associated with ownership of a car. It really is empowering, the sense that you can get around without a car. And an excellent lifestyle from the standpoint of physical fitness.


"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart

The only way a person will feel empowered... (4.00 / 6) (#6)
by ragabr on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 06:08:13 PM EST

is if they find the responsibilities of owning a car as undo restraints. I don't, and thus I will not feel empowered, no matter how much you insist otherwise.

And no matter how much you try to disagree, it is possible to own a car without being an unwitting enemy of the environment. Especially considering that there are several contributers to ecological ruin much higher on the list than individually owned cars, many of which you are probably an unwitting user of.

-------
And my tongue would be made of chocolate. Mmmmm. Chocolate.
-rusty
[ Parent ]
No argument there. (3.60 / 5) (#9)
by valeko on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 06:16:42 PM EST

is if they find the responsibilities of owning a car as undo restraints. I don't, and thus I will not feel empowered, no matter how much you insist otherwise.

That's fair enough. However, I think that if the circumstances were different - if the environment did not favour exclusively cars and there were other very plausable and fully developed modes of transportation, fewer people would as enthusiastically shell out the thousands of dollars for an automobile.

And no matter how much you try to disagree, it is possible to own a car without being an unwitting enemy of the environment. Especially considering that there are several contributers to ecological ruin much higher on the list than individually owned cars, many of which you are probably an unwitting user of

Oh, absolutely. You can't avoid being an unwitting user of many things that are harmful to the environment - which of course varies with your definition of what is harmful to the environment. As I pointed out, the emissions of personal automobiles are pretty insignificant compared to large industrial waste from manufacturing plants, refineries, airplanes, etc. And, many if not most of these things are inherent to living in western society and can't be avoided without extreme measures that most of us, including myself, cannot undertake.

But avoiding automobiles is the part I'm doing to keep things cleaner. I could probably be doing more, no doubt, but I was sharing one environmentally-friendly characteristic of my lifestyle. Environmental concerns are by no means the primary or even secondary factors guiding my avoidance of cars, either. I have ideological problems with driving as a young person, as I'm sure you've noted - and it places an undue economic burden on me that I can really forego with a little bicycling effort.


"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

A bit of editing. (2.00 / 1) (#18)
by scanman on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 11:53:45 PM EST

The only way a person will feel empowered...is if they find the responsibilities of owning a car as undue restraints. I don't, and therefore I will not feel empowered, no matter how much you insist otherwise. And no matter how much you try to disagree, it is possible to own a car without being an unwitting enemy of the environment. Especially considering that there are several contributors to ecological ruin much higher on the list than individually owned cars, many of which you are probably an unwitting user of. ------- "Feelings are overrated, which is why I use China White(c) brand heroin" --Me

"[You are] a narrow-minded moron [and] a complete loser." - David Quartz
"scanman: The moron." - ucblockhead
"I prefer the term 'lifeskills impaired'" - Inoshiro

[ Parent ]

Name one. (3.33 / 3) (#29)
by misterluke on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 06:02:53 PM EST

That is: name one activity where one single individual's contribution to environmental decay is as potent as driving an automobile, especially when they're alone in a car. How does it compare with your portion of your local coal power plant's emissions ( assuming you're not hooked up to a hydro or nuke plant )?

[ Parent ]
Here's one (none / 0) (#34)
by catseye on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 12:56:04 PM EST

Eating commercially produced, non-"organic" food.

Cattle, sheep, and other ruminants produce huge quantities of methane, a major greenhouse gas.

Animals are routinely fed antibiotics that make their way into the soil and water.

Commercial produce farmers use all sorts of chemicals and pesticides that make their way into soil and water supplies.

Oh, and you know those paper boxes that food comes in? Paper production has a negative impact on forests, quality of air, and waterways.

So, basically, if you don't eat food you grow yourself, you're as much a polluter as someone who drives a car, but instead of doing it yourself you pay someone else to do it.

----------
How can we fight Islamic Fundamentalism abroad if we do not fight Christian Fundamentalism at home?
[ Parent ]
Hmmm. (3.40 / 5) (#12)
by mofospork on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 07:37:18 PM EST

there is enourmous social pressure exerted by mainstream consumer society compelling me to drive an automobile.
Mainstream consumer society? Try, "your peers." Driving is a sign of independence, which most teenagers find desirable. Taking the bus, having your perents take you, and bumming rides off people are not. I'd learn to drive if I were you, kid.

but surrendering your mobility to an automobile
That's an interesting, but wrong, idea. The people who drive cars are not surrendering any kind of mobility, it's the people who refuse to drive that are.

