Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

What’s wrong with a consumer society?

with 21 comments

On the BBC’s breakfast-time TV here in the UK on Monday, there was a brief discussion about the pros and cons of electronic books compared to conventional ones. Two invited studio guests, both published authors, debated all the usual points; such as “anything that encourages people to read must be a good thing” and “encouraging electronic books will lead to copyright theft and put conventional publishers out of business”.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, no-one mentioned the point made by Derek Wall in his No Nonsense Guide to Green Politics that it would be better for the environment if people did not buy books at all; choosing instead to borrow them from libraries. In Wall’s mind, it is the presumption of the need to own something that is the problem; if we shared things we would not need to have so many of them produced.

This may be a very radical idea but it is very hard to fault its logic: The demand for ownership drives demand for production; and production necessitates consumption. But what is driving the demand for private ownership? In the final analysis, it is advertising that panders to people’s selfishness; and makes them feel discontent and/or inadequate because of what they have not yet got (see also Acts 4:32).

"Oxford Street" by Ben Lack

"Oxford Street" by Ben Lack

We live in a consumer society where the acquisition of things is seen as the primary measure of progress. What makes it worse is that, despite all the best efforts of governments to encouraging us to “make do and mend” and/or “reduce, re-use, and recycle”, many things are still sold to us with built-in redundancy because, after all, if everything we bought lasted forever manufacturers would soon run out of customers (or else have to go and sell their sense of self-deficiency and dissatisfaction into new markets).

As Wall points out there are one or two success stories – in the EU at least – such as the European Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (the so-called WEEE Directive). However, even this is not without its problems when you realise that much of Europe’s electronic waste (much of it sent for recycling in good faith by consumers) ends up polluting the environment in countries like Nigeria without stringent environmental regulations (e.g. unrepairable televisions).

Returning to the UK, it is a great shame that we ever gave up on selling milk and soft drinks in glass bottles for which the consumer was either helped to recycle or given a financial incentive for doing so. Instead, supermarkets have put doorstep deliveries out of business and seduced us into buying milk in non-reusable plastic containers; although at least much of this packaging is now being recycled.

So what is the alternative? Well, in the utopia that all Greens supposedly dream of nobody would own anything and everybody would share everything. Nobody would need money because one person’s need would be met by their fulfilling someone else’s (see also Acts 4:34-5). More than anything else perhaps, it is this kind of characterisation of Green thinking that allows the enemies of reason to paint Greens as the enemy of humanity (i.e. those who “want to return us to the feudal economies of the Dark Ages”, etc).

Unfortunately, this is a gross over-simplification and/or exaggeration of the Green message; which completely ignores the logic behind it. I accept that technology cannot be uninvented – and we cannot expect everyone voluntarily to give up on all the benefits of modernity – but, what if the alternative to moderating our over-consumption of the Earth’s resources is having modernity taken away from us by force?

Does it not then become preferable to try and compromise even a little? If we don’t want our children or our children’s children to live in a post-apocalyptic world, it may just be necessary for us all to accept that the path humanity has taken since the Industrial Revolution is not sustainable. We need to recognise and respect that too much of anything is bad for us; including perpetual growth in the consumption of the Earth’s finite resources… What we need is a conserver society.

See also my brief 500-word “Soapbox” item published recently in the Geological Society of London‘s monthly Geoscientist magazine, entitled Know your limits!

21 Responses

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  1. Martin, maybe you can answer this regarding the issue of CO2 lagging temperature. I have read numerous attempts to explain the issue, including Peter Sinclair’s videos, and none of them really do it. They say that a warming cycle happens as follows:
    1. Weak Milankovich factor initiates the warming.
    2. CO2 being released from the warming takes over and causes the rest of the warming.

    But then, if the Milankovich factor is the weak factor and the CO2 is the strong forcing, how does the next weak Milankovich factor stop the warming and reverse the temperature increase at the exact same time that the CO2 level is the highest and still growing? Every single explanation of the CO2 lagging issue that I have read leaves that part out. The Sinclair videos just leave that issue out. If someone could satisfactorily address that issue, it would make your argument much better. Peter could then shore up that loose end. If they can’t, then the argument will be seen to have a serious flaw.

    Why is it erroneous to read the data as follows:
    1. Strong Milankovich factor initiates the warming reversing the downward temperature trend.
    2. CO2 release as a result of the initial forcing causes a small amount of additional warming helping the cycle along.
    3. Strong Milankovich comes along and reverses the warming despite the very high levels of CO2 that continue to increase despite the reversal of temperature.

