Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Dilemma

Following on from my pessimism in the last but one post, I give you an email received late on polling day from one of our readers. The delay is because I’ve been busy on other things.

Good evening Alan

It is late on polling day and whilst waiting for the first results I find myself in reflective mood.

As usual when thinking about the personal and the political, I am between a rock and a hard place.

I hear talk about 'saving the planet'. It seems to me that the best thing for the planet would be for the human race to disappear completely. We are too deviously clever, too greedy and too reproductively successful. Without us equilibrium could be restored. What we are really talking about is saving the human race.

On the other hand I hear that for people all over the world to be lifted out of poverty we need 'economic growth'. That means consuming more of the earth's resources to fuel the human races's uncontrolled expansion. Those people are here, they are hungry, they need water and shelter, hope and aspiration. Their lives are every bit as valid as mine.

Is there a solution? I have taken the route of becoming almost entirely organic in food consumption and of buying food which has travelled as little as possible to reach me. In a small suburban garden I try to grow my own. I recycle almost everything and compost as much of my garden and kitchen waste as I can. I haven't travelled by air since 2007. I use my car as little as possible (OK I have a freedom pass which is a great incentive) and I don't buy anything I don't need. If the economy depended on people like me it would never recover. But the planet might.

I wonder how your readers solve this dilemma.

Kind regards
Patsy Whiteside
Of course Patsy is quite correct, the Planet is in no danger. It has suffered 5 major extinction events in its history, possibly due to climatic change or changes in the environment or some other catastrophic event and life has recovered. The point is that life adapts. It evolves to suit the climate and the environment. Out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and at huge depths (and pressure) lava seeps out onto the sea bed pushing two tectonic plates apart. The combination of sulphur and water creates Sulphuric Acid. This is an environment that would kill just about any other life form on this planet and yet it is teeming with life – shrimps that have adapted to those conditions.

Mother Nature is ruthless and unforgiving. She will discard us without a second thought or shedding a single tear if we do not pay attention and live within the rules she dictates. That is the trouble. We have, certainly in the developed world, lost our contact with Nature. We somehow seem to view ourselves as separate from it and superior to it. We are not, we are an integral part of it.

"Man did not weave the web of life - he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." Chief Seattle, 1854.
But that’s not all. We have also lost contact with ourselves and specifically the role that economics plays in human activity. Economics is merely a human extension of the Laws of Nature acted out by Nature’s creatures (us). We have lost sight of what economics is for – to benefit mankind and create wealth (not necessarily equally) for all.

Like cholesterol there is both good and bad economic activity. Most of what I see today is bad. “Growth”, that is an increase in economic activity or GDP is seen as good but most of it these days does not create wealth or health. Any old growth will do. Chancellors turn a blind eye to it (and to a large extent are the cause of it through "costs of failure") because they can tax it and because they have no idea how to promote healthy and sustainable growth. Until recently it has not been a factor and they have not had to worry too much about it. But they remain steadfastly trapped within the straight jacket of the accepted conventional wisdom of the past and Machiavelli’s prediction.

Here’s some reading matter:

Principles of Green Economics

Time Running Out to Ensure Sustainable Prosperity for All

Handle with Care


Here's the Travelling Wilburys again ...


  1. I sign a lot of petitions, occasionally put "green" thoughts on my blog, such as trying to save the Amazon rainforest or stop sharks being finned for soup, but all I hear from governments is growth, growth, growth. Even "solutions" to global warming are confidence tricks, the biggest of which is bio fuels. Huge tracts of land are being cleared to plant crops for bio fuels. Save the planet? They are destroying it.
    Fortunately we're all going to be dead before the planet dies! So why worry?
    One thing you don't mention is saving water on flushing your loo. As we're in a drought at the moment, this is a short-term problem worth doing something about. Thames Water has freebies to put into your lavatory cistern to limit the amout of water used by each flush.
    Ethical flushing! It's a start.

    1. I thought of doing that but have not succeeded in imposing a limit on the pre-flush input......

  2. In response to Patsy's question about "how your readers solve this dilemma": After years (starting in the early 1970s) of expecting our politicians to deal with the issue of sustainability on our finite, vulnerable and overpopulated planet, I finally realised that they weren't going to do it, and set my mind to understanding WHY, given the catastrophic consequence that now await us?

    It's not just politicians, of course, although, as our leaders, they bear most of the responsibility, but also many of the academics who advise them. They select the ones who tell them what they want to hear, and ignore the one's who don't.

    The fundamental problem lies in human nature and the fact that it evolved in and is thus adapted to an environment very different from the artificial environment we call civilisation. I elaborate on this idea in the following video blog:

    If there is a solution to solving our dilemma and securing our species' long-term surveil and well-being, it must surely be through a proper, i.e. realistic, understanding of ourselves and our situation, which, as explain in my blog, is "perverted Darwinian".

    I would welcome any feedback readers here have to offer.

  3. Patsy reminds me of the day when a pleasant young man rang the doorbell and asked me how I was today and did I want to hear the good news.
    Not as ratty as usual, I think, because I did not bring the conversation to an instant close. He then asked me what question I would ask God, was I given the chance. Quick as a flash, I said: Why on earth did God create Man at the end of his endeavours. Why create something so beautiful and then, wreck it?
    The young man was without an answer and said he would ask somebody and come back.
    Still no answer but, I am happy to be alive and I enjoy a beautiful if not perfect world.