David Suzuki says by ignoring warnings of over-consumption and its dire consequences, we are following 99.9999% of our fellow animal species to extinction; and the Greens convene a cross-party economic conference, populated mostly by Greens

David Suzuki chuckles, remembering a sign he saw on a shop door (“no animals allowed”) and parents’ reaction when he told their children that’s what they are: just animals. “Boy, were they pissed off … we don’t like to be told that,” he comments dryly. He told the shop owner, too, who didn’t get the joke.

Asked to speak to the working title ‘a sustainable economy for the world’, he says he’s a scientist, not an economist — and, more crucially, what he terms an ‘elder’. So instead, he talks about what we need, not want, to hear, which was animals: frogs, and ostriches, and us — the naked ape.

However, his key note address to Friday’s meeting at Parliament, ‘A Sustainable Economy for New Zealand’, was right on song, because it came round, in the end, to an economic prescription, too.

So: animals, starting with the apocryphal frog, who doesn’t notice her water warming, from 97, to 98, to 99 degrees. A young skipper, harvesting swordfish out of Boston, describes her trips up around Newfoundland, and boasts of big fish, like the 200 pound one the other day. Her older colleague used to fish a few miles out of Boston and if he caught anything under 200 pounds, threw it back.

Suzuki and his wife have a holiday cabin on an island. Arriving from the city, he says it seems a paradise. Their elderly neighbour, in his eighties, remembers bounty beyond imagining, when they would rake in herring out of the kelp beds to fill a basket, and salmon were so many, you could hear them running up the river.

And ostriches: scientists, he says, have warned for forty years that we would, about now, be falling off a cliff, citing Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Limits to Growth, The Population Bomb, the Club of Rome.

He holds up a pamphlet issued in November 1992, signed by over 1500 eminent scientists, over half the Nobel Prize winners alive at that time. Scientists don't, he said, routinely go around signing documents like this. It said if growth continues unchecked, it risks irreversible change, to the point where the planet may not sustain life. It said no more than “one or a few decades remain” before the chance to avert this threat is lost, and prospects for humanity diminished. It said great change in our stewardship is required, to avoid great misery.

If it was a frightening document, he says, the response of the media was terrifying: there wasn’t one. However, 1992 was the year of the so-called Rio ‘Earth Summit’, and two decades on, we know its ambivalent results: Copenhagen, and Nagoya.

Suzuki sat on the board of the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which reported in 2005. The newspaper put it on page three; the day after that, the Pope got sick and died, and so did the story of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Before he came here, he toured Australia. On the day he arrived, the Global Biodiversity Outlook had been issued, estimating nearly a quarter of all plant species to be at risk of extinction. The Aussie dollar had also reached parity with the US. The media was very excited, about the second story; not so much, or at all, the first.

We used to believe in dragons and demon spirits, he says; now we follow the economy like a witch doctor with the chicken entrails. We define ourselves as ‘consumers’, and consumption is seen as a public good: after 9/11, George Bush told people to go out and shop, for their country, as it were.

Suzuki didn’t, in fact, explicitly mention either frogs or ostriches (let alone frogs, ostriches, and us in the same sentence) — but take from those anecdotes what you will.

He did call us ‘naked apes’, with the largest brain to brawn ratio in biological history — hardly a new observation. The resulting memory, curiosity, and inventiveness, he says, has more than compensated for our lack of other gifts: mankind is the most numerous mammal, there have never been as many of one mammalian species.

He describes the ‘hockey stick’ graph of our population explosion (100,000 years to reach a billion, and a further 200 years to multiply that by 6.9). On to that ‘hockey stick’, he claims, you can pretty much superimpose all of the other variables (carbon emissions, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and so on); they all follow roughly the same now-familiar pattern.

It’s been called the ‘Anthropocene’, as opposed to the Holocene: the period in which man began affecting environmental stability on a geological scale. However, unlike the other 99.9999% of species that ever existed — that have gone extinct (extinction of species, he comments, is normal) — we alone know we can change the future, by what we do today.

Having done so much of this already, accidentally, some are now devising further, quite deliberate, interventions, to save us from rethinking other habits. Suzuki said this to Kim Hill, in interview a few weeks ago:

… and now scientists are seriously discussing actually trying to manipulate the climate itself, the climate engine, with further technology, but this is mega technology, called geo-engineering. This has got to be the most dangerous, I think immoral, thing that I can imagine. … We think that we know so much that we can actually control these massive complex forces that are what we call the atmosphere? I think this is absolute madness.

