October 30, 2011

What Americans, and humanity, are facing in the foreseeable future:

As I sit here now, quite sick actually, on this early football-Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, something extraordinary has happened. It is October 30th, 2011, and we are in a declared state of emergency following the first winter storm of the season. My yard, and the yards of my neighbors, are covered both with snow and a remarkable amount of debris from the winds which blew last night, knocking down whole limbs of trees. A large branch hangs suspended on the electrical wires of my next-door neighbor's house and the tree in my front yard. All last night it sounded as if someone were banging on my roof with a hammer as the winds blew the boughs of my trees against my suburban house. It is only the last week of October, and yet we are experiencing storms we wouldn't usually expect until the dead of winter. Something is amiss.

This is clearly the work of global warming. This sounds counterintuitive; why would global warming make winter storms harsher? Well, all that melting snow from the polar icecaps has got to go somewhere. Yes, much of it melts directly into the oceans, but some of it gets carried through the air, and some more of what has melted into the oceans gets evaporated during the intensified heat of the year, creating a wetter atmosphere and more extreme weather patterns year-round.

As many of my fellow Americans are getting themselves primed for a day-long marathon of mid-season American football games (with all their important play-off implications), largely ignorant and oblivious to the worsening conditions we are all facing in a rapidly-changing world, my mind is on the political climate. We in America largely take our way of life for granted, but as we are at this very moment approaching the 7 billion people mark, 40% of the world's population is trying to live off of less that $2 a day, and 850 million people (that's about 1/8th of all people) are underfed or going hungry. These numbers are only trending worse, but there is more, much more to worry about.

Photosynthesis provides the backbone for almost all life on this planet, including us. It is the “primary economy of the planet”. And while humans surprisingly compose only 0.5% of all the biomass on the earth, we consume 31% of all the products of earth's photosynthesis! This is unsustainable. Also, 1/3 of the earth's arable land is used to grow feed for animals to be exported to the developed world, with this number also rapidly growing as nations like China increase their demands to live as we do in the West. The pressure being exerted upon the world's poor is enormous, and almost completely unconsidered by fat and greedy Westerners. We support a system which devotes arable land to feeding cattle while virtually half of all the people on the planet are struggling just to feed themselves. And this is to say nothing about water and energy shortages, or carbon footprints, or pollution, to name just a few more of the pressures facing humanity, not to mention the all-too-easily-forgotten other species which also happen to inhabit the planet.

As the Occupy Wall st. protests across America, and indeed around the globe, struggle to have their voices heard and to convey a clear message, the problem of greed is clearly a very central aspect to this message. And while Americans are fighting joblessness and wealth disparity, the rest of the world is undoubtedly looking at America with a profound sense of dismay. We cannot continue down the path of overconsumption, and yet we have taken precious few steps towards adjusting our behavior or life-styles towards a more sustainable future. While we should be leading the world in creating scientific, and indeed social, solutions for improving the lot of humanity, we cannot even get our population to acknowledge the scientific facts of evolution or global warming. Half of our population is still caught up in the Christian world-view that we live in a benevolent world in which we are meant to rule over nature, consume the earth's plenty, and be fruitful and multiply. Such thinking is ill-suited to a growing crisis of global shortages of every imaginable kind.

It seems then that the voice of the secular left is growing louder and is becoming increasingly more relevant. If we cannot all live on this planet like Americans do, we can live on this planet like our bankers do, like our 1% do, even less. We need to adjust our behavior as Americans, and as humans, dramatically if we are even to survive, let alone if we are to behave as moral, responsible caretakers of the world we inhabit. Social unrest is only going to increase until we get ourselves motivated for the immense task at hand of saving our planet and our own species. America needs to lead the way towards a sustainable future for not just Americans but for all of humanity. We need to begin to take the moral high ground which we are abdicating by simple virtue of the fact that we do nothing to change the trajectory of human history.

The way we do this is through efficiency. We need to work towards energy efficiency, water efficiency, food-supply efficiency, and carbon-emission efficiency. We need to work towards economic efficiency as well, and this necessitates a much more egalitarian distribution of resources across all walks of life. We can no longer allow a small percentage of our population to command the lion's share of resources and complacently permit them to engorge themselves on the earth's resources to the detriment of anyone and everyone else. We need to organize ourselves in radically new ways around these ideas. This could create the jobs we are lacking and kick-start the economy which languishes in out-of-date methodologies and inefficient strategies. Efficiency should become the rallying-cry of the progressive movement.

