Tuesday, June 17, 2014

We need a revolution.

We need a revolution.

I don’t mean a dirty bloody revolution that loses lives.  Our culture has risen beyond that kind of extreme correction.  But extreme correction we desperately need.

The issue is the elephant in the room, the issue that no politician wants to address.  The issue is our addiction to our current life style.

If we continue to do what we are doing, we are going to destroy this planet.  I dont understand how that is not clear to any sane thinking person.

Over the last two hundred years we have burnt the accumulated deposits of many millions of years.  Those carbon deposits have produced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The burning of those deposits has resulted in an increase in the concentration of CO2 from around 250 ppm to somewhere now near 400 ppm, way in excess of the 350 ppm that we had thought was a reasonable upper limit.

The effect of that increase is the warming of the atmosphere.  That warming has reached the point where we are losing or have lost, very significant amounts of the accumulated ice in both northern and southern hemispheres.  The seas are rising, and temperatures throughout the world are rising.

The rate at which these things are happening may be up for debate, but the fact that they are happening is not.  We are heading for a climate change like no other the human species has experienced, nor indeed, any other life form on this planet.

We are also facing, independent of the climate change, a rapid exhaustion of the resources we need to survive.  It is quite absurd how our leaders spend their time during election campaigns, claiming that continued, sustainable, growth is the only answer to our problems.  When in fact it is continued growth that is unsustainable, and the cause of our problems, not the solution.

Continued growth if “sustained” at any annual rate of change will result in the end of our civilisation.  The simple binomial theorem spells this out.  All politicians and advisers should be taught this simple theorem.

When a quantity grows exponentially, it can be shown that there is a doubling time, that is to say the time in which the quantity will double in size.  Whether the growth is one per cent or 100 per cent, there will always be a doubling time.  If growth is sustained, then inevitably the quantity will double.  In an additional doubling time, the quantity will double again, then four times its original size, and so on.

The doubling time can be calculated very trivially as 70 divided by the rate of growth.  If the rate of growth is 1 per cent, then the quantity will double in 70 years; if the rate of growth is 7 per cent, it will double in 10 years.  Only if there is a zero percent growth, or a negative growth, can the expansion halt or even be reduced.

The problem with the doubling is this:  If we expect the economy to grow at say 2 percent a year, often thought to be a good idea, then everything associated with the economy can be expected to grow similarly.  Population will grow at that rate; houses built will grow at that rate; roads will be surfaced at that rate; demand for food will grow at that rate; demand for cars will grow and demand for fuel will grow at the same rate, if not faster; garbage production and waste will similarly grow.

In particular land occupation will grow.  Once land has been occupied, it is rarely if ever returned to its natural state.

Suppose for example, that 5% of our available land is currently occupied by human development.  If our economy is growing at 2%, then in 35 years, 10% of our land will be occupied, in another 35 years (ie 70 years from now), 20% will be occupied, in another70 years we will have occupied 80%, and have none left for adoption within the next doubling time, 150 years in the future.

We may not be growing at 2%, but the point is that any growth will ultimately result in the occupation of all our land, vast as it appears to be today.

And at what cost?  The land that vanishes under the hammer is often the best agricultural land, often because agricultural land is under-valued.  We will have lost substantial amounts of the soil we need to live on.  If we have to depend on imported foodstuffs, what then?

Well, of course our habits have been exported.  Already vast amounts of the arable land of the rest of the world, the areas we currently depend on for food (and enjoyment) are vanishing under the same development pressures we have created at home.  So unless we have the capacity at home, we will within the lifetimes of our grandchildren’s children, not be able to eat.  We cannot depend on the rest of the world.

The thing that should drive the point home is the staggering cost of our daily commute.  Whether you are stuck (in Canada) on the Gardiner, the 401, The Don Valley, the Queensway, the 50 or the 2 and 20, you know that you are wasting fuel.

With a quick calculation, the production of CO2 in our traffic jams, in our daily commute is one third of the daily contribution to global warming.  If you travel 20 kilometres each way, or 12,000 a year, you will use some 2,500 pounds of gasoline, and produce some 6,000 pounds of CO2.  With each of 200 million North American commuters doing the same thing, we collectively will have added some 600 megatons CO2 to the atmosphere, about a third of the 1.7 gigatons we add each year.

Of course, the CEOs of Exxon and Shell et al are laughing their ways to the bank!  And funding the ever growing disaster of fracking and heavy tar sands extraction.

Yet, unless we change our habits, we will get where we are going.  Unless we find ways of not consuming, of not commuting at inordinate cost, we will not have an environment in which we can live.

Unless we change our living styles, we will exhaust this planet.  Without a planet we have nowhere to live.

We need a revolution immediately.  If not sooner!