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REALITY CHECK

WHAT WE ARE DOING TO THIS WORLD
WHAT THE WORLD WILL DO TO US
SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS

 

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.

GLOBAL DIMMING

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:

 (1) 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 droughts.

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%

OIL

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 time.

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 substitute materials.

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 third problem.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

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.

POPULATION

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 education.

RELIGION

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 capacity.

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 previous civilisations.

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 industry.

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.

NOW

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 tragic results.

(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.

(5) Oppose with all our strength every attempt to go to war.

Dick Clifford

 

Appendix

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 imaginable.

For these reasons alone the world of finance needs reform.

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 credit.

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.

 DICK CLIFFORD.

FIRST 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,

Papers

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.)

Books

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. Text Publishing 
211 pp, $24.00
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!

 

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