We think we’re so bloody important, so damn clever, he added — warming to his theme on Friday — but this is the definition of insanity, doing what you’ve always done and expecting to get different results.

Suzuki is, as he said, a scientist, who knows that we live in a world shaped and controlled by scientific realities: natural physical principles, that cannot be exceeded or changed. At Nagoya, parties resolved to try to protect 17% of the biosphere. Suzuki says, if earth was shrunk to basketball size, the biosphere would be a layer of varnish on the outside of it. We are one species, out of 30 million, seeking to occupy 83% of that, not whatever a 30-millionth would be.

His economic prescription, therefore, was the need to bow to ecological reality, and remember our place in the scheme of things. And having rhetorically set that key note, he left — leaving us to try to work out what that means in practice, for New Zealand.

So we know the problem: the collateral problem now is what to do about it. Green MP Kennedy Graham organised the conference, to talk about economic theory, and how to write sustainable policy, in the light of the environmental problem.

As an aside, it was yet another example (and I could point to half a dozen) of so-called green ‘naysayers’ trying harder to confront, collectively and constructively, the issues of our time, than any of those other ‘naysayers’ on other parts of the political spectrum, who fail to perceive any problem ... or to attend the conference.

Is there agreement the carrying capacity of the planet has reached its limits? How might ‘neoclassical’ and ‘ecological’ economic theories connect, if at all? Is ‘strong sustainability’ (where econo- and sociospheres are subsets of the biosphere) accepted as a model? What is the place of growth, and does it differ for developed and developing countries?

Rod Oram, Brian Fallow, and Colin James (with apologies from Bryan Gould) convened. Speakers addressed, briefly, all sorts of perspectives on what a sustainable economy might look like: business, labour, agriculture, trade, conservation, and more.

But all day, it tended towards rehearsing well-known Green policies. It sketched out a sort of proposition or vision, but not one very likely to be challenged by the largely green (and Green) audience, who were more inclined to treat their favourites to bursts of applause. Cross-party and public debate on the theory, and the putting of it into practice, was for another day.

Still, you have to start somewhere; and believe me, I sympathised, because it struck me as kind of like writing a Pundit post: chipping away, foundation-laying, mostly on your own. You never know: today might be the day the conversation starts.

Comments (58)

by Chris Trotter on November 15, 2010
Chris Trotter

Here's one of "those" dinner-party questions for you, Claire:

"If you had access to a biological weapon lethal enough to kill 99% of humanity, and you were quite certain that by deploying this weapon the mass extinction of species, the wholesale destruction of habitats, runnaway global warming and the pollution of atmosphere and oceans would cease immediately: would you use it? 

by Claire Browning on November 15, 2010
Claire Browning

No. Here's one for you. Do you want to help tackle the challenge of trying to find a way to co-exist and save humanity, instead of firing off your own cheap not-so lethal shots, and riddling at dinner parties?

by nommopilot on November 15, 2010
nommopilot

"If you had access to a biological weapon lethal enough to kill 99% of humanity"

remind me not to attend any dinner-party you might be at.  I would prefer to share my meals with people who believe our problems can be confronted without recourse to mass genocide.

Claire, thanks for the hard work you do.  I'm always grateful for your posts and I hope this conversation does get started soon and it is of a higher intellectual calibre than the ones Trotter is obviously used to.

by Claire Browning on November 15, 2010
Claire Browning

I should also point out a possible misapprehension on Chris' part.

At heart, Friday was really about neoclassical and neoliberal economics, how badly these models are broken (ie, in whole or part), and what instead to do about it. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I am, to find him on the attacking side.

He don't have to like the Greens' 'ecological economic' recipe. Point is, they were open to debate it; and in truth, I don't think they know themselves yet what the right recipe is (at risk of further offending Chris).

by Andrew Geddis on November 15, 2010
Andrew Geddis

I think Chris is guilty of channeling his inner Stalin again: "No man, no problem."

