Over the past week, I’ve been made aware of a number of newer outlets for scientific communications that seem promising in debating not the reality of the problems facing our immediate future, but rather what to do about them. My favourite of these would have to be The Conversation.
It’s great to see a growing movement aware from pursuing the deniers of reason and instead focusing on the path forward. Deniers are nothing but anchors that refuse to be pulled up from their murky depths – the only way to move forth is momentum!
When I’ve not been focused on these deniers, much of my interest and focus has been targeted at the urban landscape; the human habitat. The overwhelming potential provided by the energy of the fossil fuel era seems to have made us forget former lessons in over-exploitation. Currant practices, without fossil fuel, would be impossible. As Ian Ollis puts it;
Most large modern metropolitan conglomerates were built around 100 years ago, or greatly enlarged around that time after the advent of motorised transport, creating the typical American suburbia. It has taken us roughly 100 years to realise the headache we have built as a result. Environmentalists have listed the challenge for us as being a depletion of resources. The resources of the planet are being consumed to maintain our cities faster than we can replace them. The typical example quoted is how London would die as a city if the air and shipping routes were cut off. There would not be enough produce to keep the city alive and the city would die, being strangled by a lack of natural and processed resources.
From my exchanges with the most pro-nuclear advocates, I have the impression that they too are just as blind to risky behaviour of such energetic practices and current philosophies behind personal freedom (one particular exchange provided the inspiration behind Business as usual 2.0, ‘Famous Last Words’). The urban landscape is needlessly expensive, inefficient and worryingly reliant on resources that are likely to be less secure over the coming decades. A favourite example of mine is the personal vehicle. It would cost less in taxes to provide cheap, safe, clean and efficient public transport and pedestrian space, with increasingly transit-orientated developments than the combination of taxes for infrastructure, tolls, registration, insurance and on-road costs of the current practices. The spin off would be less congested transit arteries, a huge reduction in not only greenhouse gas emissions, but all vehicle pollutants (including tyre wear, which is generally ignored), long term infrastructure maintenance costs, and increased personal time, access to public space, personal health and available urban landscape (ie. reducing in parking and road requirements).
Let’s say it’s getting too expensive to run the car and you decide to use the bus. But if there is no bus service available or suitable for your needs, you have no choice and the transport market has failed you. It doesn’t matter where the price of petrol goes, this doesn’t make a bus service materialise out of thin air.
Most of the effective ways to reduce transport emissions—and we know pretty well what they are—arise from the work of governments using public policy and public funds and being accountable to electorates.
Public transport, land use planning and transit-oriented development, and facilities for walking and cycling, for instance, don’t arise from consumer sovereignty, but from public policy. Markets, despite their many virtues, are no substitute for governance when it comes to protecting the broader public and environmental interest.
Returning to Ian Ollis, I agree that there are no easy options in how we can shift human habitations to those that better suit long term prosperity. If we want to maintain a standard of living we in the developed world currently enjoy while the developing world attempts to match that (with also the highest rates of population growth as well), we will need to radically change how we do things. Although taxing carbon has to play a role (before you wish to debate this with me, please read Lord Stern’s A Blueprint for a Safer Planet – change requires money/we’ve long used the atmosphere as a our dumping ground/fossil fuel has not been adequately priced so far etc.), attempting to limit use by increasing cost will fall short emissions targets and only put great stress on citizens. Better goods and services will not materialise out of thin air, as Glover puts it. Many of the public service alternatives should remain in the public sector and not run for profit, especially public transport.
Where I do agree with Dr. Rob Morrison (for where I don’t see chapter 15 of The Human Island) is that ecology is a cyclic process; a system of use and reuse, powered almost exclusively by the sun. Economy is a system of exploit for growth – a linear conveyor belt that requires accelerating processes for growth. It’s a short term process of growth that will eventually lead to resource depletion – not unlike bacteria on an agar plate. In my humble opinion, we’re stupid to ignore the lessons available through ecological processes refined over billions of years. If we think we can do better than ecology, so far we’ve failed to demonstrate it.
Vaclav Smil argues that, “…we are unwilling to act unless it’s a bit too late or unless it is inevitable to act, really… Not that we are bad at recognising the trends. We see them, you would have to be stupid not to see many of these trends, right? But we are unwilling to act because it’s easier not to act than to act. Because to act, it is always some sort of sacrifice. And we are not willing to take voluntary sacrifice.”
In many respects the more coherent fears behind Wednesday’s protest against a carbon tax reflected concern over sacrifice. Unjustified in my opinion, but arguably one of the most effective tools of the dedicated misinformation agenda. Effective action would lead to greater personal freedom, health and community growth. The human habitat would become ever more functional. Fear of the unknown would better describe the reality which has been warped by misinformation and my biggest concern is that we will leave action until it’s a little too late, thereby increasing the disruption and cost to human activity.
It is good to see that the information resources discussing and debating these issues is on the increase and I’d like to see more of the public actively engage, stressing both their concerns and ideas, but also their interest to engage with the information provided rather than maintaining the blind unbelief behind reason denial. I suspect the coming decade will be the turning point, but how efficient it will be, I don’t know. I believe that I’m probably overly wishful in thinking transport would become much more public and user friendly – I can probably expect to be in congested cues of vehicles into the foreseeable future. That said, change and improvement can only occur through such proactive discussions and I’m very glad to hear ever more voices on such subjects.