Re: Because Talking About Overpopulation Went So Well Last Time

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Pacing!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:40 AM
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The lesson of the 20th century seems to be that the one thing that stops people breeding is getting richer. This seems to be pretty much a global phenomenon. So if we subsidised the lifestyles of people in India, Bangladesh and the larger African countries significantly, we might avoid the 9G figure. Globalised Keynsianism, you know it makes sense.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:49 AM
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2: I was going to post something along those lines, but it doesn't exactly take care of the consumption-oriented negative effects.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:50 AM
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1: I can't decide if that comment is on topic or not.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:50 AM
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I was jogging yesterday and let myself lapse into this despair around how I'll explain my naivete, should an apocalypse really come down the line during my children's lifetime. "Yes, yes, we were worried about the environment. So we funded all these PSAs, see?"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:52 AM
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Since pacing your childbearing might help.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:53 AM
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This is more to the "unseemly" part, but my brother's (now ex? this is a source of some mystery) girlfriend has very wealthy parents. Wealthy enough that they were able to stop working decades ago, form a charity, and split their time between Manhattan and the southern Rhone. Nice, right? I asked about the charity. It was described to me as funds and services for "sterilizing poor women." Oh, uh, so family planning services? Birth control, etc.? No -- sterilization. So, while I am sure that this is done with the consent of the women involved, I was still kind of squicked. You're rich and can do anything and you dreams rest on . . . sterilization? I recognize that this is probably a stupid aesthetic response.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:53 AM
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5: "that's why I taught you to live in a mud trench, forage for grubs and insects, and tear a man's heart out with your bare hands, kids."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:55 AM
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It was described to me as funds and services for "sterilizing poor women."

A link from E. Messily that I'd been sitting on: forced sterilizations


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:57 AM
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3. Agreed, you'd need to draw some clever graphs to show that these are less than those associated with not doing it. In my wilder moments, it occurs to me that sub-Saharan Africa could (politics willing, hah!) avoid the worst consumption oriented negatives by skipping a lot of the filthy current energy technologies and going straight to the next generation. (As they seem to have done largely with mobile phones.)


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:57 AM
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consumption-oriented negative effects

Like gout?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:59 AM
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You're rich and can do anything and you dreams rest on . . . sterilization?

Maybe they were lawyers and got confused. They think they are helping poor women with tubal litigation.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:00 AM
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Your father visits a much more worldly dentist's office than I ever have.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:05 AM
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I was early to a restaurant for lunch yesterday, and read this terribly hocus-pocus hippy healing magazine. (Therapy article about the value of past-life regression, article about how HCR won't fund therapies using chrystals or magnets, etc.)

After we sat down, the sweet, meek, awkward waiter asked me straight-up if I liked what I'd been reading, and I did some stammering and hedging because it seemed like I was criticizing his very identity not to love it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:07 AM
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If this were a sitcom, someone would wander in about now and make their stock witty complaint about the topic. In other people's pants Wisconsin.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:17 AM
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14: spreading that sort of thing around the world would certainly do a lot to mitigate population growth. South Africa is leading the way here ("HIV doesn't cause AIDS, and you can cure it with lemon juice and beetroot").


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:17 AM
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hocus-pocus hippy healing magazine

Y'know, I like hippies (some of my best friends yadda yadda yadda), but that shit drives me right up a wall. Particularly the Louise Hay/Marianne Williamson end of it that way too many people I know buy into, leading them to make proclamations like "quantum physics is proving that spirituality is real." Just don't ask them to explain how, because the best they can usually do is "everything is vibrations, see."


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:18 AM
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I feel like I'm talked out on this subject. There's essentially zero evidence that population growth per se is a problem that can't or won't be solved by things that we'd want to do for human development anyway -- basically, getting people richer and getting women more powerful (and these two go together). To the extent that other solutions are "taboo" that's a very good thing, and writing scary stories about how crowded it is in Calcutta or playing around with fertility rates and coming up with scare stories about that. India is a particularly bad example, since it's ground zero of a place where these kinds of problems are getting solved.

Nonetheless, a certain kind of Malthusianism seems really attractive to some people, and to the extent it encourages folks to lead less wasteful or consumer-oriented lives in the first world, great.

And, since I know Megan will read


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:19 AM
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this, I haven't forgotten our food security bet. See you in 2030!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:20 AM
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Halford has been kidnapped by the malthusian mafia!


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:21 AM
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17: Hey baby, want to entangle wavefunctions?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:22 AM
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18 seems apt, and presumably climate change is a much bigger problem that population qua population.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:22 AM
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7: Jesus, no, I wouldn't call that a "stupid aesthetic response". Theoretically they might be taking precautions to prevent all the unseemly aspects of what they're doing (for example, um, eugenics), but if they're that smart they'd be pursuing all the other ways of making the world a better place that people have already been talking about here. Most likely, they know and don't care.

22: Agreed. So many apocalypses have been predicted, for so many reasons, many of which fit the best science of the time, that I find myself unable to expect truly world-changing consequences of any catastrophy.

I don't think this is Pollyanna-ish, nor even particularly optimistic. I'm not predicting that following generations will have it better off than ours in any meaningful way, just that there will be following generations. The setting of Waterworld seems as plausible to me as any other future 500 years out, and as horrible as that movie was you'll notice human society was still around. Just different.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:43 AM
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22: But climate change is a consequence of high population. Whatever we do to reduce per-capita carbon emissions, the 'capita' number in there is going to be an important driver of total emissions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:58 AM
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as horrible as that movie was you'll notice human society was still around

Well, yes, but I think we can agree that it would take a really, really terrible movie to wipe out civilization entirely.

Just to be safe, though, it might be best to ban Paul Verhoeven.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:58 AM
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and to 18: Is phrasing it in terms of growth rather than absolute amounts the disconnect here? Because while sure, there seems to be a demographic transition in progress most places, and population will level off somewhere, my worry is that population is too high to be environmentally sustainable now, already, both at current levels of consumption and especially at the higher average (lower for us, but higher for most of the world) levels of consumption I'd really like to see.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:01 AM
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22: But climate change is a consequence of high population.

Climate change is a consequence of development. Of course, development is the best way to reduce population growth, so you're left with a bit of a catch-22 if you think that population growth is itself a problem.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:01 AM
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But climate change is a consequence of high population.

What? First world energy demands are way out of proportion with their portion of the population.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:02 AM
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7: Ugh. That is both aesthetically displeasing and substantively misguided. If population is their big issue, why aren't they building schools that admit girls instead?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:02 AM
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I mean, human society as currently constructed in the world isn't environmentally sustainable, but that's not driven by sheer numbers, it's driven by patterns of use.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:03 AM
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We've been holding our own so far, but the insects are going to win the next round. Bank on it.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:05 AM
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To the extent that other solutions are "taboo" that's a very good thing

Jared Diamond is open-minded on China's population control policy:

Well, the one-child policy, that's something for the Chinese to figure out.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:07 AM
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30: It's driven by both; it takes two multiplicands to make a product.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:07 AM
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I'm thinking about implementing a one-child policy for mosquitoes in my yard.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:08 AM
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23: Well, the daughter is frankly none too bright, so I was reluctant to judge too harshly based solely on her characterization. So now I have Googled her dad and it turns out this was sound judgment! His name seems to be attached to UN things involving informed and voluntary decision making in re sexual reproductive health. And his group isn't just sterilizing! So, that's good. He does seem big into the idea of everything going Road Warrior due to overpopulation though.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:08 AM
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33: well yes, okay, if there were zero population, the impact of that population would in fact be zero.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:08 AM
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30: Sure, but I really like my patterns of use, at least insofar as they involve modern sanitation and dental anesthetics, and I want everyone in the world to be able to consume at that sort of rate. If you've got a baseline below which you don't want anyone to be poorer, that's a constraint on how low per capita consumption can go, and if there are any environmental limits on how high total consumption can go, the per capita number seems like the one I'd rather adjust.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:09 AM
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33: Until cloning comes along.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:09 AM
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I alternate between thinking things will on average continue to improve for everyone, and thinking that the period 1989-2001 will be seen hundreds of years hence as the brief peak of human happiness before the slide back down into the morass of violence, misery, and oppression that's the norm for the human race.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:10 AM
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37: well, for one thing, you're assuming a fixed tradeoff between consumption and well being, and it's not at all clear that's the case. I like modern medical science and air travel and a good steak and all the rest of it, but we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of thinking about what level of consumption is really necessary to maintain first world levels of health and welfare. I mean holy crap, a mild increase in gas prices and a recession caused domestic carbon output to decrease to like 1990 levels or something. The demand elasticity of non-renewable environmental resources is very high, they're just largely un- or under-priced.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:13 AM
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I really like my patterns of use, at least insofar as they involve modern sanitation and dental anesthetics, and I want everyone in the world to be able to consume at that sort of rate.

