Administrator’s note: Time for another article from a guest contributor. Jerry West describes himself as “editor/publisher/janitor” for The Record, an independent, progressive newspaper in Gold River, British Columbia. He’s a columnist, as well, for the well known Canadian progressive news site, rabble.ca.
A number of his articles would fit well with the content on GIM. But this one stood out during a week when I’ve been preoccupied with the stubborn tendency of both policy makers and mainstream environmentalists to turn a blind eye to the fundamental drivers of our ecological crisis. It’s a constant problem in coverage of climate change. Well meaning environmental writers, their thinking apparently numbed by the peer pressure of groupthink, tell us we can solve climate change — which they see as an isolated environmental problem — with routine economic tweaks or perhaps a switch to fluorescent bulbs.
Jerry is a writer who sees past that superficiality, and this article, which originally appeared in The Record, is one result. My thanks to Jerry for his permission to post it. – JF
The BC government has committed itself to reduce BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by the year 2020. The questions remain — is it enough, and will they have the fortitude to take the actions necessary and to provide the funds to do it.
In Britain Parliament is considering reducing the UK’s emissions by 50 per cent by the year 2050 and some argue that 80 per cent is a more reasonable figure. One thing is certain, climate change has come front and centre as a political issue, and governments of all stripes are scrambling to find ways to make it look like they are dealing with it. One suspects that “make it look like” is the main purpose for them.
Climate change is an issue for us, but it is only a symptom of a much bigger problem. Humans are stripping the resources of the planet faster than they can be replenished; like aggressive cancer cells we are consuming our host. Since the amount of resources are limited the only cure for this is to consume less of them.
There are two ways to do this: one is individually which means quality of life for most of us in developed countries goes down considerably, and continues to go down as populations increase. Or, we can do it collectively by reducing population to a level that there is more than enough for everybody.
Some have argued that populations in developed countries are already declining and that in countries such as Canada we do not need to control them. They also argue that as other countries become more economically advanced their populations, too, will decline.
The problem with this argument is that world population overall is increasing, and that as countries industrialize, even if their population growth slows or declines, their resource consumption goes up to meet the increased demands of an industrial economy.
If one of our goals is a fair and equitable global society then the way to achieve that is to take the total amount of renewable resources that can be sustainably produced by a fully functioning and diverse ecosystem, and calculate the amount of these resources needed per person to provide the lifestyle that we want, then divide the former by the latter and it will give us the maximum allowable population.
If we do not do this, although we may work hard to alleviate many of the symptoms of our environmental problem, we are not addressing its root.
The chief obstacles to doing this are public attitudes towards reproduction and an economic system based on growth and profit generation and its spinoff, the measuring of worth by accumulated wealth — an economic system, furthermore, that dominates the dissemination of information and shaping of attitudes via news, entertainment and education.
As long as we are taught and believe that we have the right to reproduce without restrictions, and a right to accumulate wealth regardless of the consequences to society, then we will be unable to clean up the mess that we have made.
Our species has been on this planet for tens of thousands of years, and currently we number about 6.5 billion. For most of that time there were three million or fewer of us. Then we began to increase rapidly from the 16th century, reaching our first billion about 1800. By 1950, the human population went over 2.5 billion and over six billion in 2000. The forecast is for almost nine billion by 2050.
During the same period the number of fish in the sea has dropped, forests have shrunk, there is less clean air and clean water per capita, and now even grain supplies are dropping while demand is increasing. The fact that we have altered the atmosphere and contributed to climatic changes that may be difficult to adapt to is but the tip of the iceberg. And even that may be more than we have the will to deal with.
Reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere quite frankly means reducing consumption, it means changing transportation and recreation habits, and it means tightly controlling growth. It will mean increased taxes on fuel and energy to finance alternative sources. Whether this is politically feasible is questionable, and even if it is it is only a band aid on a sucking chest wound.
At the end of the day, if we are to have an equitable and sustainable society, we are going to have to decide what level of consumption individuals in that society should be entitled to, then adjust population to ensure that we can sustain that level.