    If the CO2 is the strong forcing factor, why has the temperature reversed itself each and every time over the last 400,000 years at the top of a cycle? Why hasn’t runaway warming taken place? Or why hasn’t there at least been a “net warming” effect through the cycle? Additionally, what evidence is there that high CO2 levels have ever caused any environmental problems? The Jurassic had CO2 levels 1000ppm – 2000 ppm, yet life did very well including mammals.

    John Kosowski

    2 February 2012 at 03:29

    • Hello John! Many thanks for visiting my Blog; might I ask how you found it? Many thanks also for your questions; I am flattered that you think I might be able to do better than anyone else at answering them. There are I feel some potential shortcuts to my doing so (by referring to some of my previous posts) but, in order to respect your taking the time to comment, I will try and summarise my understanding here (just in case you are not prepared to accept anything other than a one-stop-shop reply). However, in essence, just about everything I will now say is derived from having read James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren (which is mostly about palaeoclimatology – the study of the Earth’s climate throughout its 4600 million year history).

      Nearly all climatologists would accept that natural climate forcings (e.g. Milankovitch wobbles in the Earth’s axis of rotation) are anything up to ten times weaker than anthropogenic forcings (i.e. the addition of fossilised carbon to the atmosphere through human activity). Without the so-called Greenhouse Effect, the Earth would be I think 30 Celsius colder; and complex life would never have appeared on it. The Earth therefore first created conditions suitable for Life by releasing CO2 from volcanoes and trapping them in its atmosphere. Next, early life forms like Stromatolites converted CO2 to oxygen; with the latter eventually accounting for 20% of our atmosphere before an equilibrium was reached between photosynthesising plants and respiring animals. Ever since then – and this is the key to understanding everything else – the Earth has regulated its temperature by moving CO2 between its oceans and its atmosphere. If and when a natural forcing would tend to make the planet warmer or cooler (by changing the amount of incoming solar radiation), this would give rise to an imbalance between the incoming solar radiation and outgoing radiation (heat loss). In order to restore this energy balance, it is – and always has been – necessary for the Earth to have more or less CO2 in its atmosphere. This is why, in palaeoclimatology, CO2 changes always lag several hundred years behind natural temperature changes (interspersed with long periods of relative stability in both). I hope this addresses your first two questions.

      All natural forcings (Milankovitch wobbles, the precession of the equinoxes, and the eccentricity (non-circularity) of the Earths orbit) are all predictable and fairly constant (i.e. there is no such thing as a weak or strong Milankovitch wobble – the Earth’s axis of rotation moves between two angles of inclination at predictable intervals and at a predictable speed). Although not the strongest greenhouse gas (GHG), CO2 is the most abundant, long-lived, GHG there is (i.e. water vapour is much more abundant but comes and goes; whereas methane is 23 times more powerful as a GHG but is much less abundant).

      The 3 natural forcings described here have only been the dominant force in the last 1 million years (hence all the Ice Ages we have had). Prior to that, other natural forcings such as plate tectonics (i.e. continental collisions, burial of limestone sea bed, mountain building and volcanic activity) have caused much greater changes in the CO2 content of the atmosphere and much greater changes in temperature. There is also the question of the variability of climate sensitivity to CO2 (i.e. this was less during the time of the dinosaurs – allowing more CO2 build up for less temperature change).

      Finally, then, the most important aspect to understanding why we now have a problem: Complex life on Earth is adapted to the conditions that have existed for at least the last 35 million years (when Antarctica first became glaciated). Life can adapt but only if change is slow (as in the Ice Ages); although early humans were almost wiped out in the depths of the last Ice Age (about 70k years ago). Most critically of all, human civilisation (cities and agriculture) have only been possible in the last 10k years since the last Ice Age (characterised by relative temperature and sea level stability).

      We are therefore already in an inter-glacial warm period and we have now found a much more effective way to change the CO2 content of the Earth’s atmosphere and thereby induce an unnatural temperature change that will eventually restore the unnatural energy imbalance we have induced. Therefore, there will never be another Ice Age unless or until humans go extinct. Meanwhile, inertia in the climate system means we are now headed for 450ppm; and the last time CO2 was that high, it was on average 4 Celsius warmer. Add to that all the positive feedback mechanisms now kicking-in, and you have the spectre of the runaway enhanced greenhouse effect that we now face.