No one really knows whether or not this is possible, right? Perhaps there's a decent sustainable standard of living available for all, perhaps not. The biggest problem is that no one is putting sufficient resources into developing real sustainability technology on a useful scale.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:14 AM
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I should make it clear that when I talk about cutting consumption without a concomitant decrease in welfare, I don't imagine that I'm talking about something that's going to actually happen, but on the other hand some grand, humanist program to reduce population growth isn't going to happen either, and as long as we're talking about things that aren't going to happen, the sorts of things laid out in 40 would be much more helpful.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:16 AM
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No one really knows whether or not this is possible, right? Perhaps there's a decent sustainable standard of living available for all, perhaps not.

But clearly, it's easier to arrive at a decent sustainable standard of living the lower the number of people encompassed in 'all' is.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:21 AM
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the period 1989-2001 will be seen hundreds of years hence as the brief peak of human happiness

Surely that's too granular for a hundreds-of-years-hence retrospective. Was 1989 meaningfully more happy than 1987 for most of the world? (I'm guessing you're thinking Berlin, but...) Is 2010 meaningfully worse than 2000? The dates will probably be something like 1945-[insert year when things really start to go apeshit, which hasn't happened yet].


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:21 AM
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One of the consolations of growing old is the reflection that one has a good chance of being dead before the shit really hits the fan. However, this isn't a very socially useful reflection.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:22 AM
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I must say, too, that I find the article galling in its implication that the focus of efforts to stave off environmental catastrophe should be on the developing world. Obviously we don't want it to get to the point where everybody in India has a car, but you know how you fix that? You fix the first world, where everybody does have a car, and then you have a sustainable aspirational standard. There's an undercurrent of "I got mine, and I want to keep it, so they better stop having babies" that's pretty distasteful.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:22 AM
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40: No, I have hopes for decreases in resource consumption that don't represent decreases in subjective standard of living: that's what all of my annoying urban living boosting is about. I'm just not convinced that enough painless decreases in resource consumption are possible to get to a sustainable and humane standard of living for 9G people.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:23 AM
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44: there really should be a name for the fallacy (sorry, togolosh) of believing that your own time and place is meaningfully unique in the sweep of human history.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:24 AM
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46 is spot on.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:24 AM
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The demand elasticity of non-renewable environmental resources is very high, they're just largely un- or under-priced.

This, probably more than anything else, is what makes me want to strap bombs to myself and march on the goddamn capitol. It would be so easy to get this right! (Or at least, so much more right.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:24 AM
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9G people

Sure, 9 gazillion people would be too many. But we aren't talking about that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:24 AM
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42: Cutting consumption without cutting welfare happens all the time with technology improvements, interpreting 'technology' broadly, and that is likely to continue. I could, and fully expect to, use less fossil fuel for transportation in the near future. For example, if the Chevy Volt works, it would meet 95% of our family's transportation needs since we rarely travel more than 10 miles. The Zipcar service could meet the other 5% if it were expanded. It's not going to happen soon for us. I'm not willing to be a beta tester for a $40,000 car and the marginal cost of continuing our current transportation system* is very low right now.

*i.e. we have our current car paid for.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:25 AM
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But clearly, it's easier to arrive at a decent sustainable standard of living the lower the number of people encompassed in 'all' is.

But if - as CW goes - steps to provide everyone with a sustainable standard of living automatically lower population growth as a corollary, then focusing on population growth per se isn't the issue. It's the ratio of asymptotic population to maximum sustainable living capacity.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:25 AM
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But clearly, it's easier to arrive at a decent sustainable standard of living the lower the number of people encompassed in 'all' is.

Also, "clearly easier" is doing a lot of work in this sentence, since places with low populations currently are living incredibly unsustainably.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:26 AM
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both aesthetically displeasing and substantively misguided

Not necessarily. Why should first-world women be the only ones who can get their tubes tied when they decide they're done having children?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:26 AM
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46, 49: I get the reaction. But if it's allowable at all to think about population rather than only per capita resource consumption, you have to talk about the developing world, because that's where most of the people are. Reducing the birth rate in, say, California, isn't going to have any global effect, because California's a small place, and the fewer people born there, the more will immigrate and start consuming at Californian rates.

Does it make it less unseemly to talk about population in the developing world as both a consequence of and a route to a higher standard of living there? And to simultaneously talk about reducing First World per capita resource consumption?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:28 AM
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Just a short comment, not having read the whole article: I'm very dubious about all of this "footprint" stuff. I've read up a bit on it, and there always seems to be a point where the math gets all hand-wavy, so that you can say that 1 cheezeburger = 1 litre of gasoline = 1 load of laundry = 1 square foot of rainforest. I think reality is a little bit more complex than that. Not that I want to suggest that environmental degradation is not a huge problem. Quite the contrary. But the whole ZOMG! Overpopulation! Nine Billion! meme doesn't have much traction in my mind. If we had nine billion people living in arcologies on the Great Plains we would be using vastly fewer resources of various kinds than we are now. That's not likely to happen, but there are a lot of appropriate technologies -- urban farming, rain gardens, companion planting, composting, solar ovens, hand cranked peanut shellers, wind power, animal traction, dedicated bike routes -- that we've barely even begun to exploit to ameliorate the worst impacts of our economies.

Having said that, I'd prefer a total world population of humans down around the 1.5 billion mark. Seems like then we could have enough individuals to keep even the smallest discrete cultural modes alive, and leave a lot more of the planet wild.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:29 AM
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47: "painless" is also doing a lot of work, there. What if air travel were twice as expensive. Is that painless? What if gas was twice or three times as expensive. Is that painless? What if you could no longer order bluefin Tuna at a restaurant?

Sacrifices in response to resource overconsumption that involve sacrifice are nothing new, and are often only painful to the generation that remembers what once was possible. Does it bother you that you can't light your house with whale oil? Does it bother you that you can't eat an ortolan in good conscience?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:29 AM
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Why should first-world women be the only ones who can get their tubes tied when they decide they're done having children?

Not in central Texas*, they can't! At least, not at any hospital, which are all under the Caltholic St. David's system. So even if your doctor is on board, no tube-tying for you after your C-section!** You must be opened up a second time, at their off-hospital grounds clinic.

* Of course, I've argued that we're no longer first-world, and I'd doubly apply that to corrupt industry-driven red states.

**I know I posted about this before. I just find it unbelievably galling.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:30 AM
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37: Instinctively, it seems that your patterns of use aren't the ones that are going to kill us all, though, or anyway aren't high on the list. Are you saying, in the OP, that everyone in the world having dental anesthetics (as a stand-in, of course, for non-conspicuously-consumptive "first world" middle class standards of living) are the unsustainable thing?

Ok now I am of course picturing children in rural China running around with cannisters of lidocaine.

p.s. something tonally midway between "get well soon" which sounds like a card for a kid and something too-serious sounding. Glad it's relatively minorish.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:30 AM
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Does it make it less unseemly to talk about population in the developing world as both a consequence of and a route to a higher standard of living there? And to simultaneously talk about reducing First World per capita resource consumption?

I don't know about unseemly so much as moot. Sure, population control has an icky historical legacy. But here, it's just not the driving concern.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:33 AM
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But if it's allowable at all to think about population rather than only per capita resource consumption

Why should it be? It's about the eighth or ninth or fiftieth most important thing you can do to start to alleviate these problems, it's well known how you solve it, and any other potential solutions are immediately and obviously open to unfairness and abuse.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:35 AM
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59: Don't get me started on the Catholic Church. I'll only start offending people.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:35 AM
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58: Substitute in "Not too painful" for "painless" if you like. If I couldn't ever fly anywhere again -- air travel was a luxury for only the very wealthiest -- I wouldn't mind, same with gas being expensive enough that driving any distance was a serious cost. I, and people like me, should be consuming much less, and I'm fine with that.

But there are an awful lot of very poor people in the world, who humanely should be consuming (subjectively, at least) much more than they do now. While our consumption should be going way down, average global consumption should be going up. And that's going to be really hard to do while cutting resource use.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:35 AM
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If I couldn't ever fly anywhere again -- air travel was a luxury for only the very wealthiest -- I wouldn't mind, same with gas being expensive enough that driving any distance was a serious cost. I, and people like me, should be consuming much less, and I'm fine with that.

Getting off-topic, not flying is one of the most painful adjustments I can think of. It would equate with not seeing my family very often, which would dearly upset me.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:37 AM
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65: If flying weren't an option, and family closeness were a priority, you'd move closer to your family. There's usually something in the system that can give.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:39 AM
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48
44: there really should be a name for the fallacy (sorry, togolosh) of believing that your own time and place is meaningfully unique in the sweep of human history.

There is. It's called eschatology. I'm not saying that just because all such predictions, including many founded in the science of the time, have been wrong means that similar ones in the present and future will be wrong, that would be a fallacy itself... but it seems fair to consider the record at least a little bit.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:39 AM
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65: move closer to them. Or get videochat on your computer, or something. It's only comparatively very recently that anyone has thought that living hundreds of miles away from someone else and seeing that person frequently were compatible.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:40 AM
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While our consumption should be going way down, average global consumption should be going up. And that's going to be really hard to do while cutting resource use.

