The two readings compliment each other in that they both explore the relationship between ethics and original scientific ideas versus the blindness of larger corporations.
Leverage Points authored by scientist and environmentalist Donella Meadows, explains her twelve ways in which to intervene within a greater system. The topic of ‘growth’ with attention to slower growth was featured in her scientific argument. In A Valuable Reputation scientists Tyrone Hayes was struggling with his own discoveries and facts clashing with the ideas of large corporations. He focused on the effects of atrazine as a herbicide that results in birth defects in humans and animals. He conducted extensive experiments on frogs which showed that a frog’s hormones are identical to human hormones and the effects of atrazine in their ecosystem was causing birth defects in male frogs. He was exploring if the influence of this chemical shared the same negative effects on humans. When he wished to re-do the experiments, in order to double-check his findings, the larger companies would not allow the extra money or time so Tyrone conducted the experiments on his own time without their influence. Meadows touched on an idea that the large companies such as NAFTA and GATT and The World Trade Organization whose strive to make the world work better are actually pushing us into the wrong direction. They were focused on fast growth in order to fix the problems in the economy, population and environment. What Meadows and Hayes have in common is that they fight for slower more steady or even no growth whatsoever when it comes to these topics of interest.
I believe that essentially what Meadows argued was that in order for the world to become further successful it must not yearn for more growth in order to fix the problems, but to maybe not even focus on growth at all but rather focus on the problems which we have currently environmentally and economically and stop the rapid growth all together. By allowing for her twelve system leverage points to work, we can not only rely on the intuition of what we think would be the best alternative or answer to our global problems. We must look at the facts that we are faced with and sort out steps or leverage points in order to regulate them. Similar to Hayes’s chemical discoveries, and battles with larger corporations trying to pull him down. He fought against the quick harsh decisions made by companies such as Syngenta or the EPA and continued to spend the time needed to fully investigate the harmful chemical disasters.
Tyrone Hayes’ ending words.
With the event in the article above, competition for our ocean’s diminishing resources has begun a new chapter.
Which is the greater danger – nuclear warfare or the population explosion? The latter absolutely! To bring about nuclear war, someone has to DO something; someone has to press a button. To bring about destruction by overcrowding, mass starvation, anarchy, the destruction of our most cherished values-there is no need to do anything. We need only do nothing except what comes naturally – and breed. And how easy it is to do nothing.
— Dr. Isaac Asimov, biochemist and science writer (in this 1966 interview he predicted that the world’s population would reach 6 billion around 2000. Possibly due to the dystopian vision of an overcrowded planet in his science fiction books, most leaders dismissed his prediction as outrageous. Global population passed the six billion mark in 1999.)
The theory of exponential population growth versus arithmetic resource growth has been widely explored by scientists and economists alike. In this post, I will explain why I am skeptical of many resource-driven apocalypse theories.
Resources: A history of economic thought
Economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo both hypothesized that the world population would eventually reach an equilibrium when the world’s finite resources are stretched thin. Ricardo postulated as the population grows, wages decrease, as a result the population self-regulates and decreases over time. Thomas Malthus rose to prominence, permanently embedded in the textbook of every economics 101 class, with his doom and gloom observation: population increases geometrically, but food (and other resources we rely on) increase arithmetically. Plainly said, the population’s growth rate vastly outstrips that of our resources’. Charles Darwin furthered these findings by monitoring a number of animals. He concluded that once a species’ population grows to its apex, fewer preys are available, thereby naturally causing a reduction in the number of predators. This is cycle was further corroborated and put into numbers by scientists Lotka and Volterra in the Lotka–Volterra equations.
However, clearly Malthus’ (and Darwin’s) apocalyptic revelations have not materialized.
Why is that (there are 7 billion reasons why he’s wrong)? They did not take into consideration improvements in technology. We’ve had several agricultural revolutions, starting from the shift from hunting to agriculture during the Neolithic era. Following each revolution, the growth in resources has increased significantly, disrupting the Malthusian arithmetic growth line (here is a good summary from Dickson Despommier).
It is true that the world’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate. The numbers in the chart above track the remarkable growth, showing the years between each 1 billion increment increase in world population. We see in the chart that population growth is forecasted to flatten, if not decreased over the next few years. This is not surprising given the flat growth rates in Europe (The Telegraph), and rapidly (!) declining population of Japan (BBC).
What are the implications for energy and food?
The implications for food and energy is that technology will adapt to our larger demands over time. Interestingly, the technology to resource relationship does not exist in energy. There has been an interesting paradox in energy consumption; as energy efficiency has increased, consumption has also increased. This is known as the Jevons paradox. This kink in environmental economics means that the assumption that many politicians and some environmental make — that efficiency gains will lower resource consumption –is incorrect. It also means that energy demand in non-OECD countries is likely to rise significantly over the next few decades.
