WHAT WE ARE DOING TO THIS WORLD
WHAT THE WORLD WILL DO TO US
The Parable of the Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat find a nice spot to live, with plenty of
food so they start a family. Soon they are multiplying and the rat
population rises in a very steep and familiar curve. The place is
teeming with rats and they soon run out of food and begin eating each
other. Because they are living in congested conditions disease spreads
rapidly through the population which falls as steeply as it had risen
and they nearly all die horrible deaths except for a few who escape to
start it all over again.
Man is a two legged rat! He has gone forth and
multiplied and is now a plague upon the earth.
The bell like curve which traces out the rise and fall
of the population of plague rats and other species is well known to
scientists and it is becoming very obvious that the human species is
following the same curve.
100 years ago world population was 1.5 billion people,
today it is 6.5 billion people and rising to 9 billion in 2050 where it
is estimated it will peak and then follow an inevitable decline.
The reasons for the rise in population are not difficult
to find. Medical advances have cut back death rates whether in
childbirth or later in life that had plagued previous generations. The
use of oil has given us the power to create a civilisation the like of
which the world has never previously known. The tractor and farm
machinery have provided the food and released labour to work on our
buildings, on our transport systems, on communication and media.
But we have failed to develop our financial and
distribution systems, so that billions live and die in poverty, nor do
we give much thought to the fact that oil is a limited resource which
must run out. This means the collapse of our civilisation during the
next 50 years. Alternative energy solutions will only produce sufficient
energy to account for a small percentage of what we get from oil,
consequently we are in for a serious crash.
In the case of the rat the causes of his fall are
evident before peak population is reached. So it is in the case of man.
It all gets back to oil and money.
A recent 4 corners program shows that scientists are
belatedly getting to grips with what we are doing to our planet. Burning
fossil fuels in aircraft, cars and power stations does two things:
Produces a greenhouse gas which spreads everywhere, trapping heat and
global warming commences.
(2) Produces tiny particles (soot and sulphur) which
also spreads but are more highly concentrated downwind of industrial
areas. Water vapour condenses forming rain type droplets, smaller and
more numerous than that formed on pollen. These small droplets reflect
more sunlight and therefore the earth is cooled. Less water is
evaporated from the oceans so we are looking at a dryer world with worse
There are signs that we may be succeeding in reducing
the particulates from our engines but this will mean that the full power
of global warming will hit us. Some say this will result in a
temperature rise of over 10 degrees, sufficient to melt the cathrates in
arctic areas and release large quantities of methane, a powerful
greenhouse gas sufficient to wreck agriculture.
Scientists should have realised this position 30 years
ago. We were well aware of what happens when a volcano blows its top.
Much carbon and sulphur is thrown up into the stratosphere where it
circles the earth, reflects sunlight and causes global cooling. We know
that plants use chlorophyll and sunlight to make hydrogen for themselves
with a byproduct of oxygen, essential to us. Without sunlight, plants
die and so will we.
A car exhaust is a sort of miniature volcano which spits
forth gas and particulates, and millions of them are active all day and
most of the night in every country in the world. How could we suppose
that a car exhaust would have no serious effects? Car manufacturers have
at least partially understood the problems, they are busy testing about
600 cars which run on hydrogen, but the supply of hydrogen is still a
huge problem. At the same time they continue to supply vehicles with
large petrol engines designed to run at excessive wasteful speeds. Most
scientists will agree that we need a cleaner atmosphere and should
reduce the burning of fossil fuels by 60%
You will tell me that man is drunk on power and speed
and will not give up high power engines. Bur then we come up against the
second problem being dealt out to us. Oil is not inexhaustible. The
discovery of new wells is going down year by year. We use 4 times the
amount of oil that we are discovering. It takes 6 years from discovery
to put a new well on stream. 18 new mega wells are expected to come on
stream this year (2005) and 11 in 2006 - in 2007 only 3. These mega
wells have a capacity of 500 million barrels. The planet consumes a
billion barrels of oil (or two mega fields) in 11.5 days.