I also see that The Standard (sorry! sorry! an individual writer participating in the joint endeavour collectively known as "The Standard") has taken a break from NAct-bashing to do some thinking along the lines you suggest.

by Scott on November 15, 2010
Scott

Mass and enforced vaccinations and food abominations like aspartame seem to be components of the 99% annihiliation of the species don't they?

by Claire Browning on November 15, 2010
Claire Browning

I also see that The Standard (sorry! sorry! an individual writer participating in the joint endeavour collectively known as "The Standard") has taken a break from NAct-bashing to do some thinking along the lines you suggest.

That is a most impressive and timely effort, and let us not be politically small-minded: if the price of progress is crediting MartyG with spontaneously having all these ideas, rather than the Greens, I will do it.

Watching The Standard debate it, rather than Pundit, may be harder.

by Mark Wilson on November 15, 2010
Mark Wilson

Give us a break - Zuzuki is Chicken Little writ large. History is chock full of doomsday predictions from Malthusia to the Interglatic Champions of proven doomsday failure Greenpeace. So far none of them have been proved right so why is this particular ott scenario any different?

As to Zuzuki his hysterical blabbing are NOT shared by other scientists except for a few like minded left wing lunatics. Those scientist who do support the global warming theory are generally a lot more restrained in their prognosis and are prepared to accept that they don't have all the answers and cannot provide the "certainty" that Zuzuki claims.  As a scientist he is a great religious cultist.

Evry time we get this doomsday stuff and it is proved wrong why are there no consequences for the promotors of the opinion?

The man needs to take his meds!

by Petone on November 15, 2010
Petone

Not a very constructive comment by CT, or Mark Wilson or Matthew Hooton or whoever is actually behind the profile

It seems to me that facetious question can only indicate denial or complete ignorance.  The problem David Suzuki is grappling with is growth, and an economy and policies predicated on perpetual growth. Before commenting again, CT and MW and others who don't see the problem should inform themselves. The best explanation you'll find is "Artihmetic, Population and Energy" by Prof Albert Bartlett:
http://www.albartlett.org/presentations/arithmetic_population_energy_tra...
Or as a lecture:  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5051121482067161853#

And if anyone spots a flaw in Prof Bartlett's arithmetic, please let the rest of us know.  Then we can all stop worrying and get on with the rat race and other stuff that matters.

by Mark Wilson on November 15, 2010
Mark Wilson

Petone - doesn't answer the question - how many times do the left wing doomsayers have to be wrong before they admit they do not know what they are a talking about?

As to Bartlett he fails to mention that Greenpeace predicted that oil would run out in the 1970s which in Claire's words is an epic fail so why are his predictions on oil right now?

And he assumes that there will be no new sources of energy such as fusion power when physicists who are running the large hadron collider who have stated that is will be feasible within decades.

Bartlett has been on this hobby horse for a long time and is still waiting for his crises to arrive, like Zuzuki.

He is a bad choice for support.

by Claire Browning on November 15, 2010
Claire Browning

Sorry Mark. We're not getting diverted on to the climate change deniers' track today, or the Mark Wilson "I give the same respect to kaitiakitanga ... etc" track, because if it's not one thing it's another. How about that peak oil, eh?

Suzuki is not out of line with his prognosis, and within not unreasonable margins of error, what you call the 'doomsday' predictions around limits to growth are being proved right. You're doing a fine job of proving his point yourself, my feathered friend. [PS. And mine, about the 'naysayers'.]

He may be on the extreme end, in terms of solutions; I doubt the 30-millionth thing was rhetorical, actually. The opportunity today is to debate other solutions. Please do; if you don't want to, go away.

Ignorant and irrelevant comments will be deleted, at my discretion, including the whole of any further comment that misspells 'Suzuki'. 

by Petone on November 15, 2010
Petone

MW:

The facetious question I was talking about was CT's, not yours.

Your question seems rhetorical, but you might like to consider that many unconventional commentators (perhaps even "left wing" but I wouldn't know) DID predict the 2008 financial collapse, whereas MSM economic commentators did not. 

I put "left wing" in quotes for a reason.  It's not helpful to characterise people's opinions, essays, or indeed simple facts they happen to mention; as left or right wing idealogy. It is just an avoidance mechanism; a means of preserving your world view by refusing to think.

Prof Bartlett is merely pointing out the logical result of the exponential function, not expressing idealogy either way. 
If (a) you agree with his thesis that perpetual growth is impossible, then we can progress the debate to when and how we can stop in a controlled fashion.. which is where David Suzuki is already at.
If you don't agree then either (b) there is a flaw in his arithmetic which you should point out, or (c) you can't do simple arithmetic. 