      If you want to know more, read Hansen’s book or failing that:
      How does James Hansen sleep at night? and the posts that follow it (especially those in my Climate Science in a Nutshell mini-series summarising the book).

      I hope this helps clear the fossil fuel lobby induced fog.

      [N.B. In the posts that follow this one any comments in bold italics and square brackets are mine]

      Martin Lack

      2 February 2012 at 10:38

      • I found your blog through your comments on, I believe, Peter Sinclair’s site. So I guess that is why my questions don’t relate to your current article, but I do have some questions about that which I will ask later because as you might suspect, I believe the opposite to be true. I have asked these other questions of Peter, and he has not been able to provide good answers. I thought that someone as dedicated to your position as you seem to be might be able to shed some insight into the truth. That is what I seek, by the way, the truth. So thanks for recommending Hansen’s book; I will read it to see what he has to say about it.

        It is agreed that greenhouse gasses allow the Earth to be warm and bring stability to that warmth. But to the point, how does the Milankovitch factor that is weaker than the CO2 forcing that is occurring as CO2 is being released as a result of the warming over come it? Just at the very top of the Milankovitch temperature cycle, CO2 is highest and still being released. So why isn’t that CO2 level strong enough to push right through or at least significantly distort the Milankovitch factor? Especially since the forcing effect of the, then growing, CO2 level is “10 times stronger” than the Milankovitch factor? But that is not what the data shows. Temperature just reverses itself and proceeds lower seemingly unaffected by the CO2 effect.

        “Meanwhile, inertia in the climate system means we are now headed for 450ppm; and the last time CO2 was that high, it was on average 4 Celsius warmer.” – Just for reference, what climate date are you citing? And what was the state of the planet then, especially the life there on? Did the run away warming happen? How was the weather? Was it “severe?” How was the water cycle? I was under the impression that during the Jurassic, temperatures were 2 C warmer and CO2 was 1000-2000ppm, and life was abundant. I am also under the impression, that in the grand scheme of things, we are still on the cool side.

        “I hope this helps clear the fossil fuel lobby induced fog.” – May I respectfully request that you not do that? You have no idea how I arrived at these questions. In other areas of science, scientists feverishly test their hypotheses and investigate alternative hypotheses. Alternative ideas are viewed with interest, not disdain and ridicule. Actually, I find that when the AGW proponents do that, it detracts from their credibility. I find that is what people do when their arguments break down. But that is just me.

        And, I was fortunate enough to have been educated in the geological history of the Earth prior to the question of AGW [so was I – see my About page], so I have sort of an unbiased foundation in my thinking […and I do not?]. Of course, legitimate advances in our knowledge could have progressed since then, but I remain skeptical.

        Currently, my conclusions are obviously different than yours. But I have an open mind and am only seeking truth like any good scientist would. If the answers to these were easy, they would have already been pasted on the “crock” and “myth” sites. The authors of those sites and the resources that they have provided don’t answer them either. You can bet that once they find answers, they will supplement their “crock” responses.

        So, in a very respectful way, I have sought out answers from those that have different conclusions than I do. In that many of them have now focused their entire careers on their conclusions, I thought they might have already solved these issues. If that doesn’t fit in with your agenda [what is that exactly in your opinion?], no worries, you owe me nothing. If the science, however, interests you as much as it does me, perhaps we can both learn something [the science does interest me but not as much as the politics that lies behind its denial].

        Thanks for your reply.

        John Kosowski

        2 February 2012 at 13:31

        • John, I have answered your questions as briefly as I could. Furthermore, as indicated, my previous posts on Hansen’s book may save you the trouble of having to actually read it (or at least help you decide if your apparent presumption against accepting the consensus view of climate change science will allow you to read it). However, I think I may re-post my first response to you as a post in its own right next week, so feel free to cut and past your second comment there when I do. I say this because I am not going to attempt to respond to it [more than I have done by embedding comments within it] because (a) it is generally off-topic (as you acknowledge) and (b) my initial reply was given in good faith; I believe it addressed all the questions you asked; and if it doesn’t then Hansen’s book does (IMHO). Therefore, I will leave it to you to choose what you do next (i.e. read my posts and/or the book).