33% of the worlds oil comes from old declining fields - these are
declining by about 4% a year. Adding all this up means that we are
probably at world peak production right now; next year we will follow
the long decline down the bell curve which expires in about 50 years
It should also be realised that oil is the raw material
for plastics and paints. We need to reserve some oil for these items
bearing in mind that they will eventually have to be replaced by
A graph of oil production against world population shows
peak production per capita occurred in 1979 and is now falling at about
2.4% p.a. - India and China are taking a larger share.
Now you will still find people who claim that there is
plenty of oil and lots more to be discovered. There is still a lot of
oil out there, its in the tail end of the bell curve, but that is not
really the problem. When restrictions occur the price will go up not by
20 or 40 cents but by 2 or 4 dollars per litre, pricing most of us out
of the market. This will cause a financial collapse and brings me to the
Oil shortages automatically turn our thoughts to
alternative energy. Gas will extend the life of current cars but only
for a few years. Nuclear energy is not sustainable neither is coal and
both have highly polluting and dangerous wastes. None of the other
energy sources, wind, solar, hydrogen, tidal or wave can equal the power
that we get from oil. (Hot rocks may be one answer but still has to be
proved) Consider the amount of power dispensed by one petrol station, to
build a solar energy plant capable of handling the same amount of power
you would have to build a collector of over 217 square kilometres. Then
it only works in sunlight and is not portable.
Of course we will have to build every alternative energy
system that we can think of in order to retain some semblance of
civilisation, but it is unlikely that the amount of energy so released
will exceed 25% of what we use now. Economists will recognise this as
negative growth meaning that we shall be poorer by 75%, our assets and
income will reduce by 75%. This means a huge financial crash probably
far larger than the Great Depression of the 30s.
At 6.5 billion people there are too many of us, we use
too many resources, we cause too much pollution, we are the cause of
other species becoming extinct.
Water is becoming a problem in most places. Here in
South Australia the plan to save the River Murray has been wrecked by
interstate interests. We will have to build a desalination plant at Port
Augusta, twice the suggested capacity, so as to feed both the north and
the Murray. The worlds top soil is being blown away and more land is
being ruined by rising salt. Our seas are being fished out. Not good
when our population is estimated to rise to 9 billion by 2050.
All this means that we must take action to contain and
eventually reduce population. That is not as difficult as it sounds. My
grandmother in 1935 pointed out that families were smaller than they
used to be. She put it down to slightly improved living standards and
better education. Many modern writers agree. It follows that in order to
reduce population (especially in 3rd world countries) we need
to make sure all are well fed and given a good education especially the
women. This is plainly happening in most industrialised countries in the
world. Birth rates are down. To extend that to third world countries we
need to reform the World Banks
loan rules to allow more local food production and greatly improved
The main obstacle to such a policy come from religions
especially the religious right. Their ideas are derived from a period
two or more thousand years ago which are inappropriate in current
conditions. We are unlikely to have much influence over the religious
right, though the parable of the rat may give them pause, and much less
over the Muslim world. However we could influence the media to increase
world wide education for family planning, and for rational thought. This
may have the same effect on religion as economic education had on
communist Russia which fell without a war.
I believe that we should tell any religious friends that
we may have of the seriousness of global dimming, the coming oil
shortage, the effects of over population and the imperative need of the
church to reform its attitude and teaching regarding family planning.
The church must be asked, which is worse: to allow the use of
contraceptives or to let man continue to be a plague upon the earth?
CONSEQUENCES AND FUTURES
When you consider the pollution and drought caused by
burning fossil fuels, the inevitable demise of oil, the inadequacy of
alternate fuels, the financial crash resulting in mass unemployment, the
possibility of future oil wars you will realise the next 100 years are
likely to be the most tragic in our history.
Let us skip over these 100 years and consider what
civilisation might look like if things settle down. The cost of long
distance transport will go up resulting in the end of globalisation and
tourism, forcing us to adopt the motto "local
production for local consumption."