Which of (a), (b) or (c) is true for you?

by Chris Trotter on November 15, 2010
Chris Trotter

Well, well, well - what an interesting response.

Thinking the unthinkable clearly isn't within Pundit's purview.

The problem, however, is simple.

If scientists like Lovelock and Suzuki are right, not only is humankind driving itself to extinction, but we also seems hell-bent on taking the rest of creation along with us.

That suggests two basic options. Either take effective steps to save both humanity and the rest of the earth's species (by reducing the former's numbers by 99%) or, just sit back and enjoy the fruits of human ingenuity for however long we have left.

The notion that "sustainable" economic policies are either politically do-able, or, even if you could devise some way to make them do-able, could be implemented in time to prevent the runnaway effects of our fatal intereactions with the biosphere precipitating the mass extinction event Suzuki predicts, is just old-fashioned whistling in the dark.

Because, if I'm reading Lovelock and Suzuli right they're telling us that a massive human "die-off" at some point in the not-too-distant future has become inevitable.

I'm merely suggesting that in terms of securing our long-term survival as a species it would make more sense to ensure that the die-off was as quick and painless as possible and massive enough to actually do some good .

If, however, you prefer the winnowing of humanity to be a protracted, horrific and, quite possibly, futile event, then all we need to do is proceed on our present course.

Of course Lovelock, Suzuki et al could be wrong - but that's another argument entirely.

by nommopilot on November 15, 2010
nommopilot

"That suggests two basic options"

I don't see how that assumption is supported in any way.  There are plenty of options apart from the extreme ones you are talking about.

It seems like rather than a solution to the problem your mass genocide option is just an admission that you've lost hope and are ready to give up.

it's not that your question is the unthinkable it's just not a particularly useful thought.

_____________________

"The problem, however, is simple."

ha ha.  you're simple.

_____________________

"The notion that "sustainable" economic policies are either politically do-able. . . "etc

whereas the notion of wiping out most of humanity is going to be politically do-able?

politics are going to change as the reality of climate change becomes more apparent and the current crop of ideological dinosaurs die off.  the sooner this happens, the better the prognosis for mankind and the more useful thinking that is done now about what to do when the political do-ability of sustainable economics approaches the better off we'll be.

of course no-one can know how the future will unfold, and saying the problem is simple shows you aren't actually thinking very deeply about it.

by Mark Wilson on November 15, 2010
Mark Wilson

[Redacted.]

by Claire Browning on November 15, 2010
Claire Browning

... if I'm reading Lovelock and Suzuki right they're telling us that a massive human "die-off" at some point in the not-too-distant future has become inevitable.

Lovelock is, not Suzuki. Referring to Lovelock, he told Kim Hill that "people who believe that should just shut up and go away", possibly for the reasons you've just demonstrated.

by Mark Wilson on November 15, 2010
Mark Wilson

But what if he is wrong - we wreck the world on his say so?

 

by nommopilot on November 15, 2010
nommopilot

"we wreck the world on his say so?"

by wreck the world I assume you mean stop polluting it with exponentially increasing industrial activity brought about by the "need" for economic growth?

what if you are wrong?

by Claire Browning on November 15, 2010
Claire Browning

Wrong about what, Mark? You haven't answered Petone's points.

Wreck the world how? By promoting clean air, fresh water, oceans and soil capable of supporting life, a stable climate (the only kind we've adapted to)?

By demanding smart efficient next-generation solutions, that don't have the collateral damage we've come to accept as normal, and some of which are cost-negative?

By making ourselves socially and economically more resilient?

By stopping growth? 

By re-learning what matters in life? -- "peace, justice and equality", perhaps, not "PCs and iPods and cell-phones; downloading, texting, face-booking and tweeting their lives away"?

by Petone on November 15, 2010
Petone

MW I notice you don't answer simple questions eg.. whether (a), (b) or (c) is true for you, yet you persist in asking complex questions of others.

That said, on the question over whether it is you or David Suzuki that is wrong, there is an important facet which is not often recognised: The question is actually one of risk management, not simply of who is right and who is wrong.
If David Suzuki is wrong then we don't actually wreck the planet.. we merely unnecessarily develop sustainable communities living within the planet's carrying capacity.
If you are wrong however, then we wreck the planet.