          That said, if you were indeed referring to the subject of this post on the dangers of a consumption-obsessed society, would you care to elaborate on what you meant by saying, “I believe the opposite to be true”? Do you, for example, think we are not consuming enough; that the only way out of our crisis is to consume more? If so, you are clearly in the Growthmania camp; and clinging to the orthodoxy that growth will eventually bring prosperity to all. Unfortunately, the opposite has generally been shown to be true; unrestrained Capitalism has increased inequality both within and between countries. I am no Marxist; and I accept that Capitalism is the best way to motivate people but, the question is motivate them to do what exactly? If that is to mistake nature’s capital for a legitimate source of (unsustainable) income – and thereby treat the Earth like a business in liquidation – then there is only one possible consequence – environmental, economic, and sociological catastrophe.

          [N.B. This “discussion” continues below.]

          Martin Lack

          2 February 2012 at 14:42

  2. Good post. Our society is increasingly focused on possessions rather than experiences. So owning a book is (for some people) almost more important than reading the book.

    How many people do you know who have shelves full of books they’ve bought but never read, and would never borrow a book from the library purely for the experience of reading it? I know heaps of people like this!

    Sheeple Liberator

    2 February 2012 at 11:33

  3. Martin,

    Freedom allows us to consume or not consume as we deem appropriate. I find much merit in not being a slave to a consumer society and being content with many of life’s simple pleasures and experiences as opposed to working 12 hours per day to accumulate a garage full of broken and unused items. But that is my choice. So if someone wants to work hard providing society with a desired product or service in order to drive a Bentley, or even 10 Bentleys, more power to them.

    And, of course, the environment must be regulated and managed, or society will trash it. People tend to take care of the things that they “own” and not things that they “share.” Think of public bathrooms and rental cars as examples. And, while you and I might be inclined to respect the environment with our own actions, there are plenty of people happy to trash it for their own personal gain. I am sure you hold this belief at least as strongly as I do. So, society must regulate the environment to prevent its destruction. And, if human produced CO2 is destroying or leading to such destruction, we must stop it in its tracks. That of course, is “if.” [Why do you choose to believe those who claim this is still in doubt? – Do you subscribe to the view that those who say it is beyond reasonable doubt are just in it for the money (i.e. UN/WMO/IPCC conspiracy theory)?]

    But as long as we ensure that the environment is safe, there is no harm and much to be gained through a consumer society. What harm is there if I desire a faster Android tablet and you are willing to work hard to build one for me, so that you can pursue your dreams? Or what if I desire a more efficient refrigerator so that I can prevent my family from eating bad food and save money? This fuels a desire for people to be productive and contribute to society. And, by “contribute” I don’t mean some kind of charitable donation. I mean for a wage, or for profit they provide a desired product or service. Like a road, an automobile, a drug that cures a disease, a way to feed the planet, etc. Unleashing the productive capabilities of the individual working to further his/her interests has done more to elevate the masses out of poverty than any other thing. [Do you deny that there are environmental limits to growth beyond which lies what Herman Daly calls ‘uneconomic growth’?]

    “Unfortunately, the opposite has generally been shown to be true; unrestrained Capitalism has increased inequality both within and between countries.”
    Firstly, I am not sure that is true. But, is equality really the goal? In the US how many people died last year from starvation or malnutrition? The numbers are so low, that those statistics are not even tracked. For someone to die of starvation in the US it almost always has to be the result of a crime or mental illness. That is a remarkable achievement not known to the entire history of mankind until now. In fact, we now track “poverty” on a relative basis. What is “poverty” today was “living a dream” 150 years ago. Something like 99% of all people in “poverty” in the US have refrigeration. How many live in dirt floored structures? These are amazing achievements that we take for granted. And it is precisely the societies that depart from the principles of free market capitalism that have the worst cases of poverty and overall human misery.[Even so, half the US population is said to be in relative poverty – that is a crushing indictment of unfettered Capitalism in my view. A simple meritocracy is not consistent with the US Declaration of Independence]

    Of course, any poverty is not good, and through education, we can teach people how to work their way out of it, and we can even provide a safety net that no one need fall below. Society must continue to advance, fueled by those productive people producing desired goods and services. Some of those, I admit, end up being more beneficial to society than others, but what is the harm in allowing the freedom to seek them out? What is the harm in someone spending their money on a stupid Hollywood movie or a sporting event? [For decades it was debt repayments that kept poor countries poor; now it is rapid population growth; next it will be climate change]

    Yeah, some actor or sports star might end up “earning” a considerably “unequal” amount of wealth, but who does that harm? If you feel you got your money’s worth at the movie, don’t they “deserve” it? And, if you didn’t don’t go. You freely gave your money to that actor or sports star.