The larger cities will have great difficulty in transporting and
distributing food to their citizens. Many citizens must move out to
country centers. The veggie patch must be reinstated. Many townsfolk
will find employment on farms as manual labourers. More economic housing
must be built with shared bathrooms and kitchens.
Expenditure on roads will be reduced. Public transport
must be developed and bicycles, some battery powered, will be the main
form of transport. Local police forces have been increased but the major
weapons of war have been mothballed (They could not travel over 100 K
without running out of fuel).
Wise governments do everything possible to maintain a
limited electricity supply. Street lights will have sensors so they only
operate while you walk by. All outlets will be limited to a one Kw
Some governments have reformed their financial systems
by taking back from the banks the power to create money. Some pay their
citizens a minimum basic income. Others provide interest free loans to
States and villages for the purpose of constructing infrastructure (see
appendix) Those countries which failed to make such reforms still show
the obscene differences between rich and poor which have disgraced all
WHICH WAY PROGRESS ?
Industry, commerce and the banks do not acknowledge
these problems and continue to demand excessive competition which means
the maximum consumption of oil at the highest rate. Governments follow
their lead and rarely consider worthwhile reforms. The media rarely
discuss such ideas. The main source of information available to all is
the WWW where you can find articles such as "The
Peak of World Oil Production"
by Richard C Duncan who predicted the peak oil production for USA wells
would be in 1970 - he was right and now predicts the world peak to be
2006. The many experts writing on the Internet have done us a great
service but have little affect on the policies of governments or
This means it is all up to us, the common man, you and
me! I have found that ordinary people I meet in my street or in the
train do in fact know what is likely to happen when the oil runs low,
they understand that we are being driven up against a wall of
unsustainability. We need to learn the facts, insist that our editors
publish the facts and insist that our political parties develop and act
on suitable policies and reforms.
It should be clear that there are many things we should
do NOW if we are to manage these changes in a civilised way.
(1) We need to conserve oil. The most effective way to
do this is to allow the price to rise. Demands to cut tax on fuel can
only lead to excessive consumption which is wasteful.
(2) Car manufacturers must be required to build smaller
cars, with limited speed and acceleration abilities. Older cars need to
be fitted with chokes and speed limits on roads reduced. Current cars
and speed limits are too fast, many cannot handle such performance with
(3) All industrial plants should be examined to reduce
fossil fuel consumption, if this is not possible then a 3 or 4 day
working week should be considered.
All these are direct actions, much more effective than
the inadequate Kyoto proposals, but as well as enacting such provisions
within Australia, we will have to take these ideas to the UN and to the
governments of all countries in the world.
(4) Support increased Research and Development into
alternative sustainable clean energy.
Oppose with all our strength every attempt to go
Reform of Finance
Commerce and Banking go together to make as much money
as possible. Growth is the order of the day, this is the driving force
causing us to squander the worlds oil within 200 years, generating
excessive pollution and running us up against the wall of
unsustainability. It may have created the greatest civilisation the
world has ever known but it will also cause the greatest collapse
For these reasons alone the world of finance needs
In addition the financial sector because of its
reversion to laissez faire economics and a debt ridden system is
responsible for ensuring that the rich get richer and the poor get
poverty stricken. It happens this way:
We all have one major expense in life, the house we live
in. We either buy or we rent. If we buy we need a loan and if you add up
your total contributions you find that the loan costs you at least two,
three or more times the original value of the house. If you rent you are
still paying the loan that the owner paid for the house as well as a
contribution to his living costs. Everything that you buy is probably
made by a firm that is running on credit, i.e. operating on a bank
overdraft and if you are paying with a credit card you will be paying a
heavy interest on the amount outstanding. The government has to build
infrastructure such as schools and roads that you need, it too borrows
money over a period of years for which you pay in your taxes. All this
and more represents a huge river of money flowing from the poor and
average citizen who has little money, to the rich who have sufficient to
make loans. It is for this reason that the rich get richer and the poor
get poverty stricken. This is the real cause of poverty.
