Environment a Backseat Driver?

Environmental considerations have the potential at this time to cause global civilizational collapse. There is even a real risk of human extinction caused by our lack of concern for the biosphere on which we depend. Despite this, it has not been a major topic in the debates of the presidential candidates thus far.

Instead, people are highly concerned with Iraq, health care, and education. While all of these are important, it seems obvious to me that they would pale in comparison to human extinction and even to global civilizational collapse. Our environmental problems can be solved or at least dramatically reduced if we take decisive action now.

The biosphere will not care about our excuses. The biosphere will not care about our economic issues. The biosphere will not care about our reasons for warfare. We must take action despite any other issues that may arise. None will seem even remotely important as we begin to feel the effects of having destroyed our resource base.

We are already past peak grain production. All three major world staple crops, rice, corn, and wheat, are being produced in lesser quantities year over year. We are already past peak ocean fisheries output despite continually improving fishing technology. We have been getting less fish from the ocean year over year since 1983. About a billion people depend on ocean fish for their primary source of protein.

Clearly this situation is not sustainable, especially in light of the fact that humanity has not yet reached peak human population. Remember, people are made of food. As our food production drops, so too will the human population. It may lag a bit. But, it will be reduced either by us relatively painlessly or for us by limited planetary resources. The latter will involve a great deal of human suffering and will probably, due to normal human behavior, be disastrous for many other species as well.

So, my question is, why is this issue taking a backseat when it should be the driver?


11 Responses to Environment a Backseat Driver?

  1. BubbaRay says:

    And to think our government is still paying farmers not to grow crops. This is absurd in some ways, logical in others. Now that a such large percentage of agriculture is big corp. biz, it’s difficult for me to sort it all out. How long will Mom & Pop farms exist before it’s all a few corporate giants that do it all?

  2. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Ah, Mom & Pop shops versus big corps. That’s a whole new topic right there. Until I get around to writing that one, try reading chapter 18 of this downloadable book on pages 256-267. It was reprinted in The I Hate Corporate America Reader. That’ll really make you ill.

  3. Higghawker says:

    I love Thomas Friedman. I believe this Op-Ed is fitting for this post? Higghawker

    In the last few weeks, I happened to visit Doha and Dalian, and I must say: I was stunned.

    Before explaining why, let me acknowledge that chances are you’ve not visited Doha or Dalian recently. Indeed, it may be — I presume nothing — that you have never heard of either city. Doha is the capital of Qatar, a tiny state east of Saudi Arabia. Dalian is in northeast China and is one of China’s Silicon Valleys because of its proliferation of software parks and its dynamic, techie mayor, Xia Deren. What was stunning is that I hadn’t been to either city for more than three years, and I barely recognized either one.

    In Doha, since I was last there, a skyline that looks like a mini-Manhattan has sprouted from the desert. Whatever construction cranes are not in China must be in Doha today. This once sleepy harbor now has a profile of skyscrapers, thanks to a huge injection of oil and gas revenues. Dalian, with six million people, already had a mini-Manhattan when I was last here. It seems to have grown two more since — including a gleaming new convention complex built on a man-made peninsula.

    But this, alas, is not a travel column. It’s an energy column. If you want to know why I remain a climate skeptic — not a skeptic about climate change, but a skeptic that we’re going to be able to mitigate it — it’s partly because of Doha and Dalian. Can you imagine how much energy all these new skyscrapers in just two cities you’ve never heard of are going to consume and how much CO2 they are going to emit?

    I am not blaming them. It is a blessing that their people are growing out of poverty. And, after all, they’re just following the high-energy growth model pioneered by America. We’re still the world’s biggest energy hogs, but we’re now producing carbon copies in places you’ve never heard of.

    Yes, “Americans” are popping up all over now — people who once lived low-energy lifestyles but by dint of oil wealth or hard work are now moving into U.S.-style apartments, cars and appliances.

    Our planet cannot tolerate so many “Americans,” unless we take the lead and change what it means to be an American in energy terms. Attention Kmart shoppers: the world consumed about 66.6 million barrels a day of oil in 1990. We’re now consuming 83 million barrels a day.

    “Demand for oil has grown 22 percent in the U.S. since 1990. China’s oil demand has grown nearly 200 percent in this same period,” Margo Oge, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of transportation and air quality, told the Tianjin China Green Car conference that I attended. “By 2030, the global thirst for oil is forecast to increase by another 40 percent if we maintain business as usual.” Such an appetite would devour every incremental green initiative we make.

    Hey, I’m really glad you switched to long-lasting compact fluorescent light bulbs in your house. But the growth in Doha and Dalian ate all your energy savings for breakfast. I’m glad you bought a hybrid car. But Doha and Dalian devoured that before noon. I am glad that the U.S. Congress is debating whether to bring U.S. auto mileage requirements up to European levels by 2020. Doha and Dalian will have those gains for lunch — maybe just the first course. I’m glad that solar and wind power are “soaring” toward 2 percent of U.S. energy generation, but Doha and Dalian will devour all those gains for dinner. I am thrilled that you are now doing the “20 green things” suggested by your favorite American magazine. Doha and Dalian will snack on them all, like popcorn before bedtime.

    But, as I said, this is not just about “them.” It is still very much about us. Peter Bakker is the chief executive of TNT, the biggest express delivery company in Europe. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index 2007 just listed TNT as the No. 1 company in terms of energy and environmental practices. Mr. Bakker, whom I met in China, told me this story:

    “We operate 35,000 trucks and 48 aircraft in Europe. We just bought two Boeing 747s, which, when fully operational, will do nine round trips every week between our home base in Liège [Belgium] and Shanghai. They leave Liège only partly full and every day fly back to Europe as full as you can stuff them with iPods and computers. By our calculations, just these two 747s will use as much fuel each week as our 48 other aircraft combined and emit as much CO2.”

