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Ignore the Political Optimism, the Planet is in Trouble

By Post Carbon | Sun, 23 September 2012 00:00 | 4

It has now been more than 33 years since Jimmy Carter's famous "malaise' speech given in July 1979. As this speech is often cited as the beginning of the end for the Carter Presidency, no politician in the intervening years has seen fit to offer anything but an optimistic, upbeat outlook on the course of the nation and its economy.

While looking across the global landscape, it is easy to conclude that the situation in 1979 was only a shadow of what we face today. The world's economy is stuck in a slump which shows every sign of continuing indefinitely or getting worse; our climate is spinning out of control and some are seriously talking about the end of life on earth; public debts are skyrocketing and governments around the world have turned on their printing presses to "stimulate" (read inflate) their way out of current economic troubles; the internet has spread so much information to so many that much of the world is inflamed over real or imagined slights; mobs are running through the streets and bombs are going off faster than can be counted.

Closer to home we have very high oil costs. Although rarely mentioned by the media or public officials, persistent $4 gasoline, and its equivalent in other fuels and in other countries, is slowly eating the heart of our transportation and energy-centered civilizations. Despite much optimism from the financial press, realistically the outlook is not good.

"Recovery" either by Keynesian stimulus or tax cuts seems highly dubious. Some are calling for new models of economic organization, ranging from China where the key levers of economic power are in the hands of the central government to total laissez-faire. Remove all government regulation and let free enterprise run everything without government interference and minimal taxes. The real question, however, is just how does the world get itself out of all this mess? Or can it?

There is a report out of Cambridge University this week in which a leading arctic specialist says the polar ice cap will be totally melted in three or four year. This in turn will lead to the thawing of the arctic permafrost and the release of much methane – conceivably a fatal dose. This suggests that the real hardships that will come from global warming may be many decades closer than generally believed. Recent warnings from the UN about impending food shortages echo concerns that we may not have decades to argue about growth vs. the environment in the face of the reality of global warming.

For hundreds of thousands of years, the story of mankind has been one of evolving technology. At first new technologies came very slowly – tools, cutting edges, the wheel – but in recent centuries the pace of technological change has been breath-taking. While there have been great "benefits" to all this technology, it has brought with it serious problems such as overpopulation, global warming, and growing cultural conflicts.

It is becoming clearer all the time that that a return to the patterns of economic growth based on increasing exploitation of fossil fuels that we saw for much of the 20th century are either over or soon will be. Either there will have to major changes in our technology that will stop global warming, and provide us with the energy necessary to maintain our civilizations, food and water supplies or the world is in for some very hard times before the end of the century.

Whether these changes are possible in the time we have remaining is the key question. Many seem willing to wait until the water starts coming over the seawalls – all in the name of economic growth. If these voices prevail much longer there are definitely going to be some hard times ahead.

Are there technologies coming along that can make a real difference and can be implemented quickly enough? The answer to this seems to fall into two categories – rapid implementation of "conventional" technologies that are currently available or in late stages of development; and completely new technologies based on new and not well understood principles of physics.

By. Tom Whipple

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  • willvill on September 24 2012 said:
    I believe that the whole populations of the earth knew about the changing environments or climate change. However, here in my country, the Philippines, the government are still not showing interest or future planning if ever the said climate change really affect us. At present the politicians are all busy preparing for the next election (May 2013). Even our popular president, Aquino, is still concentrating in helping his next political allies to win the said election, that according to him can help him to fight corruptions. Still, sad to say that, our government, in a semblance gesture, is creating commission after commission to created jobs for their political allies, in the guise of studying the affect of climate change in our country.
  • David on September 24 2012 said:
    The problem will worsen and begin to rectify as the cause lessens. The human population. All of our technical advances, as marvellous as many are, have only masked the effects of quadrupling the world's population in a little more than a century
  • John D on September 24 2012 said:
    It appears the only solution if for society to collapse, then try again. Hopefully some will survive the descent.
  • Mel Tisdale on September 25 2012 said:
    Before society collapses completely, let's get the politicians, fossil fuel execs, lobbyists and noted media personalities behind bars for deliberately hindering action to avert disaster.

    We need to send a message to those that survive the coming collapse that such behaviour will reap its just rewards. Unless we do that, they will make the same mistake if any other planetary danger should manifest itself. Just how many such dangers can our species survive before it simply becomes part of the fossil record?

    In the meantime we should do our best to slow the progress of climate change by cutting our greenhouse gas emissions so that we can make the collapse as orderly as possible. It is far too late to hope that we can avoid eventual disaster and we have only ourselves to blame. I mean, it really was stupid to listen to the likes of Glenn Beck, wasn't it?

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