Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pick One: Global Warming or Peak Oil

I had an interesting exchange with some church folks about global warming and/or peak oil. This message from a fellow congregant started the whole thing...

In this week’s edition of his chronicles, Jim Kunstler says we should stop griping about Bush, even though he says Bush is an a*hole, as he calls all presidents after JFK. Kerry, for example, has done nothing or said nothing about improving our rail system, and it has deteriorated, meaning that the only major interstate transportation network we have is the Interstate System (I-64, I-90, and so forth). He cites the hypermedia for airing a show saying that the tar sands of Alberta will solve our energy needs. It is interesting reading, and it is at:

http://www.kunstler.com/mags_diary16.html

I checked-out the link and found a foul-mouthed peak-oil fanatic. Here's my response...

I would like to get Kunstler and the Global Warming talking-heads together in a room and let them figure-out which approach they are going to use to try to slow down economic growth. They have two mutually exclusive choices:

1. they can claim that our continued use of fossil fuels will create massive global warming; or
2. they can claim that we're on the verge of running out of oil and industrial / suburban life as we know it will cease to exist.

Both of these cannot be true at the same time... proposition number 2 solves number 1.


The response to my message was stunning (not in a good way)...

Economic growth is not desirable. If you take a number and multiply it by a number greater than 1 over and over again, it will get larger and larger and larger without limit. If this number is monetary worth, this could be because of inflation – one day we will be exchanging quadrillion-dollar bills over the future version of a cash register. If it is real growth, then there is no way that can happen. The Earth is finite, and growth CANNOT happen forever.

Economic decline is just as undesirable. If the number you multiply by is less than 1, then it will shrink and shrink and approach zero. Eventually, essentially nothing will be left.

The only acceptable growth is zero growth. This is the only way we will have something without exceeding Earth’s limits.

Number 2 does solve number 1. That’s the problem in the years ahead.

Bush gives his state of the union talk tomorrow. I hope he acknowledges that the reason for the War in Iraq was oil, that we need to conserve on all types of energy, and that Congress needs to pass a big tax on fuels, including gasoline. Bush needs to come up with a talk similar to Jimmy Carter’s.


Jimmy Carter!!! This is what I deal with when I engage my fellow UU congregants in economic discussions. Here's my response...

oh my gosh... where to start...

Real economic growth in the last 300 years is the sole reason we're not all peasants barely surviving on subsistence farming. Economic growth is the ONLY empirically proven way to bring large amounts of people out of poverty (try telling your zero growth story to sub-Saharan Africa).

The Earth, as a lump of matter, is indeed finite. Human potential and technological progress, however, is growing exponentially (check out
http://singularity.com/kain.php/ ) and I doubt the earth's physical resources we ever constrain our development. Our approach to development will, of course, be shaped by the availability of resources, but human invention has always stayed many steps in front of our physical constraints. Just think about computers... we take earth-given sand & human know-how and make multi-teraflop computer
processors. Energy... once science can make an efficient solar cell, oil will be an non-issue.

The Earth has been in a state of flux much longer than humans have been around. Could global warming make weather more extreme? Sure. Could oil become very expensive and change the way we live? You bet. Will humanity suffer? Maybe a bit... but any future suffering will pale in comparison to historical levels of diseases
and death due to extreme poverty and the lack of scientific progress.

Here's my point... everything in life has trade-offs. If I had to choose between a stable global temperature and the scientific / economic progress made in the last 100 years, I'll take progress every time.

I ended this last response with one of my favorite quotes... it's from Calvin Coolidge in 1932:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On”, has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.

1 Comments:

At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Bruce said...

Really good response there. There are so many other places to attack the stunningly-ignorant "zero-growth" argument.

Just two possible arguments:
"So, the economic disparity of the world should be maintained forever? In a zero-growth situation, for some (us) to have a lot, means that others (Africa, eastern europe) will have to be permanently denied a better standard of living."

"Who exactly would enforce this zero-growth? A world government dedicated to stopping technological & manufacturing advances? No? How then?"

WRT Jimmy Carter. I'd love to see Bush with one tenth of Carter's ethics or moral courage. But let's leave his economics in the past, please.

 

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