Sunday, September 16, 2018

Problem Gives Own Answer

     An article in Foreign Policy on "Why Growth Can't Be Green" popped up in my feed.  The author makes a strong case for his thesis, which he seems to think is quite the Gordian knot.

     He's concerned "...that there are physical limits to how efficiently we can use resources," and pontificates, "Our planet provides more than enough for all of us; the problem is that its resources are not equally distributed."

     Sure, you can do that, and in the end we'll all get exactly the same weight in cockroaches for dinner.  On the other hand, early on he tells us, "Even under the best conditions, absolute decoupling of GDP from resource use is not possible on a global scale." 

     The emphasis is mine.  There's a whole Solar System out there, with lots of iron and copper and other metals, plenty of ice to use for water, air and fuel -- and staggering amounts of solar energy to power the process.

     I know it has become fashionable these days to decry space as a place where the rich will flee to escape us clods -- but in fact it is harsh and desolate, a set of environments where recycling isn't just a nice idea but a near-necessity -- and where conditions are such that you're already set up to work with harsh and dangerous processes while being isolated from them.  We can extract exotic metals and process radioactives on the Moon all we like and not endanger a single newt or squirrel -- or person, if they do it right -- and the aftermath won't be a spreading contaminated lake in China or a massive disposal problem in the Pacific Northwest. 

     Or, I suppose, we can hunker down in shared, egalitarian* poverty and every year there will be less and less, until one day, it'll all be gone.

     I know which future I prefer.
* Some of the important people, the ones who write articles for Foreign Policy and suchlike, will get a double helping of cockroaches.  Maybe even with salt.


Bruce Friend said...

But have we lost the intestinal fortitude and drive to go out and make use of space. I once was sure that we would do this. I read the stories and believed them. They were my dreams of the future. Now that we finally have the technology to really go out and do all of it, I fear that those with the drive are too old and those young enough to go lack the fire as they have all been raised on defeatism.

Tom Billings said...

The settlement of the Solar System will have the same characteristics, described by Robert Heinlein, as every other mass migration in human history:

"The cowards never started, and the weaklings died on the way".

The drive is *not* in the government hierarchies, and it never has been in the majority of people. It is those who have no intention of being tamed by hierarchy to the will of some hierarch, who sell everything they have, and go, whenever it becomes financially possible for them.

That may take 20 years of saving and investment for some, but that small minority will be there. They will study ahead of time, and assess their chances coldly. When the chances balance out the danger, they will go. The majority, once again, will be left behind.

DH said...

It is true that growth (capitalism) cannot be green (environmentalist). The solution is to stop worrying about being green. The Malthusians are wrong. Space exploration is great, but we don't need to get off the planet to thrive. We just need to leave people free to exploit the abundant raw materials we have on earth, from its surface to its core.

Roberta X said...

That's a bit over-simplified, DH -- and working in space will teach us more about recycling and running a sustainable environment than we'll ever learn on Earth, because we'll have to learn it or die, up close, personal and short-term.

James said...

I am going to rant now. Thank for giving me the space. That kind of article really torques me off.

The logic used in the article is every bit as strong as that used for peak oil. In other words, it's crap. There are far too few people who see through it. It assumes mountains of false premises about the environment and morality and it ignores the reality of the past 200 years. It ignores productivity and technological gains. It ignores basic economics and human nature. These are the reasons there is more food per capita today than there has ever been even though there are billions more people and less land used for farming. These are the reasons we won't run out of metal or oil. Even potable water isn't a problem. We aren't going to run out of oceans. Desalination is easy. It's easier, and cheaper, when powered by nuclear reactors. But try getting one built even in perpetually dry California. Those morons would rather divert rivers and streams into the ocean than farmland. The article makes sense only if you accept the premise that resource use by humans is wrong, now and always. There is no shortage of natural resources if humans are free to find and exploit them here(either finding more or getting more out of what we've already found), or eventually the asteroid belt, or wherever. The deepest mines and wells in existence have barely scratched the surface of the planet. The earth is amazingly big and rich. The solar system, incalculably more so. Further, there is absolutely nothing unsustainable about how we do things unless you think generations of humans living many thousands of years from now have some kind of moral claim to the resources we are using. They don't. And if they do, then the ones living after that have a claim on them too. So in the end no human can ever use resources legitimately, which is the morality they're pushing. Any use of resources is immoral to these people. The "green" standard these human haters use is an earth without humans. That's their ideal, an earth without any evidence we now exist or have ever existed. The only way to meet the standard is for every human on earth to be killed or commit suicide. Capitalism can't be green because capitalism is about human flourishing, while environmentalism is about human death. Just ask them about nuclear and hydroelectric. They are the safest and least polluting energy sources available and they are against them. Why? Because with them humans would flourish. They would be happy and productive and free and, well, they just can't have that can they?

Which brings me to the best bumper sticker I've ever seen: "Earth First: we'll strip mine the rest of the planets later."