I’m not saying that we should not be worried about our finite resources; I am merely pointing out that until this point in history, the linear growth of resources has been disproven several times. Of course, we are also poisoning our water, food, and atmosphere with chemicals, radioactive substances, and pollutants at an alarming rate and this is not factored into economic calculations of growth. However, even with the current rising temperatures, rising levels of carbon dioxide, droughts, extreme weathers, technologies have evolved (to some extend) to deal with some of the problems (this relies heavily on adapting to new conditions and has led to a fierce debate in the scientific and political sphere of adaptation versus mitigation [NASA], which I might elaborate on in a later post). Climate change is still a global risk and over time, as our demand for resources increases, the waste and pollution we generate is bound to increase. Nevertheless, the increasing rate of innovation in technology has also helped developing countries develop in a cleaner way than developed countries. Currently, developing countries are using more renewable technologies than developed countries (Financial Times)!
Watching Roy Beck‘s videos on immigration in the U.S. made me aware of the dangers of our growing population. In his video, Immigration, World Poverty and Gumballs, Beck makes some interesting points, drawing my attention to the astounding percentage of people around the world who are poor, sick, and living in impoverished countries all over the world. In his video, Beck also says that these people are in his words “disconnected” and “unable to make it here as immigrants”.
His video caused me to worry about others around the world as well as our congress. Especially if they are going to be welcoming an unhealthy amount of immigrants into our country next year. So what are we supposed to do about this problem? In my opinion, I agree with beck that this will be happening, unless we take action with our votes. Our votes can make the difference to ensure that the amount of people we welcome into this country, is lowered to an amount that will make our country stable to live in.
According to the green world post Arithmetic, Population, and Energy, we need to make sure our country constantly has a sustainable growth rate. This post taught me that this is important to monitor because more people means an increase in emission greenhouse gases. More people using transportation, electricity, and other means of energy where our environment is negatively affected.
Personally, I believe that there are good intentions when it comes to immigration, seeing as the goal is to take people out of an already impoverished country, and give them an opportunity to have a future in our country. However, the amount of immigrants that are welcomed into America today is alarming. I believe every place has a limit on the population of people that should be living there. And our votes may be the difference between seeing a sustainable amount of people in our country in a few years or an unsustainable amount. Not to mention the fact that there are people in impoverished countries who aren’t just sick or poor. What I mean is, there are people in other countries who immigrate because their home has become unstable to live in due to climate change.
In the Mother Jones article, What Happens When Your Country Drowns? Morris writes about how people in other countries are dying due to the changing climate. People who are natives of their own countries are suddenly finding their home isn’t sustainable to live in anymore so they have to move. Imagine having to move out a place you’ve lived your entire life, due to an unsustainable climate? The rising sea-levels and destruction of reefs in Tuvalu is a serious problem for the people living there an the sea-life as well. And it worries me that Tuvalu isn’t the only place on the verge of drowning or dying out. What can we do to protect these territories where the sea-levels are rising and tectonic plates are shifting? If we don’t figure it out these places could disappear years from now, and our children and their children’s children won’t be able to experience them.
I know I’ve been saying this a lot this semester, but the readings and topics covered in this class have forced me to constantly reconsider the idea that, as a generation, we take so many things for granted.
The idea of our resources clearing out sounds devastating. I can’t even begin to fathom living in an environment where I can’t get access to water, electricity, healthy food, and other basic needs to survive.
But what about the people who live in countries in which they actually don’t have access to some of these items?
In his article about the Syrian refugees, John Wendle says, “Climatologists say Syria is a grim preview of what could be in store for the larger Middle East, the Mediterranean and other parts of the world.”
We want to feel like we are good people and that we’re doing good things, so we say it’s okay for Syrian refugees to come to America and seek shelter. But what if, by doing so, we use up all of our resources and are no longer able to provide for the rest of our population? What happens when ‘America, Home of the Brave’ becomes ‘America, Home of the Hungry and Desperate’?
I want to make this clear: I am not taking sides here. I am not defending the idea of keeping refugees out of America nor am I defending the idea to invite them. I am simply proposing a potential result that could come from a specific way of dealing with the refugee crisis.
In the video above, Roy Beck suggests that instead of bringing immigrants to America to help them, we should try to help them in their own countries because that way we would be able to help a larger population of people.
I don’t know whether the liberal minded Facebook politicians demanding to allow refugees to come to America or Roy Beck’s bubblegum demonstration of immigration across the globe are to be trusted. But unless we come to a consensus on this topic, future generations are going to have to fight like hell to survive.
Our world population at the moment is at 7.3 billion people, but this number is ever increasing.
According to the United Nations (UN), this number is expected to reach 11 billion by 2100. In our current situation, our energy usage stands at 524.076 quadrillion British thermal units (btu’s), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. We can’t one hundred percent accurately predict what our energy usage will be in 84 years; even the above graph shows how the truth could vary from our predictions with varying lines of future population growth. However, there are closer predictions that I think are easier to grasp because they are in our near future. It’s hard to grasp a future number that I most likely won’t be around for, but using a date like 2035 seems more graspable. According to the UN, by 2035 global energy consumption will increase 50 percent.