    That’s why we’re fooling ourselves. There is no green revolution, or, if there is, the counter-revolution is trumping it at every turn. Without a transformational technological breakthrough in the energy space, all of the incremental gains we’re making will be devoured by the exponential growth of all the new and old “Americans.”
    Friday New York Times

  4. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Thank you for an excellent post Higghawker. And, I agree that we have a very difficult road ahead. However, we should not belittle the part of the U.S. in all of this. The oil money that fuels the growth in Doha and Dalian is at least largely U.S. oil money. This will dry up if we can shift to renewable energy. The increase in energy consumption in China is tremendous. However, much of that energy is for factories to produce stuff to feed the American consumerist mentality and for the container ships to bring it here.

    Even discounting how much of China’s energy use is really just an externality of American energy, The U.S. still has, by far, the highest per capita energy use in the world. What that means is that each of us in the U.S. has the potential to do more in our daily lives to combat global warming than individuals in any other country.

    If we as a species do not solve such issues for ourselves, they will be solved for us. Our planet does not have unlimited resources. If the problems we face are solved for us, it will be far more painful than if we can manage to make sweeping changes in our lives that allow us to come closer to sustainability.

  5. Higghawker says:

    Although we seem to be destroying this planet. I must answer to this quote:

    “There is even a real risk of human extinction caused by our lack of concern for the biosphere on which we depend.”

    I can with absolute certainty tell you HOW and WHEN this earth will be destroyed. It will not be by man, although, man may do his best to damage the planet (disease warfare, pollution, etc) This planet will be destroyed when Jesus returns in the clouds to take his church with him. 2 Peter 3:10 tells us: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

    This does not mean that I am not for conservation, recycling, or green resource management.

    My answer to Scott’s question “So, my question is, why is this issue taking a backseat when it should be the driver?” would be that I would stress, one be ready when Jesus returns.

  6. Misanthropic Scott says:


    Why would Jesus be so cruel to so many of his father’s creation? If you honestly believe such complete and utter bunk, why would you worship someone who would do such a cruel and distasteful thing? Wouldn’t it be better to curse such a cruel individual for eternity rather than to submit to such an horrific fate?

    How could one be called all-forgiving while sending billions of his creations to burn in hell forever and ever?

    What about all of the innocent animals that are not getting into heaven?

    Have you taken measures to have your pets taken care of when you get caught up in the rupture?

    Personally, I am an atheist. If, when I die, I find out there really is a god that deliberately caused all of this suffering, I will do my best to get one good shot in before I get zapped for eternity. I will attempt to punch god right in the nose.

    What the hell kind of god deliberately confuses billions of people about the rules for getting into heaven? What kind of god deliberately divides people up so that they will kill each other with such fervor? What kind of god loves famine, pestilence, genocide, drought, mass extinctions at the hands of a creature delusionally believed to have been created in god’s own image?

    Your god is a god worthy of scorn rather than worship.

    What keeps me from cursing him/her all day long? The simple fact that there is no such creature. There has never been such a creature. There has never been a single shred of evidence that any such creature has ever existed.

    Why is it that no one ever wrote about Jesus until at least a full generation after his supposed existence? Because, the man never existed. There is even a line somewhere in the bible that says, “If Jesus had existed, he would not even have been a rabbi.” (I could have the quote slightly off. However, it’s from one of the oldest books of the new testament. I think it was said by Paul, but it could have been someone else. (I hated the original, so never read the sequel.)

    Now, please let’s try to get back on topic. Environmental concerns have nothing to do with mythology, unless you count the obvious mistranslation from “be useful and multiplex” that was later written up as “be fruitful and multiply.” That caused no end of harm.

  7. Higghawker says:

    There will be no animals in heaven. Only man has a soul. I realize this may be a tough one for you to understand loving animals as you do, but animals cannnot spread the gospel. That is our purpose while here on earth, to try and save as many souls as we can.

  8. Higghawker says:

    May I ask where you received this info? “We are already past peak grain production.” ?

  9. Misanthropic Scott says:

    First, I agree that there are no animals in heaven. But then, I think there is no heaven. Remember though, humans are animals. Or, did you really think that you are either vegetable or mineral?

    But, let’s get back on track. If you want to continue the heaven track, let’s move that to the “Jesus Hates Me” thread.

    So, where did I get the bit about being past peak grain production, it’s actually a great, but mildly depressing book, called Plan B 2.0 by Lester Brown. The book is available for download for free from the link in the prior sentence. I’d highly recommend it. BTW, it is more depressing than Collapse, by Jared Diamond. The only reason I call it only mildly depressing is because I have also read The Weather Makers, which was, by far, the most depressing book I’ve ever read. All of these are excellent books that I would highly recommend.

    Chapter 3 refers to peak grain due to water shortages. Chapter 5 refers to peak ocean fisheries. And, chapter 2 refers to peak oil.

  10. takebackthegovernment says:

    As one who has been focused on Iraq as the driver, the reason is simply that I have been so repulsed by this governments action there that I haven’t focused enough on the environment. But I still have done a little I think for the environment, as I got rid of my car, taken a job a mile and half from home and walk to work. It saves money, is good exercise and is one man’s tiny jab to the stomach of the oil companies.

  11. Misanthropic Scott says:


    Sounds like you’re doing an excellent job making changes in your own life. Luckily, in this election, I think you will not have to decide between a good policy on Iraq and a good policy on the environment. Kucinich has both. Now if only we could get him to the forefront of the election.

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