The Climate Wrecking Ball
I am going to hire one guy with a wrecking ball to demolish my house, another guy to estimate the damages, and, after declaring bankruptcy, someone else to not only fix it, but make my house even better. Sounds crazy, but when you look carefully at all the issues interconnected with what is termed "climate change," that's essentially the scheme our society is engaged in. Let me explain.
The California Energy Commission has had the foresight to establish the California Climate Change Center (www.energy.ca.gov/global_climate_change/index.html) and recently organized a conference in Sacramento. I presented a poster at the conference and watched most of the proceedings. It was a surreal experience for me because the wrecking ball analogy came to mind. Here's a schizophrenic view of the next 100 years.
The "wrecking ball" is all of us. As a growing consumer population we are taking over natural habitats and polluting the atmosphere. Our big "house" is the planet Earth, and our own personal well being is intimately tied to the function of what scientists call the "biosphere." The food, raw materials, energy and steady climate we require to thrive is jeopardized by our own means of livelihood.
Some people "estimating the damages" to our house are climatologists, hydrologists and biologists. The presentations given during the conference were very sobering if not downright scary: loss of snow pack, redistribution of rainfall, summer-long heat waves, withering crops, rising sea levels and frequent storm surges that erode beaches and overwhelm levees in the Sacramento delta.
Now here's where it becomes comically surreal, in a tragic way. What happens to the population of California and our economic well being while our very life support systems are collapsing? The economists at the conference (all from the neoclassical tradition) told us this: we will grow our population from just over 30 million today to 60-90 million by 2100, and we will approximately triple our income. Multiply those population and income factors together and you get an approximate Gross Domestic Product growth of 600%-900%. Astounding! Absurd?
How can certain economists be so confident about "growth" when scientists are looking at "decline?" Even well-informed members of the public are rightly confused. But a close look at these economic models reveals their flaws. The environment and resources are "externalities" not incorporated into growth projections, which are simply extrapolations of historical trends.
Other economic traditions (such as ecological and biophysical economics) recognize that the trend for human economic and population growth is not preordained, but has been made possible by the natural wealth of the Earth--rich top soil, expansive forests, wide rivers, aquifers, concentrated mineral ores, and fossil fuels. As we deplete and degrade these resources, and pollute air, soil and water in the process, we undermine the basis for our own prosperity, and especially our children's.
While the horrific outputs from climate models were depressing, I was more disturbed by the denial I encountered while pointing out the contradictions described here. Some admonished me to "Have faith in technology," to which I wanted to reply, "So we should take a faith-based approach to science?" This kind of rhetoric is dangerous and only calls attention to the fact that the ones answering this way don't actually have any solutions.
In some private conversations several people (including a few within the California Energy Commission) admitted that the trouble is political. The changes required by society to slow down, reverse course even, and live within the budget allowed by the Earth are so great that seemingly no politician can speak of them. So I write to you, the public, and hope that "If the people will lead, the leaders will follow." Please learn what it means to live sustainably, and then follow the advice of Mahatma Gandhi: "We must become the change we want to see."