This is called an asymmetric risk management problem.  One needs to factor in not only what is most likely to happen, but what the consequences of each possibility are, and act accordingly. We do it all the time.. walking along a footpath right beside the kerb is no problem, however walking along a thousand metre cliff right beside the edge is something that most people would manage rather differently.

And given of course that you are not an ecologist (just an assumption on next to no evidence, correct me if I'm wrong) and therefore not likely to know what you're talking about, whereas Dr Suzuki is and does, then the only intelligent response really is to be very respectful towards Dr Suzuki's views.

by Andrew Geddis on November 15, 2010
Andrew Geddis

But Petone ... if David Suzuki is wrong, Mark has to do stuff differently. And he's a wealth creator. And wealth creators should be able to do whatever they want, however they want. So David Suzuki can't be right.

You see, your problem was in thinking that issues of climate change and sustainability were empirical questions amenable only to scientific analysis. In fact, Ayn Rand resolved it all fifty years ago.

Equally, if David Suzuki is right, then class will no longer be the defining cleavage in society. This will make references to 1950s New Zealand largely pointless. Hence, Chris can't accept it.

by william blake on November 15, 2010
william blake

Suzuki is a bit negative though. I heard him telling the audience at the 2005 Ak Book Festival that most scientists, including the Nobel winners were convinced that it was too late to effect much change on the deteriorating global eco-system.

If you accept anthropocentric eco-change and the extrapolated doom, then Chris Trotters eco-bomb would be a preferable option to the long drawn out demise.

What will it take for consumers to rediscover the humanity common to mankind.

 

by Petone on November 15, 2010
Petone

Sounds like a lawyer..

 

by Petone on November 15, 2010
Petone

By sounds like a lawyer.. I meant Andrew.  william blake posted a couple of seconds before I did.

And Andrew if you want to argue the point, I wouldn't call risk management a science.  There's no Nobel Prize for it, not even a wannabee Nobel like the prize for  Economics. I think rationality encompasses more then science.  Won't comment on Ayn Rand, could never stomach her reasoning.

by Jackson James Wood on November 15, 2010
Jackson James Wood

For those interested, I should have a full video of Suzuki's speech up on the Green Party site tomorrow afternoon. Will post on here too if I remember.

by Chris Trotter on November 15, 2010
Chris Trotter

Enough of playing advocatus diaboli.

The challenges laid down regarding human extinction by Lovelock and Suzuki do, however, pose some rather thorny moral dilemmas - which I do not see the "everything will be okay if we just adopt green technology" folk coming to terms with anytime soon.

by The Falcon on November 15, 2010
The Falcon

Wreck the world how? By promoting clean air, fresh water, oceans and soil capable of supporting life, a stable climate (the only kind we've adapted to)?

This is why more and more people are becoming skeptical of the whole climate change doomsday theory... the people who are most adamant that "the science is settled", already want to stop economic growth, implement pollution taxes, etc. The "climate change armageddon" provides a convenient way of urging the world to immediate action.

Is it a deliberate choice to uncritically accept the "science" that favours one's own political views? Or is it just a subconscious thing? We may never know. But one thing's for sure - it's more than just coincidence that the most vocal doom-merchants are those on the far left. And it's more than just coincidence that a steadily increasing percentage of the world's population are starting to become skeptical of the whole thing.

by stuart munro on November 16, 2010
stuart munro

 it's more than just coincidence that a steadily increasing percentage of the world's population are starting to become skeptical of the whole thing.

True, the relentless propagandizing of large corporate interests has created a small block of climate change deniers. These being the ones you can fool some of the time. And there are contrarians like Dyson.  But with China's masters being essentially global warming skeptical the debate has been basically canned. There isn't going to be a coherent policy to reduce emissions. So more work needs to go into mitigation.

You and Mark should not deny yourselves the pleasure of actually reading Malthus - he's a clever bloke, wrote half of Darwin's theory for him - and there's even a mention of New Zealand. 

by Claire Browning on November 16, 2010
Claire Browning

By sounds like a lawyer.. I meant Andrew ...

Interesting risk management strategy. I hope you factored in all the possible consequences and their likelihood there, Petone.

by Andin on November 16, 2010
Andin

So more work needs to go into mitigation.