The other side to this coin which stymies much thinking is the problem of overpopulation. Just as we need to invest more in our country and tax the rich more in addition to spending cuts to inefficient programs in order to straighten out our national debt, so we need to reduce reproductive pressures on the environment in addition to streamlining our social behaviors and increasing our efficiency as a society. Efficiency is a rallying cry towards that end as well, and should be our primary concern as we struggle to come up with whatever solutions seem appropriate for addressing this perplexing problem.

If we on the left do not get our act together and fight for what we know is right and good, we abdicate our responsibility and our morality to each other and to ourselves. If we continue down this path, we allow the powerful but few to justify their behavior as being done out of self-interest, whether this means using force to dominate the few remaining resources left to protect the American “way of life”, or arriving at the logical conclusion of exclusive selfishness, going to war with the rest of the world and letting our problems be settled according to the laws of nature. We must put an end to the “we are all out for ourselves” mentality which has corrupted our society and which threatens to soon dominate the world and the minds of men, leading us all to the Hobbesian state of nature of all against all, which would indeed make all our lives “nasty, brutish, and short”.

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I will come back and read this post later, but will you please provide sources for as many claims as possible?  Examples:

  • 40% of the world's population is trying to live off of less that $2 a day
  • 850 million people (that's about 1/8th of all people) are underfed or going hungry
  • humans surprisingly compose only 0.5% of all the biomass on the earth
  • we consume 31% of all the products of earth's photosynthesis

It doesn't have to be APA style or anything, just give us a link like this when you reference a significant claim.

Okay, I've read through the post now.  I'm afraid to say this, but I believe there are better rallying calls out there.  If you can establish credibility and successfully make your claims that are the foundation for your call to action, you might have success motivating people in real life.  No matter where you do this, you are forced to provide some route of action.  As Jerry pointed out, you leave us frustrated with no idea how or if we can change anything, no idea how to contribute.  It is an argument for a planned economy, and there is a great video about this that I believe does a better job than any essay or article can do for the common person:

Sadly, we have already passed the 7 billion mark.

And for many on this site, they will live to see 12 billion (by 2060)

Tenken raises valid points, and I'd welcome your response.  But I see no glaring distortions of fact, and have heard much of what you say here.  I can certainly repudiate none of it.  But now -- what do I do, today, to improve this awful and untenable situation?  If I sell my (fairly large) house and move into a tent, somebody else will live here about as I have done.  I could become a vegetarian (not happily), but that wouldn't nudge the seventh digit past the decimal on the percentage of crop supply devoted to U S meat eaters.  I'm frustrated; on the one hand I can feel guilty about my over-consumption; on the other, I'm not in a position to effect real change.  And I'm not martyr enough to quit doing what I do on behalf of symbolism.
I think I just read there will be 9 billion people in, and I forgot the exact year, but about 30-something more years?  We already have more than the planet can handle like treefireguy said, and CERTAINLY they cannot all live like we (Americans) do.
I strongly agree that overpopulation is the basis for present and future problems as mentioned. The simple cure is birth control. The biggest obstacle are religions which I would assume all hate birth control, since religions are not based in logic.

There's also a lot to be said for consuming less. The real problem isn't that there's too many Indians or Chinese, but that there's too many Americans driving SUV's to their local McDonalds.

So true.  And it seems so many Americans are unaware that they are taking more than their fair-share of the Earths limited resources.

If everyone lived like Americans, we would need 5 Earths to support our population. Clearly our way of life is unsustainable. But as long as our political system remains the way it is, we as Americans are ethically responsible for the pressures we exert on the rest of the world, not just other species but the effect we are having on the rest of humanity. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

I totally agree with you Wanderer, I just don't think there are enough bright people who will go along with this.  Enough people don't even get the fact that we should be ashamed.  Americans seem to have an entitlement attitude.

We do indeed, and you are right that there aren't enough bright people to get this fact and many others to do anything about it. We need to change so much of what we are doing, but because of the worst parts of human nature we are wholly prevented from doing so. That is why I think we need to explore different options. Perhaps the best thing we could do is to organize ourselves, those of us who have a clue that is, and form our own communities, run the best way we know how. I think this needs to be done geographically, cooperation online can only get us so far.


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