Don't do it. Buy a bicycle. It'll take a while to adapt, but eventually you will feel an internal reward of sorts for shedding the financial expenditures associated with ownership of a car. It really is empowering
As you said, you're sixteen years old. It's doubtful that you have to travel very far to get to your school or your job. For you, a bike may be adequate, I'd like to see you say that in, oh, ten years. You don't have much experience in the Real World, so your advice is of limited value.

[ Parent ]
You're right - read what I said. (3.75 / 4) (#13)
by valeko on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 08:08:50 PM EST

Mainstream consumer society? Try, "your peers." Driving is a sign of independence, which most teenagers find desirable. Taking the bus, having your perents take you, and bumming rides off people are not. I'd learn to drive if I were you, kid.

Yes, but this false independence is cultivated by mainstream consumer society. This absurd notion that I actually might _need_ to get somewhere all by myself with my own car comes from the same old marketing engine. This, "I need to get to a party at a friend's house" or "I need to meet someone at the mall" is the substance of teens' justifications for driving. And I don't want to be like that.

That's an interesting, but wrong, idea. The people who drive cars are not surrendering any kind of mobility, it's the people who refuse to drive that are.

Depends on how you look at it. I don't find, for example, that hopping in my car in the morning, hopping out at school, then hopping back in and hopping back out at home gives me any increased sense of 'independence' or 'mobility' - on the contrary, I feel quite stationary when I do it. It's a matter of taste I guess.

As you said, you're sixteen years old. It's doubtful that you have to travel very far to get to your school or your job. For you, a bike may be adequate, I'd like to see you say that in, oh, ten years. You don't have much experience in the Real World, so your advice is of limited value.

You're absolutely right, and I believe I gave this credit in my original comment. It is entirely acceptable to me that there are perfectly legitimate uses for cars, even among people my age. I have no difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that later in my life, when I lead a more professional one, I will most likely be forced to drive a car. I understand that.

However, while I am young and do not have to obide by these constraints of the Real World, I will avoid driving with great zeal. In ten years, who knows. It's worth adding that it is my desire to live in an urban area - I am a product of such an environment. I'm just stuck in a small town. ;-) Whether the realities of the Real World will permit me to live where I want to is a different story.

Environmental and ideological reasons aren't the only factors that influence this decision to abstain from driving. There's also safety; I've witnessed far too many accidents walking frmo school. Nearly all involved ineptitude on the part of my driving peers. I understand entirely that competence in driving and the associated judgements required to do so safely can come from experience, but feel strongly that experience is not the only factor. The teenage process of decision-making when at the hands of a two tonne armoured behemoth is more impulsive than it is judgemental, and I have no doubt that I would fall susceptible to this syndrome as well. I neither want to involve myself in a crash nor want to share the road with people like myself. I don't like the idea that a two-second lapse in concetration when driving a two twonne armoured behemoth at 55 miles per hour results in me plowing into a telephone pole or tree. That doesn't happen on a bike.


"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Ride a bike (3.75 / 4) (#15)
by John Thompson on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 08:58:33 PM EST

mofospork wrote:

> As you said, you're sixteen years old. It's
> doubtful that you have to travel very far to get
> to your school or your job. For you, a bike may
> be adequate , I'd like to see you say that in,
> oh, ten years. You don't have much experience in
> the Real World, so your advice is of limited
> value.

For what it's worth, I'm forty-six years old, live in northern Wisconsin and ride my bike to work almost 9 months out of the year and have for as long as I've been working. I stop when it beocmes dark during my commutes and cold enough for ice to persist on the roads. Yes, I have a nice halogen lighting system on my bike, but even so ice is difficult to see in the dark and may be covered by leaves, snow or other debris. Once you take a digger on the ice on the way to work you lose your enthusiasm riding any more.

I'd be happy to take public transportation to my job, but it isn't available. Buses go by my house and job but don't start until 7am and end at about 10pm. I have to be at work by 7am and sometimes work evening shifts and don't get home until after midnight. In most seasons it's not a problem riding, but in the middle of winter I have to drive.


[ Parent ]
Random Junk (3.14 / 7) (#4)
by Anonymous 6522 on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 05:45:09 PM EST

But in my view, the single greatest environmental threat we face is the loss of species diversity.

I've convinced myself that this is less of an issue than many people make it out to be. The species that die off are the ones that cannot adapt to changing conditions, eventually new things will evolve to occupy those niches (if they still exist) that are more able to survive in an environment with industrialized humans.

no serious effort is being made to improve public mass transit systems.