Im just curious as to what that work may be?

by Claire Browning on November 16, 2010
Claire Browning

Enough of playing advocatus diaboli ...

Yes. I agree it wasn't working well for you, Chris.

The challenges laid down regarding human extinction by Lovelock and Suzuki do, however, pose some rather thorny moral dilemmas - which I do not see the "everything will be okay if we just adopt green technology" folk coming to terms with anytime soon.

I don't see too many (any?) thinking people saying "everything will be okay if we just adopt green technology" -- the Greens anyway are saying something quite different -- or denying the moral dilemmas. I rather thought, in fact, that the point of proceedings like Friday's would ideally have been to get some of the moral dilemmas out on the table and start dissecting them: "If this, then that, and that's why this doesn't work ... " and so on.

Instead, here we are, again, talking about 'you folk' this and 'far left' that, 'doomsday' and 'armageddon' theories. Who is it here really, failing to grasp the issues?

Here is Colin James, in the ODT today:

The Greens' pubs-and-clubs problem is to prevent this thinking subsiding into apocalyptic prophesy. That is where keynote speaker, biologist David Suzuki took the conference at its outset, evoking a spectre of approaching ecological collapse through over-exploitation which leaves us very little -- maybe no -- time before there are no choices left.

In the pubs and clubs they don't see proximate apocalypse, any more than they feel the planet warming. So the Greens flirt always with marginalisation -- unless they can somehow translate ecological economics into everyday experience.

Fair enough. I daresay, then, that he and I are in mutual contempt of each other's stories.

However, I wonder what he thinks Fitzsimons has been trying to do, all these years, when she describes the many real reasons to insulate a home, over and above energy efficiency, to take one example. I wonder how he would, himself (being so clever), go about making a case for upending the system and turning it inside out, without explaining why anyone would want to do this -- or why we must. So easy just to sit back and say, "ah, but it's all the GREENS' fault we're failing here -- they spun it wrong," and make witty puns on "eco-worriers".

The Greens' biggest problem, actually, is the expectation that having diagnosed this problem early, they must now solve it for us all too -- without any sort of constructive external input, or indeed acknowledgement of the problem. 

Falcon:

Is it a deliberate choice to uncritically accept the "science" that favours one's own political views?

How about maths? No inverted commas required.

one thing's for sure - it's more than just coincidence that the most vocal doom-merchants are those on the far left.

Whatever. Fair point. It's also more than just coincidence that the most vocal deniers are those on the far right, with their own vested interests -- because that's what it's about, not about proposing a "spending solution", as you would have had it here. And so what? Instead of talking in loose terms about handy political coincidences and "people who are skeptical", "right wingers who dispute AGW", and so on, are you, yourself, denying we have a problem? Forget climate change, if it bothers you: what about growth? Explain for us how you see that working, and continuing to work, in future?

by Petone on November 16, 2010
Petone

Claire: Maybe Falcon is that dude from Colorado who doesn't believe that arithmetic holds in Boulder.

Falcon: As I commented above to Mark Wilson, it is not constructive to write-off someone's arguments purely because you perceive them to be left wing.  Not many decades ago commentators in your country dismissed some peoples arguments because they happened to be black.  You're doing the same thing, it's prejudice and an avoidance mechanism.

by The Falcon on November 16, 2010
The Falcon

Forget climate change, if it bothers you: what about growth? Explain for us how you see that working, and continuing to work, in future?

My only concern with growth is that socialist governments are actually paying people to have more children they can't afford to look after themselves. Thanks to Welfare for Families, you get more cash the less money you earn, so those with the least ability to care for a family of 10 are incentivised to have the largest families.

To me, this is a major problem because they cost the country billions - whereas population growth is fine if people can look after themselves. To you, it should be a problem because any "baby bonus" schemes encourage rampant population growth. But I expect you are very supportive of welfare for families...

by stuart munro on November 16, 2010
stuart munro

@ Andin,

You have the direct and indirect carbon sequestration strategies, and simply trying to prepare for a warmer climate with more turbulent weather. Direct sequestration seems unlikely,but strategies to increase biomass mesh with many good culture practices.

There are plenty of green technologies worth developing, and, like oil sand extraction, they will become more economically viable as the environment deteriorates. Passive solar water desalination is cheap to build and economic in ultra dry areas like Ward, or Australia. The country that cracks vertical algae farming for oil will get to smooth the shock when peak oil bites.

