Thursday, 6 March 2008

Consumer madness killing planet: ecologist - Ecology leads to economic failure: Wall Street

The ecologist: Dr Gino Ferri, director of Survival in the Bush, in the Owen Sound (Ont.) Sun-Times 7 Feb 2008

Imagine the taste of a freshly-ripened tomato, sliced, added to a salad containing all sorts of fragrant veggies, cheese, and crushed nuts. Following a few days of fasting, this plate is delicious beyond description. Imagine, however, if you have just devoured a few hamburgers: would the aforementioned salad taste just as good? I think not, since everything is relative. The person who must walk several kilometres to work each day appreciates receiving a bike as a means of transport; however, an individual who is accustomed to the comforts of a luxurious car will undoubtedly snub this same bicycle. As mentioned before, everything is relative.

We take so many things for granted. Most people complain if their faucets do not produce enough hot water. Only a generation ago, since our grandparents had to transport heavy buckets of water from the well or river; they would have been very grateful to have access to running water of any kind or temperature. Sometimes, I feel quite annoyed when my shirts are not pressed properly, or my pants do not have the right crease. When these thoughts enter my mind, some of past wilderness survival episodes immediately come into focus: the shivering, numbing cold when obtaining any type of garment was a welcome relief; sharp creases had no meaning under these circumstances.

In today's society, these accounts seem heroic, almost bordering on madness or pathological behavior. At one time, the good life (a.k.a. the comfortable life) was thought to be an obstacle to our union with God. Our forefathers fasted, prayed, and abstained from materialism in order to be closer to their Maker...
The comfortable society therefore justifies our rapacious need to devour any available natural resources to feed a seemingly insatiable appetite for material goods, thereby keeping third-world countries in destitution...
Most of us living in Canada and the United States are too dependent on dishwashers, TV sets, stereos, cars, designer apparel, and fancy restaurants. Has this standard of comfortable living become the modern equivalent of the golden calf? Has its glitter blinded us, thus creating a state of spiritual corruption in the West and temporal death for others inhabiting planet Earth?

Perhaps the salvation of this planet rests with our youth. As David Suzuki has repeatedly stated, the upcoming generation rests on the threshold of global salvation or destruction; it's the last generation that can effectively turn the fortunes of our ailing planet around. Within 30 years, our tropical rainforests will be gone; many aquatic organisms residing in our sick oceans will disappear; the ozone layer will be damaged beyond repair; our topsoil is being washed away at an alarming rate; acid rain is killing more and more lakes and forests; urban pressures on wilderness habitats are increasing; potent insecticides\pesticides continue to disrupt the fragile web of life . . . and the litany of environmental sins continues to expand unchecked and seemingly unabated....

I believe that two fundamental changes must take place within our communities; these require the church, home, and school to act as a spiritual trinity, and to work in concert.

1. Our planet as a spiritual presence. In early societies, tribal elders passed on the knowledge, ethics, and spiritual beliefs of their culture on to the emerging generation. Besides dealing with abstract ideas and concepts, they dealt with practical issues such as the need to respect and care for their physical surroundings. Elders stressed the need to have respect for their environment, since these immediate, geographic ecosystems ultimately gave them life and sustenance. If these were desecrated or destroyed, the people were in jeopardy of dying themselves; they were part of, not apart, of their world; they considered themselves as intricate members of the web of life; as such, they were part of the food chain, and in communion with the animals and plants that gave them life, shelter, and substance.

The teachings of the elders included practical advice on caring for the land as well as esoteric, spiritual matters. They combined dogmatic religious information with the sanctity of the land.

It is in this area that we fall short. In most cases, we do an excellent job at instructing our wards the religious tenets of our faith; seldom do we include any temporal aspects. St. Francis of Assisi is the personification and embodiment of the amalgamation of these two principles: besides being a priest who celebrated the teachings of Christ, he called upon the sun, moon, wind, plants, animals, and water to give Him glory and praise. He rejected his comfortable, material possessions and surroundings; instead, he deliberately espoused begging for his paltry, physical needs.