I'm not going to drag myself to the bus stop, and wait for a bus, while it's below zero (fahrenheit) outside, and I, sure as hell, aren't going to be riding a bike in that weather. Mass transit has situations were it is appropriate (like commuter rail), but it isn't appropriate all, or even most, situations. The personal automobile is here to stay.

no guarantee that humanity itself will be among the species able to survive a global ecological collapse

But I'd say we're one of the best adapted for survival in such a situation.

Improving public transit. (3.50 / 6) (#7)
by valeko on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 06:08:54 PM EST

I'm not going to drag myself to the bus stop, and wait for a bus, while it's below zero (fahrenheit) outside, and I, sure as hell, aren't going to be riding a bike in that weather.

That's right, and that's where mass transit needs improving. Large European cities have the right idea - bus stops are ubiquitous such that you have to venture at most a few blocks outside your home, buses are frequent, etc. The only American cities where I've seen public transport work effectively as far as being ubiquitous and delivering people to almost any point in the city with reasonable ease is New York City and Boston. Many other cities have skeletal public transport systems around their downtowns, but the whole point of public transport is that you can get to and from home on it.

Though, make no mistake - maybe you have no desire to drag yourself to a bus stop at sub-zero temperatures, but you don't necessarily speak for other people that are more willing to work for progress.


"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Generic Title (3.25 / 4) (#10)
by Anonymous 6522 on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 06:41:10 PM EST

bus stops are ubiquitous such that you have to venture at most a few blocks outside your home, buses are frequent, etc.

For most sane people, the only real motivation for using mass transit it one of convenience, and walking a few blocks in subzero temperatures and then sitten on a bence to wait for a bus to come is much less convenient than walking a few feet to your car and going. And on top of that, it's probably going to take much longer to get where you're going. You can build that expensive bus transit than you can describe, but if your the only one on the bus, what's the point? Public transportation will never catch on in North Dakota, and many, many other places. I've only found it convenient in large urban areas.

[ Parent ]

Insane? (3.33 / 3) (#16)
by greenrd on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 09:50:52 PM EST

For most sane people, the only real motivation for using mass transit it one of convenience.

So are you saying wanting to do your bit for the environment is insane? Wanting to reduce asthma attacks and global warming is insane? Thanks. I appreciate the sentiment.

I can see that there are difficulties in terms of "how can one person make a difference?" - but by the very same form of argument it is "insane" to vote, and I don't think that falls under the generally accepted meaning of insane.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

In my situation... (3.00 / 2) (#19)
by Anonymous 6522 on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 12:39:48 AM EST

...yes, I would consider such behaviors less-than-completely-sane, like trading discomfort for an unknown (and probably very small) amount of Earth-saving. Mass transit, AFAIC, is utterly pointless anywhere but large urban areas, and in those areas there are more compelling advantages to it than cutting CO2 emissions.

Sanity isn't a you have it or you don't kind of quality: it's a continuum.

Anyway, what's the point of trying to save that gallon of gas? It will all go into the air eventually, all conservation does is delay the time when alternatives will become economically feasible.

[ Parent ]

"insane" is the wrong word (4.50 / 2) (#20)
by theantix on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 12:49:16 AM EST

However, the sentiment expressed by JCB is correct. The masses will never act "nicely" enough to reach the optimal public good because of natural human self-interest conflicts (see my k5 article on the subject). While it is honorable that you will inconvenience yourself for the public good (really!) it is quite obvious that you are the exception, not the rule. For public transit to succeed, there have to be self-interested reasons for an individual to take transit. Those reasons could include: cost, convenience of any sort, social pressures, or anything else that benefits the individual.

--
You sir, are worse than Hitler!
[ Parent ]
environment stuff (3.66 / 3) (#14)
by mikeliu on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 08:57:39 PM EST

Re: Species Diversity I've convinced myself that this is less of an issue than many people make it out to be. The species that die off are the ones that cannot adapt to changing conditions, eventually new things will evolve to occupy those niches (if they still exist) that are more able to survive in an environment with industrialized humans.

Unfortunately however, natural evolution works on a scale of millions of years. If we maintain our level of species extinction we'll wipe out the entire system in the blink of an eye on an evolutionary timescale. Or at least the entire system of higher life; we don't seem to have much of an effect on the lower life.

