i have been taking part in discussions like these since the mid sixties. i think any discussion of solutions will have to make one very big assumption…the social fabric will remain intact. in virtually every discussion no one believed that would be the case. but if we make that assumption we can at least consider solutions. I recently finished paul and anne ehrlich’s new book “the dominant animal” chris i suggest you add it to your essential books. i live half the year in india i have seen first hand what overpopulation looks like. there are already too many of us on the spaceship. we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the craft. yes we can expand to perhaps 9.5-10.5 by 2050 but it will not be a pretty picture. i think it would be well to remember that technology is not a fuel and it will only allow us to better use the fuel(solar, nuclear,etc) better. also we are making an assumption that technology is a completely benign factor. i do not make that assumption considering the number of nuclear warheads still in existence. we are destroying the environment at a rate probably not seen in all of human history. we derive great economic benefit from our natural capital which most economists do not calculate. one example is the disappearance of honey bees. they pollinate vast stretches of crops. we do not pay for that yet if they are not there we lose large amounts of food. we are embarking as a nation of building a huge amount of coal fired power plants. some 150 permits have been applied for in the last 2 years. last year the city of waco texas was going to be encircled by 11 yes 11 coal plants. due to the efforts of a great many people it was reduced to 3 which is still a disaster. i am currently involved in a fight to stop the building of 3 plants here in arkansas. just to get some idea of the level of pollution from one 600mw coal plant ….5.6 MILLION tons of co2 (equivalent to about 900k cars) 2,894 tons of sulfur dioxide, 2420 tons of nitrous oxide 1,118 tons of particulate matter 113 pounds of mercury. these are for one year one plant. we are talking about adding 150 of these plants in the next 5 years. our species is totally reliant on the natural capital which these plants will destroy, but lets assume that we will have no ill effects. the shrub has been running around saying we have at least 250 years of coal. unfortunately that would be at current rate of consumption. also unfortunately that 250 years is also based on the 1976 assessment of minerals which was the lastassessment carried out in the U.S.. also that included ALL the coal in the ground some of which actually much of which is in veins about one inch thick hundreds of feet below the surface. a friend who is a geologist says in reality we have MAYBE 50 years worth. also unfortunately extraction and transportation requires oil. so if we burn all this coal up in the next 50 years we will have so acidified our soils that we will not be able to grow anything. oh by the way the cleanest coal -anthracite – is just about gone as chris pointed out so we will be burning much dirtier coal. what about scrubbers and sequestration you might ask? well it costs money and the corporations are not interested in spending money, just making it. think of it this way there are more sons and daughters of members of congress in iraq than utility company executives living next door to coal plants. the green revolution which is responsible for the incredible growth of the human population is fueled by oil. it is what fertilizer is made out of it is what runs our tractors it is what transports our food. it is what packages our food so that it does not spoil so quickly. 1.6% of the population of this country is involved in farming all do to the oil economy. this is a far cry from the country of small farmers thomas jefferson envisioned. the vast majority of people in this country no longer have the skills to feed themselves there are many many issues which the ehrlich’s have discussed in their book. i highly recommend it to get some idea of where we stand. i also would recommend kuntsler’s “the long emergency” so what to do ? or as we say in india “kaikaroo”
personally my strategy is to think pessimistically and behave optimistically. intentional permaculture communities. i think i can have some control over my food and water supply i can generate a good bit of electricity, i have skills and tools which can be of use to others. one subject i have not seen addressed is the whole idea of pharmaceuticals much of which now comes from china.
a greater reliance on natural remedies would be wise-being able to grow or recognize in the wild the herbs from which much of our current crop of medicine comes from. “back to eden” by jethro kloss good place to start. i think it would be wise to eat as locally as possible say within a 50 mile radius-forget the mandarin oranges from south africa. an interesting exercise is to look in your fridge and pantry and see where what you eat comes from then think of what happens if it no longer comes from there. conventional wisdom which is anything but, says we have time to prepare or maybe it won’t be that bad. well conventional wisdom is now watching 401k’s evaporate and the dollar become useful for toilet paper- stock up, the paper mills will be hard pressed for pulp. better start using water it is cleaner and healthier. suburbs were one of the worst human experiments ever conceived. the cities would have a better chance if the land around them were able to be farmed.
the good news is people like amory lovins are finally getting an audience. he lives at 7100 feet in colorado in a 4000 sf house which runs on 2 sq meters of pv’s and grows bananas and oranges year round. check out rmi.org. it can be done.
but to maintain the social fabric we have to stop seeing ourselves as somehow separate from each other. or as meher baba has said “you and i are not we but one” and as the saying goes man is only a part of the web of life. we are fellow passengers on an incredible spaceship (which can supply us with all our needs but not all our wants) hurtling through an immense universe. none of us can any longer be the most as long as there is a least. if we are to simply survive as a species we have to pull together as a species.
thanks again chris for synthesizing the economy energy and environment.