Finding this statistic, I found it interesting how the UN connected this number to water usage. They state that with the 50 percent global energy increase there will be an 85 percent increase in water usage. An increase in population means an increase in agriculture meaning more water needs to be used for this purpose (according to the UN, a 19 percent increase by 2050). Energy requires water in order to be produced so as energy usage increases water usage increases. But there is a finite amount of water on the planet and only one percent of that is fresh water.Our water supply and usage is negatively affected by rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Sea levels are projected to rise one to four feet globally by 2100. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if sea levels rose 2 feet globally by 2100, levels in New York would rise 2.3 feet. New York would not be the only city effected; all coastal cities would be drastically changed. This trail I went on from population to sea level showed me just how interconnected all of these problems are. Any increase in any aspect of life on earth will affect another aspect; no change is isolated.
The future is coming, and it’s coming fast.
The majority of people choose to either ignore it, or do not know the devastating consequences of that future. The statistic that the population in predicted to be 11 billion in 2100 probably doesn’t register for many because they can’t visualize such a large number or cannot see that far in the future. To assist people here is a website that counts, in realtime, the growth of our population, the exhaustion of our resources, the state of government, and the quality of our health.
It makes me feel like this :
Joking aside, the constant worry that we are running out of time is real one. The pattern of most environmental videos, articles and case studies is that we are causing irreversible damage, and we are running out of time and options to fix this damage. This was one of the closing messages of Naomi Oreskes herself in Merchants of Doubts. She emphasized that we don’t have the luxury of 50 years (the time it took the government to try and charge the tobacco industry) for us to start making a change to prevent natural disaster.
Backing up this idea of having a small window of time for change with science, is James Hansen’s Tedtalk, which we viewed in class. He compares our future with “a gigantic asteroid on a collision path for earth” that we are doing nothing to avoid. He explains the longer we wait the more difficult and expansive it becomes” and reveals that if we started in 2005 it would take a 3% reduction in total emissions to restore energy imbalance, if we started in 2013 (one year after the TedTalk was filmed) it would be 6%, and in 2022 it would be 15%, an incredibly expensive and most likely impossible change. Now in 2016, it seems like our window for change is shrinking and it’s showing.
The disasters that Oreskes and Hansen predicted in their studies are coming to life and in the most horrible ways. In many cases, the most susceptible are the first to pay. Flooding and drought, are displacing thousands in places such as Syria, where water supplies have been exhausted and major drought has occurred, or in Bangladesh, with it’s coastline and Ganges river and Brahmaputra river, where extreme flooding has displaced thousands…and this is just the tip of the already melting iceberg.
Soon, if not already, we will see complications such as these regularly within our own country. The numbers say it all, and if you see the broad strokes of it all, or just the line moving in continuous upward direction, its clear to see that the things we are doing to pollute and destroy our environment are increasing, while are resources are decreasing. We are getting to the point, where Earth’s annual resources can no longer support a year of our current consumption. So where does that leave us?
It tells us that trying to figure out and predict how fast the seas will rise and how much do we now need to generate to support our growing need are the wrong questions. For when you see the numbers adding up before your eyes, and look at the trend of the graphs, and feel the unusual warmth of the winter wind, you realize the future is now, and there is no time left.
The existence of a water shortage today comes from humans contaminating the potable water they have at their disposition. It is easy to blame global warming as the sole source of decreasing levels of water, but when looking at the facts and reports, we come to see that one of the most prominent problems of the lack of clean water comes from our own pollution as humans, whether it be in industrial or non-industrial societies.
In Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, the issue comes from corporations’ fracking activities. The water still exists in the areas covered, but if consumed it will have extremely dangerous consequences. I was shocked to learn that so many people share common side effects of constant headaches, loss of their sense of taste and smell, and permanent brain damage from drinking their tap water in active hydraulic fracking areas. No matter how much proof is given to these corporations, they still refuse to admit that their activities are endangering humans. Seeing the water bubbling in the streams and the flammable tap in people’s homes has only led the companies to object the disclosure of the chemical content being released in the water.
Image Source: Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline (Linda Baker)
Similarly in India, the Yamuna Network report Yamuna: A River In Peril, the Yamuna river is exposed as being a common disposal space for toxic raw sewage and industrial waste. The water now contains high and unhealthy levels of nitrate, spreading waterborne diseases amongst children. This has also led to the total destruction of the river, which now has huge accumulations of white foam covering its surface, turning it into a true sewage canal.
Mouth of Yamuna River, India
Contrarily to the tap water in Gasland, Yamuna is so much more than a source of potable water. The Yamuna River represents values, spirituality, and a holy space: it has been a continuous source of life to families of man for thousands of years.
The issue with the environment in which we live in today, whether it be industrial or non-industrial, is that people take what they please without thinking about the detrimental consequences of their actions. As Sunita Narain describes it, “Cities today need water, so they take water from a river, but they give back sewage.”