I suppose that's possible, but given that first world resource consumption is so wildly, absurdly, hilariously out of line with the developing world, I find it to be an argument without much intuitive force. Our (using "our" to mean the developed world) consumption should (and relatively painlessly could) go down by, what, half? 2/3s? More? Possibly a lot more?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:40 AM
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If flying weren't an option, and family closeness were a priority, you'd move closer to your family.

We really couldn't, not in a way I'd find not-painful. There is family I love dearly in Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, California, New York, metro New York, and Toronto. Family closeness being a priority to me wouldn't solve anything.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:41 AM
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66: I just did exactly that. Mostly I did it for the free baby-sitting, but the energy cost of visits was a consideration.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:41 AM
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It's been noted several times already, but it's important to separate the ideas of how much our consumption needs to drop and how much our resource use needs to drop. There's no reason to think those need to be (or will be) parallel.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:43 AM
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44: there really should be a name for the fallacy (sorry, togolosh) of believing that your own time and place is meaningfully unique in the sweep of human history.

I often hear this exact statement made (except for the reference to togolosh), but it's rare that it's made in a context other than someone dismissing the concept of climate change.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:43 AM
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I mean, what percentage of adults in this country use fossil fuels to propel a 3000 pound steel machine 10 or 20 or more miles each way so that they, and they alone, can do a job which involves sitting in front of a computer and talking to people on the phone? How much pre-natal care for Calcutta slum dwellers would the savings buy you if that one person worked from home?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:43 AM
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70: Everybody could have a big meeting and pick one of those places. Probably Wisconsin.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:43 AM
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73: starts with S, ends with ingularity. Or, alternately, starts with R, ends with apture.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:44 AM
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(Our family is an artifact of the inflexibility of academics. Wisconsin, Texas (Dallas), Texas (me), and Florida are all tied to universities.

The California and New York siblings are both close to family - their spouses' families.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:44 AM
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Step 1: Move all universities to Wisconsin.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:46 AM
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77: if academics stopped being willing to move all over the damn country I bet colleges would get willing to hire locally in a hurry.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:46 AM
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I forgot Jammies' family. Montana, Colorado, California, and one still in college.

Where exactly would we all move to?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:46 AM
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And here I was hoping that "not flying is one of the most painful adjustments I can think of" was a joke, given how incredibly pampered it sounds.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:48 AM
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To be clear - flying should be priced to reflect how much of an environmental toll it takes. I am willing to pay through the nose to continue to see my family.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:48 AM
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81: It really isn't. Other cutbacks in luxury sound just fine to me. But my family is really important to me, and I don't know what to do about the fact that we're so spread out.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:49 AM
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I'm pretty sure airplanes aren't actually going to go away.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:50 AM
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82: I suspect that if flying were priced correctly, you couldn't afford to keep seeing your family. At least, not more than maybe once a year at a big family gathering.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:51 AM
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Family members moving thousands of miles away to find work is traditionally seen as a major tragedy, in folk songs, folk tales, novels from more than fifty years ago, etc. That seems like the natural order of things to me and I've never really taken seriously the idea of moving farther away from Pennsylvania than, say, Charlotte.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:52 AM
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I heard the Democrats want to take away my airplanes. Oplane-ocare.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:52 AM
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If flying were priced correctly you'd probably see a hell of a lot more investment in bullet trains.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:52 AM
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69, 74: This is probably where we're getting stuck, and I don't have numbers to back up my intuition -- I should look into figuring that out.

Sure, if you think that cutting first world resource consumption with (1) all the painless techniques possible, and then (2) giving up subjective standard of living down to a much lower, but still humane (clean water, modern sanitation, modern health care, 24-7 access to blogs) standard will be enough to fund a similar standard of living for 7 to 9 billion people worldwide while remaining environmentally sustainable, then talking about population is unnecessary.

The assumption I've been working with is that sort of cut in first world resource consumption, while absolutely necessary, isn't nearly enough -- that there's still going to be a gap in terms of both global poverty and environmental sustainibility.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:53 AM
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88: Yeah, 85 should have said "couldn't afford to keep flying to see your family".


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:53 AM
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I suspect that if flying were priced correctly, you couldn't afford to keep seeing your family.

What should it cost to fly from a mid-city to mid-city, with one layover at a major hub?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:53 AM
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91: $8500.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:54 AM
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And should driving to Florida be cheaper than flying, environmentally-priced? (I really don't know the answer to this one.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:54 AM
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48: No need to apologize: I think you're a moron, too*. I suggest "chrononarcissism" as a first swipe at the syndrome name. Perhaps "Temporal Egocentrism."

The period 1989-2001 is significant because it has two neatly bracketing major events of the sort Historians love for breaking continua into dissertation-sized pieces. My pessimistic take is that human history is mostly a litany of wretchedness and horror punctuated by relatively brief windows of tolerable levels of unpleasantness. To assume that the trends of the period in which I live will continue seems unjustified in this view (chrononarcissistic, even). Human events are too dynamic to be captured with a simple model of extending trend lines. Things get better, people get complacent, everything goes to shit.

My optimistic view is that the inevitable regression to the mean of the trendline should not be taken too seriously, as the overall trend seems to be generally away from the worst things (slavery, large wars, authoritarian governments).

*joke


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:55 AM
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(I'm assuming from Heebieville, TX to Gatorville, FL. Costs vary by distance, obviously.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:55 AM
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91: Are you staying over a Saturday?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:55 AM
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92: Maybe I'm a trust fundie. Piddling trifle.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:55 AM
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farther away from Pennsylvania than, say, Charlotte

You'd like Raleigh-Durham better and it's a couple hours closer to Pennsylvania.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:56 AM
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98: True. Except during pollen season when Durham sucks goat balls.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:58 AM
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98: But moving to Charlotte would be conceivable. Moving to Atlanta or Johnson City, Tennessee, that's a bridge too far. Also, I wonder what "a bridge too far" actually means. Presumably it refers to some classic war story.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:58 AM
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The lesson of the 20th century seems to be that the one thing that stops people breeding is getting richer. This seems to be pretty much a global phenomenon. So if we subsidised the lifestyles of people in India, Bangladesh and the larger African countries significantly

Unfortunately, I think the lesson of the 21st century is going to be that the thing that stops people in those areas from breeding is submerging their countries in salt water and/or totally disrupting their food supplies.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:58 AM
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89: well, maybe, maybe not, but given that the only demonstrably effective method for reducing population growth is development, starting by making development less environmentally costly seems like a blindingly obvious first, second, third, etc. step to me. Coming up with other methods for reducing population growth when (a) we have one that works and (b) the problem lies in the per capita resources required for a first world standard of living seems akin to me to looking to production of GMO beans that reduce farting as a first line of defense against global warming.

Like, is the article really trying to claim that the US lifestyle was environmentally sustainable in 1950?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:58 AM
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Is a reduction in consumption, on the scale imagined here, compatible with democracy?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:58 AM
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I suppose Charlotte may be worse during pollen season, but I don't know.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:58 AM
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Finally my crippling fear of flying is a strike for global equity in resource consumption rather than just a kind of embarrassing reason I can't go to Iceland like all the cool kids are doing.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:59 AM
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story of stuff


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:59 AM
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89: well, maybe, maybe not, but given that the only demonstrably effective method for reducing population growth is development, starting by making development less environmentally costly seems like a blindingly obvious first, second, third, etc. step to me.

This is a crazy statement. Genocide, sterilization, civil war and famine have all been demonstrated as effective, not just development. And those things are within the reach of even poor countries.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:00 AM
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104: I read this originally as "Chatroulette." And thought, well, I suppose if someone has to cover their nose while sneezing, they have to stop waggling their dick at you.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:00 AM
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Is a reduction in consumption, on the scale imagined here, compatible with democracy?

Of course not.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:00 AM
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Is a reduction in consumption, on the scale imagined here, compatible with democracy?

Compatible with having elected officials? Sure. Not that we'll ever elect those officials.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:03 AM
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Is a reduction in consumption, on the scale imagined here, compatible with democracy?

Compatible with having elected officials? Sure. Not that we'll ever elect those officials.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:03 AM
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The Democrats came and took my SUV.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:03 AM
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that sort of cut in first world resource consumption

Would a cut in 1st world consumption mean a decline in 2nd & 3rd world growth? We can imagine China producing for domestic consumption, but a commitment to sustained growth decline in the first world might mean a complete crash in equity and bond markets. Capital is faith in future growth.

Anyway, folks, anything we don't consume will be consumed elsewhere. There will no net global decline in resource depletion until they are gone, or until the World Revolution.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:03 AM
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107, 103 to 113.last. Problem solved!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:05 AM
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Or rather 103, 107 and 113.last seem to have solved the problem.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:06 AM
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Would a cut in 1st world consumption mean a decline in 2nd & 3rd world growth?