    In a system that rewards productivity and risk, there are going to be winners and losers. Maybe you always did your homework, and the other guy always partied in school. Do you really expect an equal result? But, if a society tries to prevent that because some think that the “winners” are winning “too big,” that society is going to also at the same time be discouraging the benefits that flow to society as a result of those achievements.

    So it really doesn’t bother me if someone has a Ferrari and someone else has a Honda accord. They both eat. And, as long as the person didn’t get his Ferrari through fraud or criminal activity, what is the harm? I know a local Ferarri mechanic that has his own shop that charges $5,000 to do a belt service on a 355. I bet he wishes more, not less, people had Ferarris. All that “ugly” wealth does is create more need for others to be gainfully employed providing the wealthy their extravagant goods and services.

    And we have long surpassed the idea that for one to have more, another must have less. We all have more. That is undisputed. [Please search my blog for comments on the unachievability of Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic goal of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ because of the truth of Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’]

    Consumerism is exactly what is bringing the Chinese out of poverty. Do you disagree? [No, but with that has come huge environmental problems and responsibilities] I would certainly like it better if more “freedom” were involved for the individual, and I suspect that as the Chinese people educate themselves especially through the way information moves in the world today (another remarkable achievement), they will demand it.

    It appears that your opposition is that a consumer-driven economy and an apocalyptic-free world are mutually exclusive. If true, I guess I prefer a world where 100s of millions die annually from starvation over everyone dying from an environmental apocalypse, but must there be a choice? I think we can have it all. We protect the environment and unleash the productive abilities of free people.[You appear to be a technological optimist – Prometheanism rather than Cornucopianism]

    “Well, in the utopia that all Greens supposedly dream of nobody would own anything and everybody would share everything. Nobody would need money because one person’s need would be met by their fulfilling someone else’s…”
    Of course that sounds great, but is it really possible? Do you have kids? Have you been to a public restroom recently? That kind thinking just doesn’t pan out. No matter how hard we try, we can’t even eliminate rape and murder in society. We can just minimize it. So some idea that everyone is going to bust their ass all day long to make life great for their neighbor just isn’t going to happen. But they might bust their ass all day long to provide for their own family, etc.[The reality of human imperfection is agreed but their is no harm in promoting altruism]

    All I ask is that we get the environmental issues right. A carbon tax/cap and trade regulation/ or even just CO2 limitations are not going to radically alter your or my lifestyle. But, they will hinder other poor people in the world from rising out of poverty. That can not really be disputed. The result is that energy will artificially be more costly. Again, if that cost is necessary to prevent an apocalypse, then it is certainly worth it. But is it? [The basic science behind global warming is over 150 years old. Contrary to denialist misinformation, its effects are growing ahead of modelled predictions – because models did not include positive feedback effects. So, as Dirty Harry said to some hoodlum, ‘The question is do you feel lucky, punk? Well do you?’]

    John Kosowski

    2 February 2012 at 16:10

    • Wow! That’s quite a response; and I am genuinely appreciative of all the thought, time and effort you have self-evidently put into providing it. I would also wish to acknowledge that there is a great deal of good stuff within it. I hope you don’t mind but, in order to systematically address it all, I have once more embedded my comments within it (where our views clearly diverge).

      Over and beyond this, I am bound to say that I have addressed many of the issues (on which we differ) in numerous posts on this blog (some clues to which are inserted above); but you could also try:
      — Reading To all who say AGW is junk science (which addresses your apparent belief in the UN/WMO/IPCC conspiracy theory); and/or
      — Reading my 3-part mini-series on Can modernisation be ‘ecological’? (starting here); and/or
      — Selecting ‘Limits to Growth’ and/or ‘Tim Worstall’ in the Category search in the right-hand side bar.
      Either of these should give you much to mull over but, in the interim, thanks again for providing such a challenge to my way of thinking.

      Martin Lack

      2 February 2012 at 17:32

      • [Why do you choose to believe those who claim this is still in doubt? – Do you subscribe to the view that those who say it is beyond reasonable doubt are just in it for the money?]
        Yeah, I have heard that one before. When the “consensus” tries to dissuade further scientific research and study, it is especially time to be “skeptical.” There are many things that motivate people to do and believe things. For all I know, it could boil down to economic philosophy and the idea that AGW mitigation policy would further certain economic philosophies over others. Was Carl Sagan in it for the money when he jumped up and down about the Iraqi oil fires? Was it self importance? Or just a sincere belief that he got way wrong? I just don’t know, but he was way wrong nevertheless. I chose the Carl Sagan example because he gave the commencement address at my University one year prior to his Nightline debate against Siegfried Singer, an environmental scientist, and I happen to remember it. Singer said the fires wouldn’t be a problem. Sagan said we would have devastating environmental effects including a year without a summer. Sagan was with the “consensus.” Who was right?