Anticipating warmer climates- perhaps Central Otago could be reforested with its original Kauri. Things like that.

by Claire Browning on November 16, 2010
Claire Browning

If that's your only concern, Falcon, you really do need to take an hour out of your life to read this. You will find it addresses all of your questions; and being better informed, you won't then find it necessary to go off on to tangents.

by The Falcon on November 16, 2010
The Falcon

I wouldn't call it a tangent - incentivising people with cash payments each time they have a child = much higher population growth. So really, if you oppose population growth, you should oppose Welfare for Families. Just saying.

by Andin on November 16, 2010
Andin

There are plenty of green technologies worth developing,

Thanks for that.

I thought a lot of the development had been done (there is just continuing refinement going on) or have I got ahead of myself. And the major problem was uptake of these technologies on a mass scale.

Which was always going to be hard.

Vertical algae farming is that application of Craig Venters developments in the field.

Sorry I'm so ill informed.

by Claire Browning on November 16, 2010
Claire Browning

Just saying.

Yes, quite. As opposed to making any effort at all to address the wider issue ... 

by Tobias Barkley on November 16, 2010
Tobias Barkley

Claire: Thank you for all the work you do on pundit. It is appreciated. (Also Petone's maths!)

As for leftwing doomsayers: there is a progress report on Limits to Growth (1972 Club of Rome). Nostradamus would be jealous.

http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf (Published in Global Environmental Change 2008 18(3) 397)

by Claire Browning on November 16, 2010
Claire Browning

Nostradamus would be jealous.

Yes. Cheers Tobias.

This self-pity card seems to work quite well. I'm starting to think I should play it a little more often. Also, it's probably worth clarifying that nobody is (or was) knocking those bursts of applause on Friday. They were (and are) quite lovely, really. I especially like them when directed, virtually, at me on a Tuesday, or any other day of the week in fact ...

by Judy Martin on November 16, 2010
Judy Martin

Well, applause for this, which gave me a real "aha" moment.

"The Greens' biggest problem, actually, is the expectation that having diagnosed this problem early, they must now solve it for us all too -- without any sort of constructive external input, or indeed acknowledgement of the problem. "

 

by Mark Wilson on November 16, 2010
Mark Wilson

As the most redacted and deleted person on the blog do I have to applaud to?

Or can i instead point out the reality that the solutions offered by [edited] Suzuki (whew - just saved myself there) [no, you didn't] and the Greens require the usual left wing fascism, deleted democracy and destruction of freedom to implement.

If you left wing sad sacks are correct then the only way you can implement your plans to force the rest of us to give up all semblances of a modern lifestyle is go down the usual left wing strategy of killing people (al la Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin etc etc) so we do what you say is "right'.

Otherwise, sadly for you sad sacks I can guarantee none of the above drivel and mishmash of ideas will be implemented. How sad - never mind.

by stuart munro on November 16, 2010
stuart munro

@Andin,

Craig Venter is one player in the field - but he favours high end tech, GE, and copyright. Algae are the probable source of fossil oil in any case. What's needed is a happy marriage of robust technology and a little selective breeding. The fish fanciers are to date building better algae systems than the high end biodiesal companies - but it's the standardisable production unit and culture friendly strain that will determine the success of the technology. I'm not sure it will ever replace fossil oil for - but we'll want a new plastic feedstock at the very least.

by Viv Kerr on November 16, 2010
Viv Kerr

Thanks Claire for the good work you do. It is disappointing that some people get off the subject and there isn’t much discussion about the important questions you raise.

Is there agreement the carrying capacity of the planet has reached its limits?

How might ‘neoclassical’ and ‘ecological’ economic theories connect, if at all?

Is ‘strong sustainability’ (where econo- and sociospheres are subsets of the biosphere) accepted as a model?

What is the place of growth, and does it differ for developed and developing countries?

The only one I’m sure about is the first question, the carrying capacity of the planet has reached it’s limits, unfortunately there’s not much sign of agreement about it. A local example of this is intensive dairying exceeding the capacity of the local environment to deal with it’s runoff. We have evidence of deteriorating water quality in our rivers and lakes, but many farmers and business people refuse to acknowledge the problem and instead want to ‘grow’ the dairy industry.