Buy cheap crap, feed (poorly) a proletarianized peasant.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:08 AM
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102 is the solution. Getting the details right is the key, but unfortunately the donor countries really like big projects, which I ascribe to the fact that it's easier to get kickbacks from big projects, but I'm feeling cynical today.

The right way to do it is to pour money into (1) basic life-sustaining things like sanitation and medical care and (2) education. Education here is *not* indoctrination into the latest western bleeding-heart fad solution, but rather math, science, literacy. Local people will figure things out, and their solutions will be better because they have more accurate knowledge of their situation, and they'll stick because they are organic to the community rather than externally imposed.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:08 AM
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Elevated CO2 in the atmosphere is there because burning coal is the cheapest way to get power. Just as London's death rate no longer no longer doubles on smoggy days at the cost of more expensive factories and homes, so CO2 will be dumped into the atmosphere more slowly.

While the air in Shanghai and especially Beijing is disgusting, between the one-child policy and huge capital outlays on fast trains instead of airports (which would have created a dependency of China on the middle east), arguably China is actually doing a lot to raise living standards for its people responsibly. It sure doesn't seem that way on the ground there, though.

regarding 7, sterilization after having two kids is now common in Mexico, where abortion is illegal and contraception is hard to get away from the biggest cities. I don't know about other catholic countries.

The linked article has too much Ehrlich for my taste. The Indian reporting is kind of interesting, though.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:09 AM
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LIBERTARIANS WILL SAVE THE PLANET

USE MARKET FORCES TO BUY UP THE RESOURCES THAT WE DON'T WANT EXTRACTED. THEN, DECIDE NOT TO EXTRACT THEM. LIKE THE NATURE CONSERVANCY. GOVERNMENTS DOING THINGS BY FIAT NEVER WORKS.


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:09 AM
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80: Well, pick a coast and accept an additional day or so of travel time one way and you could see half of them by train with no other changes.

Obviously that's not ideal if would mean not seeing the other half. Alternately, there are vague plans for high-speed rail that would reduce the travel time and/or link the coasts, but that's a long way off and not likely to get funded unless things get even worse than they already are. And try to avoid moving so far apart in the first place; like someone said upthread, it used to be considered a major tragedy. Really, there's no easy answer given that your family and friends are already far-flung. Sorry.

89
The assumption I've been working with is that sort of cut in first world resource consumption, while absolutely necessary, isn't nearly enough -- that there's still going to be a gap in terms of both global poverty and environmental sustainibility.

The main reason I find "sustainability" annoying is just a personal idiosyncracy: it seems like a glib, overused buzzword, or it did for a while. Another problem is that it's unreachable. Sure, it's something to strive towards, but you're never going to actually get there, like Xeno's arrow or an asymptote. Even if we could get to 100 percent recycled material and 100 percent solar power, eventually the sun will go out. Perpetual motion machines don't exist. Instead, we need to look for new ways to do stuff. They'll be better in some ways and worse in others, and we need to find yet another new way before the ways they're worse become overwhelming. Civilization is a game of musical chairs. The trick is not to keep the music going, it's to keep adding chairs.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:11 AM
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arguably China is actually doing a lot to raise living standards for its people responsibly.

In what sense? I wouldn't say they're being more irresponsible than the US, of course, but are they being responsible around it?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:12 AM
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Civilization is a game of musical chairs.

Fuck that. I'm playing World of Warcraft.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:13 AM
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117: Right. I get a little impatient with 'development' as the solution, because development isn't one thing. The sort of development that seems to be effective in reducing or reversing population growth -- broad education and lifting standards of living at the bottom of the economic ladder -- is also the sort that's humanely most preferable. And it makes sense to me to focus on literally population-reducing development, rather than just anything that increases gross national product in poor countries.

Not that I think anyone here squarely disagrees with that -- it's just that conceptualizing it in terms of population seems to me to serve a real purpose.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:14 AM
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83: It really isn't.

I just noticed this. You are aware, I'm sure, that lots of people can't afford to fly very often, even at today's prices.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:15 AM
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122: I stopped at Civ 3 in a failed attempt to get more work done. As I recall, the secret to Civilization was to be the first side with riflemen and cavalry.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:15 AM
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Well, pick a coast and accept an additional day or so of travel time one way and you could see half of them by train with no other changes.

Good point.

I would be totally willing to travel by train, with an extra day of travel. That even sounds humane with small children.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:15 AM
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115: Yep. The liberal answer is global calamity. The conservative answer is deus ex machina.

I like to flatter myself into believing that I'm not a conservative because I reject inhumanity, but the truth may be that I mostly just find conservatism ludicrously implausible.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:15 AM
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Even if we could get to 100 percent recycled material and 100 percent solar power, eventually the sun will go out. Perpetual motion machines don't exist.

This seems to me to be silly. On any timescale I'm interested in (say, a million years?) the output of the sun can be treated as a constant. Given that, 'sustainable' is a perfectly coherent concept.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:16 AM
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126: Trains have a long way to go to stop sucking. I've looked into them for my trips back home. It takes nearly twice as long as driving if it is on time.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:17 AM
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123: I certainly didn't mean to equate it with GNP. We could be like Bhutan and use GNH.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:17 AM
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We could be like l33t h@X0rz and use GNU.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:19 AM
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Out of curiousity, I just looked up TX-Fl on Amtrak. I'd go:
Austin -> Dallas -> Chicago -> Washington -> Jacksonville -> Gatorville.

Leave 3:40 on Day 1, arrive 11 am ish on Day 4.

So for the time being, I'll probably continue to kill the environment.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:20 AM
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130: Well, yeah, I don't think we disagree at all about the kinds of development that are desirable. But that's part of the reason I keep on focusing on population reduction -- that the desirable kinds of development are the ones that lead to lowered fertility. If population reduction through development is an explicit goal, rather than something that's just inevitably going to be a side effect of development, then it keeps you focused on development that reduces poverty and increases education.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:20 AM
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132: Greyhound!


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:21 AM
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132: Greyhound!

One day, 3 hours, two transfers.

Unfortunately, much less pleasant with HP than a train. If this schedule was available on a train, I think I'd be willing to do it. Mostly because she can get up and walk around as much as she wants.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:25 AM
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135: And, you can get a little private room on some trains. But, the train ride for me was about 1 day and three hours and I still passed, partially because it involved departing and arriving at something like 1 a.m.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:26 AM
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I suppose Charlotte may be worse during pollen season, but I don't know.

My guess is way more trees per square mile in Durham than in Charlotte, but I'm blissfully unaffected by pollen.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:27 AM
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Mornin', guys! What's up?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:29 AM
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MORNING MEGAN

DOOM


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:30 AM
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138: Not the consciousness of the proletariat.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:30 AM
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If population reduction through development is an explicit goal, rather than something that's just inevitably going to be a side effect of development, then it keeps you focused on development that reduces poverty and increases education.

I suppose, but this still feels backwards to me. If we had unlimited resources, we should still urgently focus on poverty reduction and access to education, because that's how you make life humane for people.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:31 AM
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I admit that I spend exactly 0% of my time worrying about overpopulation, because I'm pretty certain that we know what works (educating women -- and I don't mean about reproductive health) and it's basically happening.

War, sanitation, disease, prenatal care, access to contraceptives -- yes, these are all factors. But everything I've ever read on the subject (layperson's reading, but a lot of it) says that more years of education = delayed and reduced childbearing. Period.

I may be wrong, but of all the things in the world that I put time and energy into thinking how to solve, this is not one of them. Individual pieces of it, sure -- I donate to training midwives in South America and I support scientific sex ed for everyone on the planet. (Singlehandedly!) But as a whole?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:37 AM
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Just as London's death rate no longer no longer doubles on smoggy days at the cost of more expensive factories and homes, so CO2 will be dumped into the atmosphere more slowly.

Huh?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:38 AM
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I would love for plane travel to get more expensive, because I don't enjoy flying and do more of it than I want to. (Maybe I just need to learn to say "No, I can't. Because I'm a feministn environmentalist.")

I can't really make sense of the arguments in this thread. LB says obvious things about how the world has too large a population to sustainably support. Other people like Sifu say reasonable things about how attacking the population problem per se is probably not the best place to start. Are these incompatible?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:40 AM
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121. China is building trains that do not need to consume fossil fuel, partly for strategic regions (not much oil there). The one-child policy, though brutal, has pretty clearly helped with population growth, befor the demographic transition that causes mean family size to shrink voluntarily. I keep meaning to see who actually pushed it through-- Deng must have approved, but it happened just after he took power.

The two policies I mentioned.

Of course, China is also building empty cities and stuff like this, so maybe they are no wiser than the clowns in Dubai or Las Vegas. But the national-scale initiatives are not stupid. How many megatons a year of coal will three gorges keep in the ground? Is the US designing lightweight reactors?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:41 AM
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How many megatons a year of coal will three gorges keep in the ground?