        Singer and Sagan also took contrary positions on the issue of AGW. Who is right on that one? Sounds like you are against any further investigation.

        Singer has actually voiced an opinion on your second question. He believes that the dangers of AGW are being grossly exaggerated (just like the oil fires). He suggested that the underlying reason was to cut back the use of energy which would in turn reduce economic growth. He even said “and believe it or not, there are people in the world who believe we have gone too far in economic growth.” Imagine that? Are there really people out there against further economic growth?

        I can tell you that one thing I have learned throughout my education (engineering by the way) is that “consensus” has little meaning in science. It is, again, right when that word is being used that science should be most skeptical.
        “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” – Galileo Galilei

        [Do you deny that there are environmental limits to growth beyond which lies what Herman Daly calls ‘uneconomic growth’?] We aren’t any where near there. The global economy is no longer a “raw resource” based economy. It is moving to an intellectual resource based economy. There is now value in android apps as well as corn and water.

        [Even so half the US population is said to be in relative poverty – that is a crushing endictment of unfettered Capitalism in my view. A simple meritocracy is not consistent with the US Declaration of Independence] Yes, “relative.” A relative definition of poverty is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Again, I contend that it is the very free market system of individuals working to fulfill their dreams that led to a society where no one dies of starvation. Everyone has the ability to have things like refrigeration, running water, cell phones, DVD players, and heated shelter, You are taking all this for granted. Those things didn’t just fall down from the sky. Real individuals endeavored to create them.

        [For decades it was debt repayments that kept poor countries poor; now it is rapid population growth; next it will be climate change] I don’t think it is our place to be telling other countries whether or not they can reproduce. But, we are free to try to educate them. I suggest freedom. You, of course, are free to suggest whatever form of government control appeals to you.[Sorry, I missed this apparent attempt to accuse me of Fascism. However, I am not in favour of eugenics; and I agree that education (and the emancipation of women) is the key to stabilising population growth]

        [Please search my blog for comments on the unachievability of Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic goal of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ because of the truth of Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’] To which limited resource do you speak? Technology is a way to make needed resources much less limited. It is through a vibrant, free economy that we will also make our energy resources much less limited. All the energy sources that you probably advocate did not exist 150 years ago, certainly not in any usable form. And, what exists 150 years from now would shock us. The way to achieve those ends, in my opinion, is to allow our economies to flourish using the cheap energy sources that we have available today like oil, natural gas, and even coal. Then technology will develop and continue to develop such that what we call alternative energy sources today will become the cheap energy sources of tomorrow.

        [Yes – but with that has come huge environmental problems and responsibilities] Yes. Maybe they can learn from some of our mistakes. Our environments are improving. We can afford it because of our vibrant, free market based economies, which remain extremely vibrant despite the current downturn compared to economies of a century ago.”

        [You appear to be a technological optimist – Prometheanism rather than Cornucopianism]

        I admit that I looked those up. It seems that Cornucopian means one who believes that continued progress and provision of resources for mankind can be met by similarly continued advances in technology. That the abundance of matter and energy in the universe would appear to give humanity almost unlimited room for growth. Further that economic growth lends to more economic growth. That sound more like me. Again, our planet has limits, of course, but we are not anywhere near there.

        You seem to think that wealth is limited, and government’s job is to “fairly” distribute it. I believe that wealth can be created and government’s job is to protect the freedom to go out there and grow it.

        [The reality of human imperfection is agreed but their is no harm in promoting altruism] I am all for it, my friend. Just don’t loose sight of reality.

        [The basic science behind global warming is over 150 years old. Contrary to denialist misinformation, its effects are growing ahead of modelled predictions – because models did not include positive feedback effects. So, as Dirty Harry said to some hoodlum, ‘The question is do you feel lucky, punk? Well do you?’]

        Again, name calling is no way to promote an argument. If the science is so sound, then the advocates ought to have no trouble explaining the issues raised by the skeptics.

