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David Suzuki: Renewable energy requires strength of will
David Suzuki and Faisal Moola, Georgia Straight (Canada)
Energy underpins everything we do. Human societies have become increasingly complex, requiring ever larger-scale sources of continuous energy. Now, energy fuels not only our activities but our economies as well. If we don’t choose our energy sources wisely, we can do more harm than good.
Non-renewable energy sources such as fossil and nuclear fuels are not sustainable and have also taught us that technological advances often come at great cost. These fuels can never be a long-term solution because they will run out. They also create emissions that pollute our air, water, and soil, and contribute to global warming or long-term radioactive-waste problems.
Renewable energy sources will not run out, and they don’t cause the same kinds of environmental problems as non-renewable sources. But that doesn’t mean we should adopt renewable energy without any forethought. Biofuels can create problems if fuel production comes at the expense of food production. And wind power, if not properly planned and sited, can harm birds and bats (although Danish studies of 10,000 bird kills revealed that almost all died in collisions with buildings, cars, and wires; only 10 were killed by windmills).
Alternative energy sources are absolutely necessary. Global warming will kill birds and bats, as well as other species, in much greater numbers than wind power. We just need good planning to ensure that our energy production is balanced with ecological concerns. And we need to believe in our ability to develop solutions.
... The mental attitude that underlies the way we approach any challenge is a huge part of how well we deal with it, and it applies at national and global levels as well. For more than 20 years, leading scientists have warned us that the dangers of runaway global warming are so great that we cannot continue along the same path. Yet the response (usually led by the fossil-fuel industry) has been “It’s junk science” or “It’s too expensive; it’ll destroy the economy,” or “It’s impossible to meet the reduction targets.” These kinds of reactions demoralize or paralyze society.
Compare those comments on the challenge of climate change with the American response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1. These events galvanized the nation into action. There was no outrage over the scale of effort needed or the economic burden. There was a sense of solidarity of purpose, to win the war or to beat the Russians to the moon.
(4 November 2008)
Thinking Like an Ecosystem
Chris McLaughlin, Alternatives Journal
The inherent uncertainty of natural systems calls for the integration of resiliency and diversity in environmental management.
Do you suppose that Humpty Dumpty saw it coming? Did he have any advance warning of his impending fate? Even the slightest wobble to tip him off? I mean, as it’s told, he went straight from sitting to falling without a single intermediary step. And with no means of reversal, the results point to a change in his circumstances that was as dramatic as it was sudden.
But life’s like that – one surprise after another. Surprises, in fact, are a normal part of the linked systems of humans and nature, or socio-ecological systems, to which we all belong. So imagine that what happened to Humpty represents a potential future for the systems that you and I inhabit, and you’ve got a very bleak picture. Ecologists would suggest that Humpty had suffered a “regime shift.” That’s a delicate way of saying that you can’t go home again. Clear waters full of fish, for example, can be polluted or emptied by humans with remarkable efficiency and with tragic consequences for the livelihoods once buoyed by those waters. The important message for us is that the precariousness and surprise involved in Humpty’s sudden drama represent a reality for natural systems that has, for too long, been resource management’s dirty little secret. We must reveal that secret and acknowledge its implications in order to change the way we manage our resources in the future.
My title will be recognizable as a play on Aldo Leopold’s Thinking Like a Mountain. That essay was a reflection on traditional motives and approaches to resource management. It spoke to our propensity to simplify and control. Leopold heard complexity echo from the howl of the wolf, a “deep chesty bawl” whose “deeper meaning” invites us to question our own assumptions about how the world works. Thinking Like a Mountain evoked a sense of what we now know: that natural systems are subject to unpredictability and therefore possess inherent uncertainty. It’s an ecological expression of the Law of Unintended Consequences, if you will. And the ongoing inability of resource management to break from those traditional assumptions and modes of control, contends Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling, is pathological.
Chris McLaughlin stretches his own resiliency by dividing his time between the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment, where he’s the executive director, and McMaster University, where he’s a part-time doctoral candidate who is testing strategies to improve institutional decision making in the Great Lakes policy regime.
(Volume 34, Number 4 : 2008)
Recommended by Bill Henderson who writes:
Long but well worth your while. Manage ourselves, manage ourselves in a world we've created full of black swans.
Losing the edge?
Christopher Ryan, AICP; The Localizer Blog
I awoke this morning curiously ambivalent about the election of Barack Obama to the US Presidency as it relates to solving emerging crises like energy depletion and climate change. How much can any individual in that office accomplish, alone or in conjunction with a Congress lacking a supermajority for the Democrats? Or even with it. Of course I wish him and the Nation only the best but the tasks before us are quite immense. Humanity has constantly lacked the nerve to tackle stark issues proactively. Even Cuba's push for a more sustainable society was forced upon that country by circumstances that if it did not occur (see The Power of Community), would not have resulted in the changes that were made.
The Presidency and Congress are still entrenched within the confines of the dominant social and economic paradigms where growth and expansion are good and sustainability remains an elitist academic notion irrelevant to the common working person who holds ever more acute concerns over health, jobs, and housing. While the election offers hope that those who are more receptive to sustainability frameworks will help usher in the tools and policies needed to build a better society, the campaign showed clearly that the rhetoric of the old way of thinking is alive, well, and contributing to identity of the groups right now plotting strategies to regain ideological primacy in America.
... [I] suggest to those who have been on the front lines of climate change policy, peak oil activism, sustainability advocacy, and similar concerns to not lose your edge but to ramp up your rhetoric and energy and ensure that these issues become more mainstream and part of the cultural norms. Your work is only beginning.
(5 November 2008)
Zero immigration and sustainable populations
Eric Claus, On Line Opinion (Australia)
In April 2006 the Australian Government Productivity Commission published a report entitled Economic Impacts of Migration and Population Growth. The study included economic modelling of an increase in skilled migration of an extra 50,000 migrants per year, for 20 years, compared to the skilled migration numbers in 2004-05. Some of the conclusions were:
* economic gains accrue mostly to skilled migrants and capital owners (page 151);
* hourly wages will drop slightly under high immigration (page 161);
* the incomes of existing resident workers grows more slowly than would otherwise be the case (page 151);
* these results are consistent with research both in Australia and overseas (page 161); and
* environmental impacts are likely to impose a drag on productivity and living standards, but the details are "too hard" to quantify (page 122).
This is not a report by some racist group that wants to limit immigration to keep Australia white. This is not a report by some deep green environmental group that wants everybody to live in communes and wear jute shirts. This is the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission - primarily an economic research organisation.
If the economic case only benefits the capital owners and makes the average citizen worse off economically, without even considering environmental and sustainability impacts, why is it being done?
(4 November 2008)
Recommended by Michael Lardelli who writes "Very lucid article on population."