We do have to start somewhere, you are not on your own and you are asking important, difficult questions that need to be discussed. If the kids sitting exams got as off the topic as some of the commentators on this thread have , there would be a lot of ‘non achieved’ grades out there.

by Mark Wilson on November 16, 2010
Mark Wilson

And my whole life would be as nothing if I got a non achieved grade!!!!!!!!

My point which is way to the point is that you can't solve this problem because the rest of us are not interested. How sad - never mind.

by Andin on November 16, 2010
Andin

Steps delicately around pile of doggie doo doo

Thanks for that info Stuart.

by Tim Watkin on November 17, 2010
Tim Watkin

Mark is, in his way, making much the same point as Colin James (and Suzuki, to some extent) – that is, in everyday life the environmental change that is occurring is not dramatic enough to prompt a change of life. The water is coming slowly to the boil, so it's hard to get people to notice the heat and get interested.

If I don't know there used to be 200lb fish, I don't miss them. The mobility of people these days and the inter-generational gaps that creates is an issue there. The challenge is that as a species we're very short-termish and our political cycles focus our leaders on their short game.

I don't know how bad it might get. On one hand are the points about how easily species are made extinct and how rapidly we are growing past points the planet has never had to cope with before. On the other is the planet's remarkable ability adapt and repair itself.

Either way, Petone's point about risk management makes sense. It makes sense – and Falcon and Mark, surely this is something even a smart business would do, if you're determined to think purely in financial terms – to prepare for the worst, mitigate potential harm.

I suggested the idea of earth insurance last year, which would mean we might at least have some cash to act if things do turn out for the worst. Other ideas?

by Bob Dagg on November 17, 2010
Bob Dagg

David Suzuki, along with Rachel Carson and Bill McKibben were instrumental in changing the way I viewed many years ago. Before I read them I hadn't thought much about where humans fit in the grand scheme of things.

Clair

Did you catch the interview Suzuki did with Kim Hill. I listened to the interview  and was surprised at his reaction to her questioning at the end. I didn't feel she was disrespectful of Suzuki and many of her questions were pertinent

Tim

I remember reading somewhere,  I think it was Collapse by Jarrad Diamond, that the frog in water scenario is pretty much what happened on Easter Island.

The removal of the forests that the Easter Islanders need for boats, constructing the moai etc occurred over such a long period of time that nobody realised what had happened until it was to late. The result of which was war famine and the collapse of civil society. Cant help but think that we are heading down the same track.

 

 

by Claire Browning on November 17, 2010
Claire Browning

the only way you can implement your plans to force the rest of us to give up all semblances of a modern lifestyle ...

There are lots of unanswered questions, Mark, and many many more wrong assumptions.

I'll post again on this. I'm not ready to do it today. However -- and this goes to Tim's question, too, about what we need to do to manage risk -- I think the debate is suffering (apart from anything else) from lack of clarity about what is, in fact, being discussed. Is it a total overhaul of the economic system, or will tinkering at the margins do? If we wanted to live within the planet's carrying capacity, what would that mean in practice for our lifestyle? What would it demand in terms of equality, and -- people being what they are -- is equality itself sustainable?

by Claire Browning on November 17, 2010
Claire Browning

Hi Bob. Yep, couple of times. The first time, like you, I was surprised by his reaction; I'd thought it a good interview actually, comprehensive, not unsympathetic by KH's standards, not unduly negative. I thought she'd just been (as she said) drawing him out.

The second time through, though, you can hear the point at which he loses patience towards the end: they're talking about political reality, short-termism (Tim's point, again), and how democracy can be a bit of a bummer, in terms of getting stuff done.

He says we need a different kind of system, she says "uh oh, I'm thinking North Korea here ..." and he makes an exasperated noise and says "what about North Korea ... ?".

Then, he goes on to an example about how Chinese officials had agreed, after prolonged tricky talks with the Suzuki Foundation, to do something to correct a water problem, and virtually the next day or close enough, the offending loggers were shut down ("that's what you can do when you have a dictatorship") ... but just to pre-empt Mark, he ain't recommending it ... he's talking about votes for kids.

I would have linked straight to the interview, but I can't get it to work. It's still up online here (Saturday, 30 October 2010, 11:05 am). 

The other part I quoted above, where he says James Lovelock should just shut up and go away, is at 37.00 approx, and the Korea bit from 48.00.

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