Saturday, February 11, 2006

The impact of exploiting resources and fossil fuel use

When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
For a successful environmental policy, reality must take precedence over wishful thinking, for nature cannot be fooled.
The question?
How do we obtain energy for electricity and transport; and materials for goods and services while minimizing pollution and degradation?
What are the impacts?

The following summarises the impact global warming has on the ecosystems and the subsequent effect this will have on human habitation:

• the eventual extinction of more than a million terrestrial species in the next 50 years. see "Climate change threatens one million species" Nature 7 Jan 2004.

• increases in droughts, floods, and other extreme events would add to stresses on water resources, food security, human health, and infrastructures, and would constrain development in Africa.
Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) . Also see"Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage" IPCC, 2005.
• Salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels will reduce the quality and quantity of freshwater supplies. This is a major concern, since billions of people already lack access to freshwater. Higher ocean levels already are contaminating underground water sources in Israel and Thailand, in various small island states in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean Sea, and in some of the world's most productive deltas, such as China's Yangtze Delta and Vietnam's Mekong Delta (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

• Higher temperatures are expected to expand the range of some dangerous "vector-borne" diseases, such as malaria, which already kills 1 million people annually, most of them children (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

• Current evidence of climate change is extra-strength weather, the decline of winter, shifts in the natural world (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

See the following link for a background to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

What is Australia's policy?


Australia’s policy on greenhouse gas emission’s show we continue to put economic growth before the environment. The Prime Minister’s comments were that it is “unrealistic and unacceptable to stop economic growth because of greenhouse gas Kyoto targets” (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 December 06). Who does the Prime Minister get his advice from?

What is the point of economic growth?


Economic growth is a necessary element technologically rich societies. But it is not an end in itself. Economic growth is but a part in a series of means that societies use to improve the general standard of living. However economic growth needs to be balanced with the effect on the environment and the rise in inequity.

Economic growth is based on the amount of goods and services a country can produce. However, economies, despite all the technological know how, will always be limited by the amount of usable land, water, food, and air; and the ability of a society to exist under social norms. Economies cannot grow infinitely. There is a limit to economic growth.

The population of the world at the end of the Second World War II was 2.5 billion. There is now over 6 billion. Population growth has put greater pressure on natural resources to achieve certain basic living standards. This economic growth through greater consumption has put greater pressure on energy consumption.[1]

Over consumption of fossil fuels has led to dangerous level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is leading to a warming of the planet.

Contemporary examples of the problems of economic growth at all cost include: Guangdong,[2]

For a perspective from Keynes, see: “What is Economic Growth?”.[3]

Peace as end not economic growth


Shouldn’t it be that societies aim to develop to a state of peace and equitable living standards for all. This means balancing all the contributors to peace together. Autonomy, security (economic, health and physical), justice, meaning, identity, intellectual and emotional stimulation and love should be the pillars of society. Economic security is but one aspect of peace.

Mr Howard’s advisers need to recall the wisdom of the Cree nation “when all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money”[4] .

To paraphrase the wise and much-lamented physicist, Richard Feynman "For a successful environmental policy, reality must take precedence over wishful thinking, for nature cannot be fooled"[5].


Which economists offer an alternative?


With advantages such as these, why not base policy on economic values? As many critics have pointed out (among them such economists as Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Boulding, Herman Daly and Amartya Sen), many of the values most cherished by cultivated human beings are either independent of, or even inversely related to, economic values.

Consider the value of being a good neighbour, responsible use of resources, ensuring all people have adequate food and health needs, relaxation and romance.

References


[1] “Macro Planning/ Economic Growth”Iran Daily. Economic Focus. 12 July 2005.
[2] Carrie Chan, “Guangdong in crisis” 29 September 2005.
[3] Guardian
[4] Cree Nation one of Canada’s most significant bands.
[5] Originally, "for a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." This remark appeared at the close of Feynman's dissent from the report of the Congressional Select Committee investigating the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.
Ernest Partridge. "Perilous Optimism". The Online Gadfly.

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