2. Social justice. Going hand in hand with the first point, we need to address and re-examine our present lifestyle, and how this consumer, comfort-driven way of life is directly responsible for the pillaging of our natural resources. As a direct result of Western society's obsession for the good life, many Third World people are kept in virtual bondage to feed our desire for material goods. Children in Singapore work 14-hour days to manufacture designer jeans for our sartorial needs; in Central America, small, independently-owned garden plots are torn up to make way for mega, internationally-owned plantations. These huge agri-businesses produce cheap bananas, coffee beans, and chocolates for Western markets. In South America, rain forests are systematically burned, thus turning vast jungles into grazing lands needed to sustain huge herds of cattle; this beef is destined to become ground meat for a well-known, international hamburger chain.

Any thinking, rational human being must realize that something is terribly wrong when a mere 10 per cent of the population, consisting primarily of Western society, consumes 90 per cent of the earth's natural resources; this is a travesty of social, moral, and ethical justice.

As educators, family members, and Church leaders, are we up to the challenge? ... Individuals must know that the advertising industry has created an illusion, a mirage that we, as a society, are blindly following... We're presently living on borrowed time, living on the backs of the oppressed majority. It's ludicrously obscene when a mere 10 per cent of the earth's population (Western society) consumes 90 per cent of this planet's resources! I hope the answers to these queries are positive, otherwise the lifestyle we know, love, and come to expect will ultimately come to a violent, rapid, and cataclysmic end.

Yearly per capita growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) click for fullsize

Wall Street's view: A Plea for the Planet's People by Thomas G. Donlan, editor of Barron's, 26 March 2007

Earth day came early this year, if by Earth Day we mean a festival of indignation and apprehension focusing on the malignant heaps of humanity that infest the planet. Al Gore, former senator, former vice president, former next president of the United States and subject of a documentary that won an Oscar, brought his inconvenient truths to Capitol Hill....
10 steps to poverty
In the manner of politicians everywhere, Gore offered a 10-point plan. It's guaranteed to take the hot air out of the economy:
  1. FreezeCO2 emissions immediately,, then aim to reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050.
  2. Cut payroll and other taxes on employment and make up the difference with pollution taxes, principally CO2 taxes.
  3. Earmark some of the pollution tax revenue for low-and moderate-income people to help them make the transition to the new economy.
  4. Comply with the Kyoto accord, and then sprint to negotiate and ratify a new tougher treaty that starts in 2010.
  5. Put a moratorium on any new coal plants that don't use carbon capture and sequestration technology.
  6. Set a date beyond which some technologies, including incandescent light bulbs, would be banned.
  7. Encourage widely distributed power generation by homeowners and small business owners, by letting them sell as much as they want to into the grid, at market prices set by state regulators.
  8. Raise fleet fuel economy requirements for cars and trucks.
  9. Create a "Connie Mae" mortgage corporation to finance home improvements that save energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
  10. Require corporations to disclose their carbon emissions.
The only point that matters is the first; the others are tools to achieve it. If the world is to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide by 90%, there will only be as much economic production as can be managed with electricity generated in hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants. Wind and solar and the like aren't up to it.

Morally Impossible
Gore says this "really shouldn't be seen as a partisan issue or even a political issue. It's a moral issue."
If so, climate change is completely unsolvable... Accept the worst-case scenarios of global warming, sea level rising and resulting problems. Agree that solutions are noble and doable. A moralist still would have to compare the cost of the solutions with the benefits, and understand the costs and benefits of doing nothing as well.

Would it be more immoral to allow millions of people living on river deltas from Louisiana to Bangladesh to be flooded out, or to hold back the industrial development of Asia and Africa and condemn other billions to lives of great poverty?

The Communist Party government of China and the Congress party government of India, which more or less deliberately held back development of their countries for decades after World War II, were far more dangerous to human happiness than governments in the West that promoted development and more or less deliberately ignored emissions of carbon dioxide.

Most of Al Gore's 10 points would lead us down such a path toward economic failure.

Comment by Daniel, a Chicago engineer (full text here)
Donlan believes that a climate crisis is no more than an academic possibility, given current trends, rather than a near certain reality. [He gives us] a false choice between fixing the planet or growing the economy. As if the economy will continue to grow if the planet falls apart. The problem that exists today is that our fossil fuel based economy only counts the benefits of fossil fuels and none of the costs...

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