Australia is comparatively fortunate, we still have some
vestiges of the welfare state. We have a basic minimum wage, our health
service, in spite of criticism, is among the best in the world. The
working poor in America, the peoples of Africa, and many more millions
throughout the world are not so fortunate and have been placed in a
position of debt from which they cant recover. When the price of oil
rises our standard of living will fall and minimise these differences.
Those who work in the finance sector, will point out the
good their sector does in developing the world and will claim that the
standard of living, even for the poorest, is increasing, however I
suspect selective statistics are being used to support this. What is
needed is a reform to the economic system which throttles back or puts
the brake on the flow of money from poor to rich, gives better
employment, and still uses all those processes employed by modern
finance. (Because good reform does not entirely uproot a system, it
should be slow and gradual.) We should go to our bankers and financiers
and ask what reform can you recommend which achieves these ends? (I
would not trust their answer but at least it puts them on the defensive)
There is a Bill before the United States 108th
Congress known as H.R.4310/4371 entitled "State
and Local Governments Economic Empowerment Act"
whose purpose is to make non-interest bearing loans available to State,
Local government and Indian tribes for the purpose of funding Capital
projects including streets, highways, bridges and tunnels, waste water
and sewerage systems, infrastructure and other public facilities.
This Act includes clauses to prevent inflation and fraud
and requires the loan to be paid back (from taxation) but because no
interest is involved it becomes possible to build up to three times more
infrastructure and employ more people. The Act is short and simple and
could be adapted to suit any country. An impossible dream? Not really,
it was used for over 150 years by the little island of Guernsey in the
English Channel. They were broke, but they printed the money, spent it
on sea defences, roads, schools and markets, paid back the amount
printed out of taxation, reducing their debt to zero. The island became
prosperous and still is today with negligible unemployment. Printing the
money is basically no different to pressing a computer key to provide
This method would be particularly suitable for third
world countries especially if infrastructure was extended to include
basic housing and if local materials were used. It would be desirable to
add clauses to prevent the misuse of loans such as politicians
feathering their own nests.
Such a system would also be beneficial in a financial
crash situation, it would help to take up unemployment, give people
hope, and improve our democracy as it would become apparent that our
representatives were no longer puppets at the dictates of business.
PRESENTED AT THE ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIAN HUMANIST
SOCIETIES 22 5 2005
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
Web page references:
Global Warming, Global Dimming by Anup Shah
Climate change denial is based on pure hocus pocus
by George Monbiot (Guardian UK 10 5 2005)
The End of Cheap Oil Colin J Campbell, Jean Laherrere
Ticking Time Bomb by John Atcheson
The Peak of World Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge by
Richard C Duncan
Oil Shortages Look Certain by 2007
by Dale Allen Pfeiffer
State and Local Government Economic Empowerment Act H. R. 4371
(USA 108th Congress)
Note: If a page appears to be missing type the title into Google or
similar key words,
Hydrogen: creator and destroyer of worlds by Reg Morrison
Australian Rationalist Number 68 pages 37-44 (The Rationalist Society
of Australia, 42 Ruskin Ave., Croydon, Victoria, 3136. Phone 04 9723 2792
- may have
this issue available for a small sum.)
The Guernsey Experiment by Olive and Jan Grubiak (Type the title
into Google to obtain numerous publishers of this little pamphlet showing how they
printed money, built roads, schools and markets etc., paid back the money through
taxation, but not a drop of interest was paid.)
A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. Text Publishing
Being the Massey Lectures, Canada, 2004, recently rebroadcast on ABC,
The collapse of past civilisations are examined and are found to be
mainly due to overuse and attrition of the environment. Our position
could be worse as our problem is global.
The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery.
Text Publishing 312 pp. $32.95
Everything you wanted to know about Climate Change, the atmosphere,
Global Warming and Dimming, shrinking ice, species extinction,
increasing CO2, and what the ordinary person can do to cut emissions by 70% now.
Comprehensive, easy to read and understand. Everyone should read it!