Sunday, 15 February 2009

How to reprogram your mind to become an environmentally fridenly citizen

1- Forget that freedom of choice is a good thing
A friend of mine is fond of the following saying: "People are like rivers, they take the easy route". This couldn't be more true when we look at their food consumption patterns or indeed the consumption patterns in a wider "free" market. In a free market, people have a choice in between cheap mass produced products that are bad for the environment and more expensive environmentally friendly product. Which do you think is always going to be the larger market if people are given freedom of choice?
There is a French proverb that says: "la liberte des uns s'arrete ou commence celle des autres", literally translated this means that our freedom stops where the freedom of others begin. A liberal market is based entirely on the notion that freedom of choice is good. Is it a good thing to have the choice in between cheap mass produced foodstuffs and expensive organic ones? The answer is unequivocally yes for consumers and no for the environment. Since the environment is what enables consumers to survive; the environment's rights are more important than the consumer's rights however in a free market, the reverse is true.
What is the problem with mass produced foodstuffs? They use a lot of pesticides and insecticides which generate nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide has 300 times the greenhouse effect of CO2 and is responsible for 21% of the greenhouse emissions from the food supply chain. That is the hidden cost of cheap vegetables and meat which is never expressed in the lower "subsidized" price we pay. That's why we need regulation so that people are no longer given the choice but are under the obligation to pay a higher price for their long-term survival. That is what we may call "sustainability" politics.
2- Having one more baby in the UK is very bad news
The current world population is 6.5 billion and it is supposed to stabilize around 9 billion by 2050. The World is already overpopulated and the annual biological debt accumulated by the World population is equivalent to 20%. That means we consume 20% more than what the Earth is able to cope with in terms of its ability to regenerate itself. The average life expectancy of men and women in the UK is equal to 79.5 years and the average annual carbon footprint of a UK citizen is 12.5 tonnes. Therefore the average carbon footprint of an individual in the UK is equivalent to 993 tonnes over their life time. The weight of an empty boeing 747 8i is 211.7 tonnes therefore the weight of the carbon emissions of a UK citizen is equivalent to 4.69 Boeings 747 . A rough estimate of how much it would cost to offset that carbon footprint by planting trees is: £30981 or 2581 trees, that assumes planting 2.6 trees to offset each ton of carbon at a cost of £12 (these figures were provided to me by Trees for Cities a UK based tree planting charity). There is simply not enough land available to plant that many trees for each new born. We have 2 choices: either we regulate births our impose upon ourselves not to have children or Nature takes care of it for us through famine and the spread of diseases.
3- Understand the idea of finite supply
Our entire free market culture is based on the idea that nature offers abundant supplies of everything. However, this is no longer the case. Based on proved and probable reserves, we are running out of almost every available raw material be that metals, oil, coal uranium or anything else you can think of that you might define as a raw material. The discovery of new resources is only delaying what we already know: soon and very soon in some cases we are going to run out of Nature's abundant resources. These are just the resources we rely on for our economy. The resources we rely on to live: water, soil, trees and oxygen are also running out due to intensive use and pollution whilst at the same time global warming through a phenomenon known as positive feedback is reducing further those resources naturally. Soon we may lose control over greenhouse gas emissions due to global warming releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in soil, vegetation and oceans. Nature has got finite supplies of everything and unless we reduce the consumption of these finite supplies we will run out of the very essence of what makes our life possible on this planet.
4- Economic growth is bad news
Growth is an exponential function. Exponential functions in a finite supply & overcrowded world are self-destructing mechanisms; they can't last. In a recessionary environment, people lose their jobs and can't find work. It appears that to maintain full employment, there is no other solution but to promote growth. However, if restrictions are imposed on birth rates it is possible to have in the longer-term an environment with zero growth or negative growth yet still have the benefits of a growing economy since there are less people around to benefit from the additional economic wealth.

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