Sunday, October 18, 2009

crow battens down

Crow here. I've been wondering if the human species has too much natural ability to dominate (both one another and the environment) without the wisdom to use such abilities for the promotion of life. It was John Maynard Keynes who pointed out that for most of human history - essentially up until the 18th century and the invention of the steam engine - very little changed about the way people lived on the planet. Before that people had learned about fire, language, music, cattle, the wheel, the plow, the sail and pottery. There were banks, governments, mathematics and religion.

When humans began digging up coal to fuel steam engines and metal ships the modern age came about. After coal came oil, then natural gas and all of a sudden things started going much much faster than they ever had in human history. Things became more efficient and, yes, life became much more comfortable for those born in western industrial states but the big question now is - at what cost? After WWII economic growth in the United States in particular became exponential. Growth became America's mantra, and then the world's. There were all kinds of technological advances to come: plastics, cheap cars, television, air-conditioning that opened whole regions of the country to masses of people. This was the richest country in the world, the most powerful.

That simple, cheap, concentrated power lies at the heart of our modern economies. Every action of a modern life burns fossil fuel; viewed in one way, modern Western human beings are flesh-colored devices for combusting coal and gas and oil. "Before coal," writes Jeffrey Sachs, "economic production was limited by energy inputs, almost all of which depended on the production of biomass: food for humans and farm animals, and fuel wood for heating and certain industrial processes." That is, energy depended on how much you could grow. But fossil energy depended on how much had grown eons before, on all those millions of years of ancient biology squashed by the weight of time till they'd turned into strata and pools and seams of hydrocarbons, waiting for people to discover them.

The down side of all this growth is that nobody nowadays can argue that putting massive amounts of carbon waste into our atmosphere for the past 100 years or more has effectively changed the climate. The amount of carbon dioxide that scientists have determined is a safe level for our atmosphere and continuation of the planetary climate to be safe for human beings and all creatures is 350 parts per million. It's been just two years since leading climatologists observed rapid ice melt in the Arctic and other frightening signs of climate change, they issued a series of studies showing that the planet faced both human and natural disaster if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 remained above 350 parts per million. Unfortunately, the level now is 390ppm and it's still rising.

Only the United States refused to sign the original Kyoto Climate Protocol because it doesn't require any action from the developing world, including China. Now the agreement is likely to be allowed to expire in 2012 and meetings are scheduled in Copenhagen later this year to see if a new policy can be agreed to by all. The common belief has been that we have until 2050 before insurmountable difficulties with climate change will be apparent to all. Armada storms are a good name for what we could experience in a man made planetary climate. Last Thursday the UN's top climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, urged a key conference on global warming to set tough mid-term goals and warned carbon emissions had to peak by 2015 to meet a widely-shared vision. One thing he said was essential is that the United States cuts its carbon waste by 100% in ten years. Forgive this Crow for smiling at the idea.

October 24th is scheduled to be an international day of action to put pressure on governments to change their stance on continuing the massive use of fossil fuels. Copenhagen in December of this year may well be the pivotal moment that determines whether or not we get the planet out of the climate crisis. To learn more check out In the meantime I'm going to see if I can find susan one of these handy little units designed by America's biggest corporations and advertised by my friends The Yes Men.


Pagan Sphinx said...

We in the USA have a Nobel Peace Prize winning president. Hopefully, he will use whatever clout that gives him to wage peace on the environment.

All this pressure on consumers to go green, "green-washing" as a marketing tool and teaching school children about recycling is a drop in the bucket. It has to start with the big boys - the corporations and profit mongers.

I hate to say it, but I've essentially given up on us. If we can't even take steps to agree on how to take care of our health needs, how do we expect that the health of the planet would be a priority?

Thanks as always, Crow, for a thought-provoking post.

jams o donnell said...

I will recycle as much asw I can, use low energy options but in the end it is a spit in the ocean if the US and other nations do not take action while they still can.

Liberality said...

Those "Yes Men" are a riot!

lindsaylobe said...

I hope, like you, that Copenhagen will be the pivotal moment but if the shennanickins that are going on over here over limiting emissions are any guide the conference will encounter stiff headwinds.

It’s going to be very difficult to achieve those targets, since you can rely on politicians presenting the old hockey stick graph to show it’s all going to happen by 2020 and avoid short term painful measures.

It may well turn out how we can adapt sensibly to increases in temperatures and the increasing surge already evident in large scale catastrophes ( because of our failure in the past) will be more important than the targets themselves.

Best wishes

Crow said...

pagan sphinx - That is one very nice new avatar that suits you beautifully.

Of course, you're right that without the active participation of the governments and the huge corporate structures now in place nothing individual humans do is going to help avert the inevitable. It's unfortunate.

jams - That's very true - sadly true.

liberality - Hilarious and brave too.

lindsay - I agree the cap and trade scenarios they've come up with won't be much use without honest effort to change the way things are done across the planet. I don't see the likelihood of that either considering the power structure in place.

It's true human beings and all the rest are going to have to cope with unfolding events but we don't have to be happy about it or go quietly either.

Best wishes to you and all.

Nancy said...

I agree with Pagan - ;-(

Spadoman said...

Articles like this always make me think about how much I have contributed to the problem. Yet, I was born into the industrial age. The 1950's witnessed some of the most decadent growth and wastefulness of the last 200 years!
Not to cop out on my own responsibility, but maybe this is the way it's suppose to happen. Maybe all worlds live and die this way.
Certainly points to ponder. I personally will try to listen to the crows and other animals. I watched deer wandering in the city, seemingly unphased by their surroundings of mortar and steel, as if the man-made wasn't there and they were feeding on the sweet grass.


Mary Ellen said...

What a great post!

Being "green" isn't as easy as it looks sometimes because much of it depends on how your local government is handling recycling. The suburb I live in is pretty good and make recycling easy, but my daughter who lives a short distance in another suburb, it's expensive to recycle and they are charged by the bag to do it. Most people there find it cheaper not to recycle. It's crazy.

I have little hope that anything will come of Copenhagen. It's usually a lot of empty promises that are put off for years in advance and when that date comes along, a new agreement comes along that doesn't take effect for another 10 years. I'm so sick of these environmental dog and pony shows. In the meantime...the earth suffers the irreversible damages. :-(

Just wonder, those survival balls come in designer colors? If I'm going to survive I want to do it in style.

Randal Graves said...

Um, where's the accessory pod holding the tactical nukes? You think climate change is going to eliminate terrorism? I want to be proactive.

Crow said...

nancy - Me too.

spadoman - No member of the general population of human beings is responsible for this debacle. It's strictly the fault of the power brokers who believe the world is nothing but a giant playpen. I'd like to think there's a world next door where everything is okay but I've yet to find the door.

nunly - I agree with you about all of it - especially the dog and pony shows. Maybe it's time to get angry.

I've ordered a survivaball for susan in fire engine red. She is going to be so surprised on Christmas morning.

randal - You'll be glad to know that if you order now a tactical nuke is a free addition and you can have a jet propelled one for just a few dollars more.

Seraphine said...

technology (the wisdom part of the equation) can hopefully solve some of our problems. for instance, google earth is partnering with brazilian rain forest tribes to fight the scourge of deforestation.
but each of us needs to do our part too. we can make our personal footprints smaller, but pagan is right- we need to continually remind governments and corporations that they have to do their part.
the solution is as much political as it is social and technological.

Crow said...

sera - That's so true but it's very difficult to be heard when you know the corporations are spending $300,000 a day lobbying the legislators. I don't know where they think their children are going to live.

Dr. Zaius said...

Why does Survivaball have udders?