        John Kosowski

        2 February 2012 at 18:57

        • John, you clearly lifted that first quote before I edited it to explain what I mean – those who believe that the UN, WMO and IPCC are presiding over a conspiracy to silent dissent; and promote action that will advance their aim of installing worldwide authoritarian government.

          Where you see attempts to prevent further research, I see genuine scientists trying to make people recognise willfully misleading or poorly-executed, cherry-picking of data to arrive at conclusions that support an ideologically-driven desire to deny the reality of all kinds of environmental problems that suggest that the pursuit of perpetual global economic growth must be unsustainable on a finite planet. Wow, what a long sentence. However, hopefully you get my point (if not read it again – slowly).:-)

          Carl Sagan was a visionary genius with a gift for making complex ideas accessible. Singer was a Cold War physicist imprisoned by neoconservative ideology who has, in the absence of a Communist threat, spent the last 20 years fighting a new enemy – Environmentalism.

          Modern day climate sceptics are not walking in the footsteps of Galileo: He faced down an obscurantist, anti-intellectual Establishment. Today’s climate sceptics are, arguably, part of such an equally obscurantist and anti-intellectual establishment that does not want its “business-as-usual” strategy of resource exploitation challenged by assertions that perpetual growth is impossible on a finite planet.

          Jeremy Bentham’s goal is unachievable because to maximise the distribution of any good implies that all must accept mere subsistence (or else over-consumption by some requires others to go without). This is already a reality. Starvation and death is not merely a problem of poor food (re)distribution.

          Please forgive me for not taking up space explaining Prometheanism and Cornucopianism. However, you appear to have got the idea (i.e. optimism based on man’s ingenuity or nature’s bounty respectively). Although I am in favour of progressive income tax; I do not seek Maoist uniformity. As I said, I am not a Marxist; I do not even consider myself to be a Socialist – because I believe Ecologism (i.e. Green Politics) is “neither left nor right but out in front”.

          You blithely proclaim that human population and pollution is not “anywhere near” the ecological carrying capacity of planet Earth – but you offer no evidence to support this assertion. However, the acidification of our warming oceans and climate change are just 2 of the most obvious indications that we may well have already exceeded that capacity.

          Therfore, it is utterly ridiculous for you to tell me not to loose sight of reality (IMHO). However, for the record, I was not calling you a “punk” (I was quoting from the film Dirty Harry. In so doing, I was merely inviting you to consider just how much evidence you need of an impending catastrophe before you will accept that action is necessary to protect the interests of future generations.

          John, please forgive me but, I fear that we are already talking past each other and/or going round in circles. I am therefore sceptical that you are in any way “open-minded” and “seeking the truth”; because of the nature of your lengthy replies (and an apparent failure to consider of all the material to which I have directed you). Therefore, with respect, I would ask you not to post anymore such lengthy replies without demonstrating that you have done as I requested (and post comments elsewhere that are on-topic).

          If you post another lengthy reply here, I will delete it. [However, this “discussion” continues (just a little further) below.]

          Martin Lack

          2 February 2012 at 19:38

  4. * One quick edit. 100s of millions don’t die annually from starvation. About 12 million do. Still pretty bad, and same point applies.

    John Kosowski

    2 February 2012 at 16:28

  5. Good points! It’s interesting to think about how ownership of products may have even influenced the state of the family structure. Some argue that one reason we’ve moved away from communal family homes where several generations live together is simply so that there are more family units to buy houses, cars, toasters, dish sets, televisions, toothpaste and so on. The less we share the more we buy.
    It’s pretty sad especially when you think about elder neglect, single parents and the dire need for daycare these days. It goes beyond sharing books – we’re also forgetting how to share space and time to help support each other.

    Katherine Toms

    2 February 2012 at 17:06

  6. “John, please forgive me but, I fear that we are already talking past each other and/or going round in circles. I am therefore sceptical that you are in any way open minded and seeking the truth; because the nature of your lengthy replies (rather than consideration of all the material to which I have directed you). Therefore, with respect, I would ask you not to post anymore such lengthy replies without demonstrating that you have done as I requested.”
    Ok, my friend, I get the picture. You are interested in blog readers that regurgitate your political agenda [which is…?] back to you so that you can “high five” each other rather than really challenging your views. It is your blog, and I respect your right to do so. Just know that it was only my desire to challenge my own views that brought me to your blog.