Certainly all of it under the reservoir.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:44 AM
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China is building trains that do not need to consume fossil fuel, partly for strategic regions (not much oil there).

China is also pursuing coal-to-liquid pretty heavily, which is the fuel that will ultimately kill us all, so I think those strategic reasons far outweigh environmental ones.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:44 AM
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Transcontinental train travel is a pipe dream. I like my SUPERTRAINS as much as the next utopian liberal, but their niche is in medium-distance markets where door-to-door travel time is competitive with air travel.

And that's OK, because you would do a lot for the environment by making high speed rail available to substitute for short-haul flights and medium-haul car trips.

There will still be a flights connecting TX and Florida in the future carbon-priced utopia, because there will still be a market for it, even after heebie has gone over to videoconferencing with her nanna. Where carbon pricing will really bite civil aviation is on longhaul flights to leisure destinations (e.g. Dusseldorf to Ibiza or Bali).

I outsource the rest of my commenting to Sifu, whose views apparently mirror my own exactly.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:46 AM
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143. When people recognize that shortcuts are a bad idea, they adopt more expensive choices. This has happened lots of times before, recently and clearly in response to environmental pressure in England.

Reversing the flow of the Chicago river is another example of reluctantly spending money to clean up.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:46 AM
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144: To spell out my thinking a little more: (1) Environmental sustainability is a huge terrifying emergency right now. (2) Population reduction will help. (3) Therefore girls' schools, microlending, whatever sort of development has been shown to have a strong effect on fertility rates should be hair-on-fire urgent, right now. I'm thinking that the terrified urgency people have (some people have) about climate change could usefully be directed in part into the right kind of development programs.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:46 AM
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(1) Environmental sustainability is a huge terrifying emergency right now. (2) Population reduction will help.

My problem is that 1 -> 2 is weak. Places like Bangladesh are a problem because people are facing inhumane living conditions, not because they're contributing to global climate change.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:49 AM
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(3) Therefore girls' schools, microlending, whatever sort of development has been shown to have a strong effect on fertility rates should be hair-on-fire urgent, right now.

Do people here disagree with these sorts of things? They sound like pretty unobjectionable policies. Rhetoric about population reduction causes concern for obvious reasons, I think, so I wonder if the right approach to such policies is to push them for on more broadly humanitarian grounds.

But I think Sifu is right in 62 that if your concern is climate change, these things don't rank so highly on the list of things that should be done. Changing how the US and China consume energy is priority number 1.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:52 AM
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151:I guess I think places like Bangladesh are a problem both because people are facing inhumane living conditions, and because they're contributing to global climate change. And the tactics to address both are the same. So if we can leverage some of the urgency attached to the latter problem to get people focused on solving both problems, isn't that a good thing?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:53 AM
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Supertrain!

Also, I endorse the endorsements of Sifu.



Posted by: Mr. Blandings | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:53 AM
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So will cheap solar or nuclear power, and you don't have to fight religious authorities to build pebble-bed reactors.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:53 AM
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I understand that the richest natural source of the pebbles used in these reactors is rosaries.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:54 AM
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151: But how is Bangladesh contributing to climate change, aside from factories there supporting first world lifestyles?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:55 AM
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...eventually the sun will go out.

Well, fuck it then, I give up. Walking the dogs before it all goes black.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:55 AM
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132: Yeah, I meant "pick a coast" as in, move. It wasn't intended as constructive short-term advice.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:55 AM
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143. When people recognize that shortcuts are a bad idea, they adopt more expensive choices. This has happened lots of times before, recently and clearly in response to environmental pressure in England.

But we've known that global warming is a big scary problem for thirty years or so and yet people don't give a shit. I think the problem is that CO2 is just sort of inert; this isn't an issue where there are directly noticeable changes in air quality. I'm slightly encouraged by how the House finally passed a climate bill, but the prospects in the Senate look even worse now that Lindsey Graham pulled his support. And I'm extremely discouraged by conversations I've had lately with smart, generally well-informed people who say things like "global warming? I never paid much attention. I don't think it's a big deal."


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:56 AM
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It wasn't intended as constructive short-term advice.

TOO LATE! Better trains is my new soapbox topic!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:56 AM
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151:I guess I think places like Bangladesh are a problem both because people are facing inhumane living conditions, and because they're contributing to global climate change.

Bangladesh really isn't contributing to global climate change, at least not in a significant way. But it may be in 20 or 30 years. I think this is a real concern -- if we get our act together and start drastically cutting back our own carbon emissions, then developing countries still using older technology will become the main drivers of climate change. But it's down the road a bit.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 9:59 AM
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But we've known that global warming is a big scary problem for thirty years or so and yet people don't give a shit.

The people who've know that global warming is a big scary problem for thirty years do give a shit. Uniformly. Most people aren't aware that it's a big scary problem. They think it's either not a problem at all, or not a very scary one. ("Did you see how much snow DC got last winter?") That's a failure of public education. (And a result of a great deal of deliberate misinformation, of course.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:00 AM
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I think this is a real concern -- if we get our act together and start drastically cutting back our own carbon emissions, then developing countries still using older technology will become the main drivers of climate change.

Isn't the hope (really: our only hope) that by that time we in the rich world will have developed sufficiently attractive technologies that are inexpensive enough to keep them from doing that?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:02 AM
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157: Well, people there are using resources and emitting carbon, at what a quick google reveals is about 1/80th the rate we are. The problem is that as they get richer, they'll start (and should start) using more resources, which without the (possible but uncertain) no-carbon energy fairies is going to mean more carbon. If that transition can be arranged such that their fertility level drops as or before they get enough richer to start emitting more carbon per capita, rather than after they get rich enough to become heavy emitters, that seems like a huge environmental win to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:02 AM
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That's a failure of public education. (And a result of a great deal of deliberate misinformation, of course.)

Well, right. But the situation isn't improving. Almost everyone has heard of it now, but it's still true that the general public doesn't care. And the right-wing media machine has a large fraction of them thoroughly convinced that it's "a hoax", whatever the hell that means.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:03 AM
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100: Also, I wonder what "a bridge too far" actually means. Presumably it refers to some classic war story.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:06 AM
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164: Yes. It's already seen with other technologies, like how some parts of the developing world have better cell phone infrastructure than parts of America. Maybe even better than in most of America, depending on whether you define "most" geographically or population or what. Partly, of course, because infrastructure investment in America sucks, but also partly because we already spent time and money on non-cell phones, which are now going to waste and still need to be maintained, while India or wherever never put time into that that's now wasted.

The same will hopefully prove to be true with gas stations. Or something. Or if not in India then in parts of Africa or rural China. Hopefully.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:07 AM
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SAVE THE WORLD FOR US - GET RID OF OLD PEOPLE AND THEIR WIRED PHONES!


Posted by: OPINIONATED WHIPPERSNAPPER | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:18 AM
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I should say also that while climate change is the biggest environmental worry I have, it's not the only one. Habitat destruction and species extinctions are also a big deal for me (and I think should be for everyone. This isn't just an esthetic matter, the planet is inhabitable because it is a functioning ecosystem. At some point, if enough species are gone, that may have significant effects on our capacity to support ourselves), and they're also tightly linked to population, in a way that's somewhat less dependent on resource-intensive first-world lifestyles than carbon emissions are.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:18 AM
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Well, people there are using resources and emitting carbon, at what a quick google reveals is about 1/80th the rate we are. The problem is that as they get richer, they'll start (and should start) using more resources, which without the (possible but uncertain) no-carbon energy fairies is going to mean more carbon.

But this is why we're saying the problem isn't about population control. Because places with uncontrolled populations aren't contributing particularly to climate distruction, (except for first world plundering of their resources.)

Wise development is huge, absolutely. Because that's when you start to cause environmental problems. But the problem isn't the sheer number of people; it's the number of people trying to live unsustainably.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:28 AM
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But the problem isn't the sheer number of people; it's the number of people trying to live unsustainably.

The two 'number's in that sentence do not appear to me to be unconnected.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:34 AM
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But the problem isn't the sheer number of people; it's the number of people trying to live unsustainably kids in brownstone Brooklyn getting under bloggers' feet.

Come on, you can't tell me that isn't where this thread was going.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:39 AM
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If "people trying to live unsustainably" means people who hope ultimately, many years from now, to consume on a western scale, they are connected. I'm assuming it means people who are now or in the near future will be consuming on that scale, and the number of people in, e.g., Bangladesh has no meaningful connection to that set of people.


Posted by: Mr. Blandings | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:42 AM
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The two 'number's in that sentence do not appear to me to be unconnected.

Focusing on population control puts the pressure on Bangladesh, not on the US and China. Focusing on sustainable living puts the pressure on the US and China, and Bangladesh hopefully in the future.

