Climate change is just a symptom

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The BC government has committed itself to reduce BC'sgreenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by the year 2020. The questions remain — is it enough, and will they have the fortitude to take the actions necessary and to provide the funds to do it.

In Britain Parliament is considering reducing the UK's emissions by 50 per cent by the year 2050 and some argue that 80 per cent is a more reasonable figure. Onething is certain, climate change has come front andcentre as a political issue, and governments of allstripes are scrambling to find ways to make it look likethey are dealing with it. One suspects that “make itlook like” is the main purpose for them.

Climate change is an issue for us, but it is only asymptom of a much bigger problem. Humans are strippingthe resources of the planet faster than they can bereplenished; like aggressive cancer cells we areconsuming our host. Since the amount of resources arelimited the only cure for this is to consume less ofthem.

There are two ways to do this: one is individuallywhich means quality of life for most of us in developedcountries goes down considerably, and continues to godown as populations increase. Or, we can do itcollectively by reducing population to a level that thereis more than enough for everybody.

Some have argued that populations in developed countriesare already declining and that in countries such asCanada we do not need to control them. They also arguethat as other countries become more economically advanced their populations, too, will decline.

The problem with this argument is that world population overall is increasing, and that as countries industrialize, even if their population growth slows or declines, their resource consumption goes up to meet the increased demands of an industrial economy.

If one of our goals is a fair and equitable globalsociety then the way to achieve that is to take the totalamount of renewable resources that can be sustainablyproduced by a fully functioning and diverse ecosystem,and calculate the amount of these resources needed perperson to provide the lifestyle that we want, then dividethe former by the latter and it will give us the maximumallowable population.

If we do not do this, although wemay work hard to alleviate many of the symptoms of ourenvironmental problem, we are not addressing its root.

The chief obstacles to doing this are public attitudestowards reproduction and an economic system based ongrowth and profit generation and its spinoff, themeasuring of worth by accumulated wealth — an economicsystem, furthermore, that dominates the dissemination ofinformation and shaping of attitudes via news,entertainment and education.

As long as we are taughtand believe that we have the right to reproduce withoutrestrictions, and a right to accumulate wealth regardlessof the consequences to society, then we will be unable toclean up the mess that we have made.

Our species has been on this planet for tens of thousandsof years, and currently we number about 6.5 billion. Formost of that time there were three million or fewer of us.Then we began to increase rapidly from the 16th century,reaching our first billion about 1800. By 1950, the humanpopulation went over 2.5 billion and over six billion in2000. The forecast is for almost nine billion by 2050.

During the same period the number of fish in the sea hasdropped, forests have shrunk, there is less clean air andclean water per capita, and now even grain supplies aredropping while demand is increasing. The fact that wehave altered the atmosphere and contributed to climaticchanges that may be difficult to adapt to is but the tip ofthe iceberg. And even that may be more than we have thewill to deal with.

Reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere quitefrankly means reducing consumption, it means changingtransportation and recreation habits, and it meanstightly controlling growth. It will mean increased taxeson fuel and energy to finance alternative sources.Whether this is politically feasible is questionable, andeven if it is it is only a band aid on a sucking chestwound.

At the end of the day, if we are to have an equitable andsustainable society, we are going to have to decide atwhat level of consumption individuals in that societyshould be entitled to, then adjust population to ensurethat we can sustain that level.

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