    – When I said don’t lose sight of reality, I meant the “reality” in your “The reality of human imperfection” statement, not in your own personal cognitive abilities.
    – Yes, I am very familiar with Clint Eastwood. I meant calling me a “denier.”
    – I have no financial interest in AGW one way or the other. And, trust me when I tell you this, the “fossil fuel lobby” has already found ways to profit from potential AGW mitigation, probably much more so than just profiting over fossil fuel production. They may, in fact, be your biggest advocate. I am going to be the advocate to all the impoverished people of the world that stand to benefit from the continued production of cheap, safe, energy sources.

    Good luck with the blog, and I hope this reply wasn’t too lengthy.

    John Kosowski

    2 February 2012 at 20:03

    • Thanks for the succinct reply, John. Like I said, I am not censoring you; I am merely asking you to go and find appropriate places (on this blog) to post your comments. If I may remind you, you were the first to admit that you are not doing so. Therefore, please forgive me for any slight loss of patience with you; as I genuinely hope you will do as I have asked.

      To me, your attempt to explain your reference to “reality” seems a little tenuous, but I do not want to accuse you of being disingenuous. Furthermore, I do not think I ever accused you of being in denial (although that is what I think so-called “sceptics” are). However, you do appear more than ready to counter anything I say with your own poorly-supported opinions. These are very complex issues and all I have asked you to do is consider my arguments further (elsewhere) and then post comments (elsewhere).

      Finally, please note one additional insertion into your last-but-one reply regarding fascism and/or eugenics.

      Martin Lack

      2 February 2012 at 20:21

      • On further consideration, I deleted my unfair questioning of your integrity, for which I apologise.

        Martin Lack

        2 February 2012 at 20:28

  7. Seriously, Martin, I was talking about the reality of human nature/imperfection. Don’t lose sight of it in evaluating economic models.
    Your questions, of course, lead the conversation into may different areas. I answered them as briefly as I could, otherwise the response would be ten times as long. For example, you asked if I denied that there were environmental limits on growth, and I didn’t dispute that “some” limit exists. If you want to discuss those limits, we can go further. You didn’t ask me to give a complete analysis of what I think the limits are.
    However, I provided plenty of data and reasoning in my statements. Your “visionary genius” couldn’t hold a candle to the “cold war neoconservative ideologue” when it came time to actually applying the science to a real event that could be verified in a reasonable time frame. So instead of taking issue with my argument or the facts contained therein, you just slapped these disparaging labels on Singer and laudatory labels on Sagan. Sagan got it wrong! That is exactly why we shouldn’t just be accepting the “consensus” views without serious verification. You don’t see me telling you that you have no business believing in AGW. I even asked you some questions. If you could answer them, many of your colleagues could use those answers to shore up the loose ends in their rebuttal websites. And, despite what you think of my reasoning, those loose ends exist. Sinclair’s “crock” video doesn’t even address the issue that CO2 keeps going up at the top of the cycle while temperature heads back down.
    And Martin, one other thing. If you want to advance your views beyond those that already agree with you, you are going to have to find a way to do it without all the condescending labels. If not, then just keep calling people names. Both sides do it. But it isn’t very helpful. Singer an enemy of “Environmentalism?” He was deputy assistant administrator of policy for the EPA! He worked on developing weather satellites, and was in charge of water quality and research at the Department of the Interior.
    I apologize for posting my original question about AGW on your consumerism page, at the time I could find no general way to email you.

    John Kosowski

    2 February 2012 at 21:32

    • Thanks John.

      Whist I accept that name-calling is not constructive, Singer has been disputing the reality of environmental problems for decades* and, therefore, might well have been a political appointee to the EPA to ensure it didn’t get too environmental.

      As I believe I answered your questions and/or rebutted all your counter-arguments, I reject your assertion that I am not interested in debate. As I said, these are complex issues, therefore I appreciate that you may well have tried to keep your responses as brief as possible. However, the fact remains that, in doing so, you knew you were perpetuating an off-topic discussion. Therefore, I repeat, I would welcome continuing engagement with you on this site (but not here).

      The absence of any facility for visitors to email me is intentional.

      With best wishes (irrespective of what you decide to do),

      * As an example of the way in which I think you need to support your assertions with evidence, my views on Singer are backed-up by evidence of his deliberate misrepresentation of scientific facts. So, there is another post you could go to in order to leave relevant comments and/or links to supporting data.😉

      Martin Lack

      2 February 2012 at 21:55

  8. Hi, I hope you can help me. I’m currently writing an essay on why is a consumer society a broken society? I wondered if you had any thoughts on the matter.


    26 October 2012 at 15:22

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