Bangladesh needs urgent help because of inhumane living conditions, and wise development - ie schools and infrastructure and microloans - happen to reduce populations in a happy corollary. Meaning population control still isn't a problem.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:43 AM
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The problem is also the sheer number of people, if you want to maintain ecosystem function as we recognize it. This is more like the old-school concerns about water quality, but all those people shit and take space and eat food. The problems accelerate horribly when you start living like first world people, but even Bangladeshis can pollute their groundwater with nitrates, destroy their streams and cause nutrient blooms in their oceans, just with human waste.

If they start doing things like eating meat and visiting far-flung family, then the multipliers are big and sheer numbers matter a lot.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:45 AM
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A few points:

The US in 1920 had about 100 million people, who were living far more unsustainably -- in terms of resource use trends, which is what we're talking about here -- than the 300 million people we have now.

Bangladesh could have half of its current population and still be a problem for global warming, or 3X its current population and not be a problem. The kind of development matters, not the population number itself.

I guess LB's bottom line is that she just wants more things like schools and women's clinics. Great. But that's not really population-limitation policy for environmental reasons. If you're convinced that population limitation is the big problem, you get things like China's one child policy. Which is as about as evil and anti-feminist a mass policy as one gets in the modern world these days. As for the idea that global warming fears will lead to population worries will lead to feminist-oriented development policies, the politics are bizarre. Roughly (OK, numbers are made up, but I think roughly right) you could get more bang for your buck in global warming by shutting down 30 coal-fired power plants in Texas or by raising the gas tax in China by 2 cents than you could by limiting population growth in Bangladesh to replacement level for the next 50 years.

To counter the negativity, here's a great little video by Esther Duflo on how you can use data to figure out what kinds of poverty alleviation measures work best.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:49 AM
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Focusing on population control puts the pressure on Bangladesh, not on the US

Well, when I discussed starting at home, for to set the right example, people went fucking batshit and accused me of somehow passing the problem off even though my entire point was to start at home. Then they said doing working in one location couldn't solve the whole thing, even though my intent was to solve the piece I am part of and to hope other places non-coercively followed the example.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:50 AM
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Well, when I discussed starting at home, for to set the right example, people went fucking batshit and accused me of somehow passing the problem off even though my entire point was to start at home.

Surely I offered wisely supportive murmurings throughout, no?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:51 AM
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The US in 1920 had about 100 million people, who were living far more unsustainably -- in terms of resource use trends, which is what we're talking about here -- than the 300 million people we have now.

How can this possibly be true? Nobody owned barely anything! Plastic crap wasn't be shipped by the assful from China.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:53 AM
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in terms of resource use trends, which is what we're talking about here

I worry more about quantities, not trends, since I think we're approaching limits. Trends matter too, but they matter a lot less at 1.5B people on the earth.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:53 AM
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Although I agree with the rest of the point in 177.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:53 AM
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The US in 1920 had about 100 million people, who were living far more unsustainably -- in terms of resource use trends, which is what we're talking about here -- than the 300 million people we have now

What does this mean? The resource-use-annual-growth-rate was higher?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:54 AM
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I'm sure you did, HG. I don't remember specifically, and I am surely not going back to read it, but thank you for your supportive murmurings.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:54 AM
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my entire point was to start at home.

Apparently, the plan is for California to start by shooting you.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:56 AM
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Let me try this from a different angle:

(1) The ultimate goal is to get everyone in the world to a fairly uniform standard of living that is both humane and sustainable (call it the Desirable Standard of Living, or DSL). In terms of resource use, that's definitely going to be way below a First World standard, and almost certainly above a current, e.g., Bangladesh standard. What it'll be like subjectively is going to depend on what technology and social change can do for us.

(2) There's some population over which a DSL that's both sustainable and humane is impossible, and (up to a point), the lower the population, the higher the DSL can be.

(3) Time matters. Every year we're consuming resources at an unsustainable rate, we're doing damage (carbon in the atmosphere, habitat destruction) that will be difficult or impossible (extinct species) to undo.

(4) First world consumers have to cut consumption to get down to the DSL. If we don't, we're all screwed. This is non-optional.

(5) If step (4) happens, but global population is still too high for everyone to consume sustainably at the DSL, we're all screwed anyway -- unsustainable resource consumption is unsustainable, regardless of whose fault it is. My sense of the probabilities is that we're here already, without any further population growth -- that we passed a sustainable population a couple of billion ago. Hopefully I'm all wrong about this.

(6) Any kind of non-nightmarish population reduction is going to be a slow process. So if global population reduction is a goal, as it seems to me it should be, it makes sense to start treating it with some urgency now.

I think our disagreements are mostly in steps 2 and 5; I think we agree on 1 and 4 at least.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:58 AM
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... more things like schools and women's clinics. Great. But that's not really population-limitation policy for environmental reasons.

This interested me out of that old debate. It seemed to me that most everyone supported schools and women's clinics. But I got the feeling, perhaps inaccurately, that if you support those for environmental reasons, that borders on eugenics, but if you support them for empowerment, the exact same things are great.

I couldn't understand that perspective, but my take-away was to pretend that my only interest is the empowerment side of things.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:59 AM
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185: Not to go too meta, but a signal difference between left and right seems to be the relative comfort of the latter with acknowledging the violence required to landscape their preferred Jerusalem.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:00 AM
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I guess LB's bottom line is that she just wants more things like schools and women's clinics. Great. But that's not really population-limitation policy for environmental reasons.

It's not? It'd be great if you could spin that out for me, given that I understood it was conventional wisdom that those sorts of policies do, in fact, have a significant effect on fertility rates.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:00 AM
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The ultimate goal is to get everyone in the world to a fairly uniform standard of living that is both humane and sustainable (call it the Desirable Standard of Living, or DSL). In terms of resource use, that's definitely going to be way below a First World standard

This is only true for large populations. At well under one billion, it's probably not true.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:00 AM
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190: Sure -- see the last clause in my 186(2). The lower population goes, the richer a fair distribution of resources can be. But if we can't talk about population reduction at all, talking about getting it down to a level where a First World level of resource use is sustainable seems not worth the effort.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:03 AM
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188: If I were Bob, I'd be insulted right now. What, he's not a leftist?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:05 AM
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I guess the thinking is about the likelihood of coercion. If the women's health clinics are schools are exclusively for empowerment, then the risks of coercion are very low, because that is the opposite of empowerment. But if you have other goals in there, they might start to justify just the teensiest little bit of coercion.

Eh. If coercion was never part of the plan, and you design to exclude it, the reasons behind delivering the same services shouldn't matter.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:07 AM
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180
How can this possibly be true? Nobody owned barely anything! Plastic crap wasn't be shipped by the assful from China.

Deforestation without replacement growth, strip mining, toxic dumping directly into rivers... Using Vermont as an example, in 1700 the place was something like 90 percent covered by forest, in 1900 it was down to something like 10 percent just because of being logged for wood and to clear farmland. Now it's back up to something like 80 percent, partly because of more responsible logging and partly because most of the farms have gone out of business.

185: yeah, I heard about that last night from my girlfriend, who works for the Democratic incumbent. IANAExpert, but the sense I get is there's only one of the Republican primary candidates they're worried about, and it's not this "open season on liberals" nut.

186
(5) If step (4) happens, but global population is still too high for everyone to consume sustainably at the DSL, we're all screwed anyway -- unsustainable resource consumption is unsustainable, regardless of whose fault it is. My sense of the probabilities is that we're here already, without any further population growth -- that we passed a sustainable population a couple of billion ago. Hopefully I'm all wrong about this.
I think our disagreements are mostly in steps 2 and 5; I think we agree on 1 and 4 at least.

That seems accurate. I'm not basing this on anything more definitive than you, but I don't think we're already at the population level in your (5), and I don't think your DSL is very much above a Bangladesh level of consumption or very much below a first world quality of life. I have no idea how likely it is that we actually get there, but if I can imagine a "sustainable" DSL at all, I can imagine it for seven billion people on this planet.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:19 AM
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Well, the "sustainable" DSL depends a lot on how much Nature you want to hold constant. Aside from climate change, do you want a lot of Nature (less diverting rivers means less alfalfa and less meat and people don't get lawns) or do you want a little Nature? Setting the DSL for a population isn't an independent question.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:33 AM
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This is all sort of echo-y for me, because I just this week went back to read the original Water Plan from the 50's. It was a strange look into an even more optimistic time, with lots of certainty that nature is inexhaustible and ours to control.

They projected 34 million people here in 2020, but we passed 39 million people here just this year.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:36 AM
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I wish I had a reference to back this up, but my sense is that extinction from habitat destruction and global warming are no longer as decoupled as LB suggests. That is, I think we're entering an era where the problem fom directly destroying habitats (cutting down trees, e.g.) is smaller than indirectly destroying them by altering climate faster than species can move to keep up.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:37 AM
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196.2: Give the housing bust another 10 years and the projection might still be correct.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:38 AM
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They projected 34 million people here in 2020, but we passed 39 million people here just this year.