In addition, one of the biggest arguments fielded for the benefit of those who need to see a justification for why we shouldn't kill off entire species of other living things is that they are important sources of medicines for us (ie, the cure for cancer could be waiting for us in the rain forest, and we just killed it). Even if we wait a few million years for new species to evolve and move into emptied ecological niches, there's no guarantee that they'd have the same benefits of what we have here now - if we kill off the cure for cancer, it might well stay dead.

Re: Public Transit I'm not going to drag myself to the bus stop, and wait for a bus, while it's below zero (fahrenheit) outside, and I, sure as hell, aren't going to be riding a bike in that weather. Mass transit has situations were it is appropriate (like commuter rail), but it isn't appropriate all, or even most, situations. The personal automobile is here to stay.

Agreed, I completely understand what you're saying. However, I also agree with the other poster who said that the mass transit situation in the US is in shambles. Sure, mass transit simply isn't practical in places like North Dakota, but it certainly is in any metropolitan area and its suburbs, as well as on a long distance scale in transporting people to metropolitan areas from places like North Dakota. I recently moved to a suburb of Tokyo, Japan and it's amazing how well trains can work if they're actually well implemented. The key difference is that in the suburbs and the city, you can actually reach anywhere you'd want to go by train, which makes it worthwhile to just sit back and relax inside a train instead of driving a car and fighting through traffic and what not on your own.

One thing I think the US could do is that while they have this unprofitable inconvenient mass transit system that no one rides and is supported by tax dollars, they might as well make it free to try and reduce congestion on the roads while simultaneously providing a useful service to the population that hopefully more people would use. Either way its supported by tax dollars, so you might as well at least try and maximize its usefulness to the population.

Re: Humanity going extinct But I'd say we're one of the best adapted for survival in such a situation.
Agreed. We're by far the most adaptable of higher life so by the time we've screwed over the situation so bad that we can't even survive, the only thing left is going to be lower orders of life, I would expect everything bigger than a cockroach to be extinct.........

[ Parent ]
point (none / 0) (#39)
by kubalaa on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 07:56:37 AM EST

"The species that die off are the ones that cannot adapt to changing conditions" ... you mean like homo sapiens?

[ Parent ]
I try to live a lower-impact lifestyle ... (3.50 / 4) (#5)
by joegee on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 05:59:19 PM EST

I think I might be atypical of many Americans. Like Valeko I live in a smaller rural community. Everything I need is within walking distance, so even the though the temperature in the winter remains well below 0 centigrade I do not have a car. I have warm clothing. :)

I plan to purchase a vehicle this year, but primary considerations will be the vehicle's emissions and its mileage. If I cannot find something that fits within my parameters I can wait.

I try not to purchase new incandescent lights: for the past year and a half all of my purchases are either fluorescents or LEDs. I recycle wherever possible, and am outspoken in my area as an advocate of recycling and/or maximizing use of disposable products (such as plastic tableware.)

I try to make myself aware of the impact of the products I use, and whenever possible I try to make informed choices as a consumer.

<sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
Essential reading on fossil fuels (4.22 / 9) (#17)
by greenrd on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 10:08:09 PM EST

If you haven't heard about the impending world oil shortage yet (and no, I'm not talking about Erlich's discredited predictions) - check out this book:

Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, by Kenneth S. Deffeyes [click link for Amazon reviews]

It's very informative (and even entertaining in places), though it lacks the kind of solid justification I was hoping for. His point is not that we won't be able to cope - he is concerned more about the shift away from oil that will have to occur when global oil production peaks, sometime before 2009. He says this shift will be very painful, and we should start planning now - both at the individual level, the corporate level, and at the government level (he doesn't subscribe to rabid libertarianism). I plan to write a review of it for k5 in the near future. Stay tuned.

Here are a couple of snippets from the amazon reviews page linked above:

Stuart Young, Nature
"If [Deffeyes] is right we have, two or three years in which to ... accelerate our move from oil as fuel."

Scientific American: In Hubbert's Peak, Deffeyes writes with good humor about the oil business, but he delivers a sobering message: the 100-year petroleum era is nearly over. Global oil production will peak sometime between 2004 and 2008, and the world's production of crude oil "will fall, never to rise again." If Deffeyes is right--and if nothing is done to reduce the increasing global thirst for oil--energy prices will soar and economies will be plunged into recession as they desperately search for alternatives.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
Another review (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by wiredog on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:27:35 PM EST

From American Scientist, a peer reviewed quarterly journal, the review of that book. Also:

Statistics of Deadly Quarrels. If you don't know statistics, this can be difficult reading. A researcher analyzed the causes and scale of wars statistically.