And yet, people have a higher standard of living now in California than they had in 1950. And, consume less energy per person. Imagine that.



Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:40 AM
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Waaay back to 43:

But clearly, it's easier to arrive at a decent sustainable standard of living the lower the number of people encompassed in 'all' is.

I don't think that's clear at all. What's the minimum global population to maintain the level of specialization needed to produce an iPhone? (Not to mention SuperTrains and magickal solar-power cells).


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:45 AM
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And yet, we've depleted a lot of stocks since 1950 and are consuming more total energy.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:47 AM
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And yet, people have a higher standard of living now in California than they had in 1950. And, consume less energy per person. Imagine that.

Including all the energy they consume in foreign countries where their stuff is made?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:49 AM
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Only semi- on-topic, it's fucking infuriating to me that we'd be doing better with a climate bill than we are if John McCain had won 2008 election. The bill we have couldn't possibly have more industry giveaways if it were written solely by industry lobbyists (heh--"if"), and McCain would actually have bipartisan support for passing the damn thing. I give up.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:51 AM
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What's the minimum global population to maintain the level of specialization needed to produce an iPhone? (Not to mention SuperTrains and magickal solar-power cells).

While there's some minimum level here below which industrial civilization wouldn't work, (see the parenthetical "up to a point") in my 186(2)), it's got to be well below current population levels: I would guess well under a billion.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:52 AM
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204: I would guess the ideal global human population would be somewhere between 5 million and 25 million.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:55 AM
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(I can't imagine any realistic, non-catastophic way to get there from here, though.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:56 AM
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205: No way you'd get anything like the kind of specialization needed for modern medicine with those numbers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:57 AM
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207: Why not? (Starting with our current levels of human knowledge and technology.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:58 AM
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On preview, my half-written comment is covered by 201 and 202.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:59 AM
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I'm not even sure how to think about finding a lower limit. Maybe picking small countries, and trying to figure out what would happen to them with a total embargo on trade in anything other than natural resources -- that might give a sense of how small a population could be to stay modern.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:59 AM
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Technology solves the social problems of the very poor. Seriously, top-down funding for long-term improvement of poor countries just does not have a good track record. Education is not in the interest of local politicians in many poor places-- neither is clean water to shantytowns. There are better ways to spend money, pace Esther Duflo.

Warmer climates create more species, not fewer. The concerns are that one of the species whose population will crash is ours, that expansion of the sahara and maybe other deserts will cause famine, and that the melting ice will interrupt slow ocean currents that warm the earth, triggering an ice age.

Losing coastal cities and elevated temperatures will be an interesting new ecology to study for the people who are left.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 11:59 AM
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Warmer climates create more species, not fewer.

WTF? I know we're losing species.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:00 PM
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Pictures of trophy catches off the Florida Keys getting smaller.

Not scientific, but I don't like the implications that our standard of living has gone up without mentioning all the wealth we spent on that, which we now can't spend to maintain that standard of living in the next few generations. That wealth was big fish, topsoil, clean groundwater, atmospheric carbon absorption, big trees...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:00 PM
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212: I'm guessing lw is correct, given a time frame of millions-of-years. Possibly even hundreds of thousands.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:01 PM
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Warmer climates create more species, not fewer.

Not in the short term. Perhaps you are talking about geologic time? Definitely not in California, where we're trying to figure out how to keep cold water in rivers to keep fish species alive.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:03 PM
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The ultimate goal is to get everyone in the world to a fairly uniform standard of living that is both humane and sustainable (call it the Desirable Standard of Living, or DSL). In terms of resource use, that's definitely going to be way below a First World standard, and almost certainly above a current, e.g., Bangladesh standard.

Is any world leader currently in power doing anything to indicate that he or she is working toward this "ultimate goal?"


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:03 PM
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208: I suppose it might be possible to keep everything we've already figured out. I was thinking of the current research efforts.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:03 PM
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215: Is that because global warming or because all of the cold water is going to lawn care and onion growing?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:07 PM
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216: Nah. "Ultimate goal" was shorthand for "what I think would be a good ultimate goal to work towards."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:08 PM
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Is any world leader currently in power doing anything to indicate that he or she is working toward this "ultimate goal?"

Within my institution and the conventional discussion in my field, I find it incredibly hard to get people to develop any vision that isn't "whatever we have now, but in the future." If I frame it as a planned retreat, the conversation dies entirely. It has become a hobbyhorse of mine, almost certainly a futile one. They aren't even good at developing utopian futures. I'm gathering that people aren't good at (or trained to) developing detailed visions for the future.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:09 PM
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216: No.

See Bob way up at 113:

a commitment to sustained growth decline in the first world might mean a complete crash in equity and bond markets

What we should ideally want, globally, is incompatible with the way the financial/industrial world works.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:10 PM
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218 - both! Which means that not only are we going to have to take back water from lawns and onions to keep rivers cold at today's temperature, but we're going to have to take back even more water when the rivers are warmer and drier and there is less water overall, if we want to continue to have salmon and steelhead.

People are starting to realize this and get all squawky.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:11 PM
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217: But that was my point 150 comments ago. We're already sitting on a huge pile of technological fixes which could be easily implemented if there were some fairly reasonable political shifts. Yes, it would be great to cure MS & diabetes & cancer, and yes, it would be fun to have Romulan cloaking technology and 3D holographic chess, but right now, we have all the research we need to create a humane, consensual economic system. Most of it is just not that complicated on a tech level.

We could probably get along pretty well, technologically, with a few tens of millions of people. I would be concerned at that point though with losing cultural diversity.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:12 PM
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I'm one of those for whom not flying would be a major sacrifice so I'm biased, but I don't see why this needs to be the case. You can build high speed train networks to completely replace almost all flying up to 500 mi and most in the 500-1000 range while accepting that long distance flying and flying over water will still exist. Eliminate most fossil fuel use for electricity generation, eliminate most of it in ground transport through better zoning, mass transit, and electric and plug in hybrid cars and you've achieved enough. We don't need to reduce CO2 emissions to zero, just drastically cut them down. And in the near term focusing on those areas where eliminating fossil fuels is impossible, rather than the large amount of low hanging fruit is perverse.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:24 PM
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you are talking about geologic time?

Geologic time is tens of millions of years in my mind, evolution in response to new ecological niches is 100 to 1000 times faster.

wtf?
Biodiversity decreases sharply with latitude-- very high species density close to the equator. All known mass extinctions are caused by ice ages. Some large animals adapted to cold die as things get warmer, yes-- exception to the rule. A huge risk for people as things warm up is nasty new pathogens-- these come from the tropics also. Given some rate of habitat loss from new suburbs which consume existing species, a warmer earth means more new plants and more new beetles.

Lest I sound like a troglodyte, let me say that I would like to see coal-fired power plants heavily taxed also, I like public lands, I don't want my kid eaten by cannibals, etc. But I think the intermediate-term crisis for humanity centers on adequate food suppply, not on biodiversity.

I'm pessimistic about the possibility of meaningful cooperation among people absent the most obvious shared threat. That means that technology, which doesn't require much cooperation, is the likeliest hope; even with engineered plants, two generations from now I think that a meal of steak will be extremely expensive. Personally, I'm optimistic about the next 500 years, less so about the next 100.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:25 PM
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Biodiversity decreases sharply with latitude-- very high species density close to the equator. All known mass extinctions are caused by ice ages. Some large animals adapted to cold die as things get warmer, yes-- exception to the rule. A huge risk for people as things warm up is nasty new pathogens-- these come from the tropics also. Given some rate of habitat loss from new suburbs which consume existing species, a warmer earth means more new plants and more new beetles.

This is still nuts. Assuming warming the earth increases the rate of creation of new species by any reasonable multiple, we're still losing species much faster than that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:27 PM
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I don't want my kid eaten by cannibals

Limousine liberals and their picky demands.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:27 PM
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I know! They're forever shooting down options, but do they bring anything helpful to the table? They do not!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:30 PM
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Nobody wants to encourage cannibalism, but it will crop up from time to time.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:32 PM
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a warmer earth means more new plants and more new beetles

Yup. See 31.


Posted by: Berock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:33 PM
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Notice what is missing between "crop" and "up." Go me.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:33 PM
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224: I'd hope that in the meantime, while we're waiting for all that to happen, we can reduce our flying, unless we feel unwilling to give anything up.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:38 PM
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229: For the record: I support consensual cannibalism. Perhaps not quite to the degree of the German guy who fried his own cock in butter and shared it with the other guy who eventually ate the rest of him, but I have no objection to people making a post-mortem donation of body parts for consumption. You'd want to be careful about disease and the like, but the basic ethical issue seems to me straightforward - my body, my choice. And I choose to be made into a nice vindaloo, served with lager.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:43 PM
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a warmer earth means more new plants and more new beetles.