A bit on global warming

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]

We'll check back in 2008, then... (none / 0) (#32)
by Anatta on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 09:28:51 AM EST

and see if he's any better than the other Fire & Brimstoners.

Judging from energy prices, I wouldn't bet on him just yet...
My Music
[ Parent ]

You'll be checking back before then, I think (none / 0) (#37)
by greenrd on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 10:16:36 PM EST

Judging from energy prices, I wouldn't bet on him just yet...

Current energy prices prove very little about the oil shortage thesis. The market is not that good at predicting earth-shattering events such as this - let alone responding to them rationally.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

I wouldn't say we know that... (4.33 / 3) (#26)
by seebs on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 12:35:51 PM EST

We don't actually know for sure that we're causing any "global warming", nor do we know, if we are causing it, specifically how. Certainly, it wasn't a decline in auto traffic that caused temperatures to drop around 1300-1500. :)

It's still up in the air; people like to act certain, but this is the certainty of a school of fish, not the certainty of solid data. Not yet, anyway; maybe we'll find out.


Doing my part.... (none / 0) (#33)
by robotic on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 12:37:31 PM EST

The best thing the environmental movement can hope for is that as many people as possible try to make a difference on their own.

I have started making my (small) difference by building and driving an electric car. I buy my electricity (when I'm at home) from Green Mountain Energy, so it is truly a zero emission vehicle. (When I'm at college, the apartment pays for the elctricity.... I think it's nuclear there, but I'm not sure. On the other hand, I don't have control over the energy source there.)

I've got to admit though that I have a selfish intrest too.... driving electric is fun! (Instant torque, quiet, and all that other good stuff. Chicks dig it too!)

(It's a great project car too.... I just got a new body for it since the old body (a 1976 VW Rabbit) is pretty rusty and crummy.... I just got a '83 GTI, and I'm working on a transplant. Here's my web page for the project)

-robotic
Sig: Maybe someday...

The world is designed to recycle (none / 0) (#35)
by Wing Envy on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 03:08:41 PM EST

Unfortunately, we have deprived it of that very purpose. Barren land isn't solely marked by the destruction from men, but of the deprivation of life and death. We have selectively herded our cattle to specific areas, buried our dead in boxes that have no means of decomposing in a set amount of time, leaving holes in the world that serve no purpose. The answer isn't to save the living but to share the death. That's evolution. Survival of the fittest and the meek "inherit" (become) the earth.


You don't get to steal all the deficiency. I want some to.
-mrgoat
While we're on the topic of climate (4.50 / 2) (#36)
by Anatta on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 04:41:02 PM EST

Anyone who is even remotely interested in the discussion of climate must read this article in the New Yorker about ice cores in Greenland. The article is eloquently written and its content is absolutely fascinating. The piece details the history of climate on Earth, and explains that some scientists now believe that there is a good chance that the Earth is getting ready to head into an ice age that may well destroy civilization, or at least have disasterous effects. Some scientists have postulated that CO2 emissions though human activity may have already slowed/prevented catastrophe (though others certainly disagree.)

In any case, this article (in the resolutely non-Conservative New Yorker) should give everyone here discussing climate, both pro-Kyoto and anti-Kyoto, a different (though thoroughly unwelcome) perspective on the very real dangers of climate change, and humanity's unclear ability to ward off/adapt to change. It will also show how poorly we currently really understand why climate behaves the way it does.
My Music

Every complex problem (none / 0) (#38)
by fhotg on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 10:47:24 PM EST

... has a solution that is clear, simple and wrong (--H.L Mencken).

In case anybody is indeed interested in how and what we know today about climate change, you don't want to waste your time reading about what researchers eat in Greenland, that it's really cold there and that reporters are fascinated by the heroes of science producing results of cosmic significance, which prompts them to spice half-truths and concepts they cannot grasp with dramatic adjectives ("catastrophic", "terrible feedback-loop", "traumatic episode"). This article sucks terribly (if you read it in order to find out something about climate change).

If you are seriously interested to smarten up about this overhyped but nevertheless fascinating and important topic, read a book. A good book. One that combines readability, informative pics and graphs with scientific correctness. One that is up to date and covers 'the whole story'.

Fortunately, it's available online and for free. It's in PDF, you'll need Acroread, gv or xpdf. It's waiting for you here. (Climate Change Research - Danish Contributions, ISBN 87-12-03775-3)
~~~
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]

Environment, energy and politics | 39 comments (31 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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