Sure, without people in the equation. If a warmer earth means more of that high biodiversity land near the equator is needed for farming due to arable loss at higher latitudes...


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:51 PM
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But seriously, we're in the middle of a mass extinction event right now. A possible rise in the rate of new species formation is not going to cancel that out in the next couple of thousand years, and I'm frankly not that fascinated by how it's going to end up in a hundred thousand years or so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:53 PM
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We're already sitting on a huge pile of technological fixes which could be easily implemented if there were some fairly reasonable unimaginable political shifts.

Borscht!

LB, with maybe good reason, I don't count for frowner.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:55 PM
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lw is on the right track here. All of you who are worried about the fate of the earth need to chill out and recognize that the earth is going to be just fine, no matter what happens to all the people on it.*

*If I had time, I'd find the original George Carlin skit and link it.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:56 PM
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232 Or we can all give up driving to the store for groceries. More seriously, to the extent that choosing a lower carbon use lifestyle is a useful idea on an individual basis, people should do so by making cuts in different areas of their lives depending on their circumstances. But I'm not sure it is anything more than a useless feel good measure. CO2 emissions can only be solved by government action.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:57 PM
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Perhaps not quite to the degree of the German guy who fried his own cock in butter

Well, no, never to that degree. Penis is not suitable for quick, high-temperature cooking methods.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 12:59 PM
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anything helpful to the table?

Blueberries with lemon+maple syrup is a zero-prep dessert. I'm kind of cheap, so I usually buy Chilean reds.

Latitude remark is not a policy recommendation, but a response to habitat loss vs warming. Better zoning laws and fewer ag subsidies will help preserve biodiversity more than would an energy tax.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pr0file/sets/72157623277031060/


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:06 PM
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Blueberries with lemon+maple syrup is a zero-prep dessert. I'm kind of cheap, so I usually buy Chilean reds.

You'll need to bring a meat dish to forestall cannibalism.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:10 PM
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But I'm not sure it is anything more than a useless feel good measure. CO2 emissions can only be solved by government action.

Ultimately, yes, of course, significant policy changes are essential. On the other hand, see this from Sifu's 40: I mean holy crap, a mild increase in gas prices and a recession caused domestic carbon output to decrease to like 1990 levels or something.

Is this corroborated anywhere?

Individual lifestyle changes can and should be made depending on circumstances, certainly. That they're useless, though, I don't buy: has widespread recycling really had no appreciable effect? Public education toward smallish changes can and does have an impact, and I'm unwilling to endorse the idea that we can carry on as usual until the government does something proactive.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:13 PM
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241: I gots yer meat dish right here, Moby!


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:17 PM
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I have a frying pan and some butter.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:23 PM
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From Cock Jokes to Cock Fried in Butter: Unfogged, 2003-2010.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:25 PM
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Here is a hard to believe reason for the demographic transition I had not heard about:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=when-incest-is-best-kissi


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:35 PM
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233 This is your brain, this is your brain watching Last Tango on some really bad drugs.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 1:42 PM
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there is a racist position along the lines of 'india/nigeria filled up with too many people and they should be the ones to reduce population to make the world sustainable if they want to live at 1st world standards' that is somewhat plausible

or at least that seems like a more direct way of stating some of the tensions mentioned


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 2:34 PM
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USE MARKET FORCES TO BUY UP THE RESOURCES THAT WE DON'T WANT EXTRACTED. THEN, DECIDE NOT TO EXTRACT THEM. LIKE THE NATURE CONSERVANCY. GOVERNMENTS DOING THINGS BY FIAT NEVER WORKS.

I sort of agree with this. probably the only way to stop oil from turning into CO2 is to turn it into plastic bags in a landfill.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 2:41 PM
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Modern Fiats are actually perfectly reliable cars. They're just economy cars; Italians can accomplish some really fabulous engineering when they put their minds to it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 2:43 PM
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||

Seni-on topic, about fucking time too.

|>


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 2:48 PM
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All known mass extinctions are caused by ice ages

AFAIK, not true. I think the worst, the Permian Great Dying, involved the hottest temperatures ever (outside early formation of earth)


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 2:56 PM
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to explicate further, consider two countries.

Schmindia chooses to have lots of kids. Smaller wealth for each child.
Schmina chooses to have small families. This is a sacrifice, but the benefit is larger wealth for the children they do have.

Blaming people for their ancestors' choices is shitty, but i'd like to encourages countries to be like Schmina.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 3:00 PM
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Er, Schmindia is also a democratic society where you get to vote and discuss issues without fear of the government; I really really want to encourage countries to be like Schmindia.

(By the way, I strongly disagree with this:(1) The ultimate goal is to get everyone in the world to a fairly uniform standard of living that is both humane and sustainable (call it the Desirable Standard of Living, or DSL). In terms of resource use, that's definitely going to be way below a First World standard, and almost certainly above a current, e.g., Bangladesh standard. What it'll be like subjectively is going to depend on what technology and social change can do for us.; because I think that the notion of standard of living is useless once we get to this kind of discussion unless you put in a lot more work in terms of defining it than anyone here does.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 3:13 PM
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I wouldn't generally use "strongly disagree" in a context where I meant "The terms you use aren't well defined". Are you saying that because standard of living is poorly defined, that you think the implications of the sentence you quote are something you strongly disagree with? Or just that you don't think the quoted sentence means anything coherent?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 3:26 PM
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This is where being European helps. We essentially "trashed the environment", or alternatively "terraformed it into something more to our liking", long before the Industrial Revolution - we stripped off the forests and made them into a navy. Then we industrialised long before anyone had any idea what oil was.

You don't need a car to wreck the environment - an axe (to cut things down) and an arse (to shit in the river) will do just fine.

On the optimistic side, the median age is rising everywhere, Somalia included.

(Also, I just booked a flight for which the official fare calculation included £24 of fare and £94 of taxes. I only did so because the untaxed and unregulated Eurostar fare was now something like one-third higher. Just lately, Euro* management has realised they aren't regulated economically by either side and can therefore gouge like hell.)


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 3:32 PM
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Er, Schmindia is also a democratic society where you get to vote and discuss issues without fear of the government;

Democratic yes, fear of the government also yes.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 3:51 PM
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Are you saying that because standard of living is poorly defined, that you think the implications of the sentence you quote are something you strongly disagree with?

Something like this.

(And yeah, India's not a model of civil liberties etc, but compared to China it's pretty good.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:00 PM
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I feel as if I'm giving you the third degree here, but could you spell out what the implications you see are, such that you strongly disagree with them? I promise not to be offended if you say that the quoted sentence obviously implies something ghastly that I don't, in fact, support.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:07 PM
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Well, I'm of course not keir, but I also disagree with your (1) The ultimate goal is to get everyone in the world to a fairly uniform standard of living that is both humane and sustainable., LB (for perhaps similar reasons to those of keir, or maybe for different reasons, who knows).

Anyway, it's not that I'm against higher living standards, more humane policies, etc. etc. But I don't agree with the idea of having any sort of "ultimate goal" that would apply world-wide, or to large numbers of people, or on a grand scale or etc. I mean, if I thought it really were a realistic scenario that we could come up with "ultimate goals" for large groups of people around the globe, I would actually find that quite terrifying (even when the setters of said goals were well-intentioned, as some of them might be). Luckily, it's not (yet!) a realistic goal (the goal of achieving ultimate goals, that is). But still, isn't this the sort of perfectibility of mankind project that gives liberals a bad name?


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:17 PM
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Um. The thing is, my standard of living is composed of heaps of different things that aren't measurable against each other really, and that aren't really related. (Peter Self does a good line on this, by the way.) Further, lots of those things don't correlate at all to economic issues, and even the economic ones don't correlate to environmental issues always. So to talk about standard of living like that is in my opinion a bit simplistic, and in particular opposes the right to development with rights to the environment in a way I don't approve of.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:18 PM
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260: Hubris, is, of course, a bad thing.

261: Can you suggest a term that would successfully convey 'the amount of economic resources available for consumptions to a given person'? I know what you're talking about in terms of 'standard of living' as experienced subjectively being not always tightly connected with 'amount of resources consumed', but I haven't got a better term to use.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:26 PM
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I don't want to perfect the human race, I just want 95 per cent of them living in one giant arcosanti skyscraper.
Like 50 billion.

Surrounded by dog parks!


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:29 PM
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Bob, that's completely unrealistic. We'd need at least three.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:37 PM
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the amount of economic resources available for consumptions to a given person

Thing is, I think this is a really bad idea to try and express, so I don't think it's worth trying. I don't think that most of those terms are coherent in themselves, and when you try and string them together like that it just becomes pointless.

On that happy note, I must run now.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:37 PM
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So what's wrong with GNH as a metric? Let's be like Bhutan!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:41 PM
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GPI is fun, too.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:43 PM
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Thing is, I think this is a really bad idea to try and express, so I don't think it's worth trying.

Huh. This is one of those 'total disconnect' moments where I'd need to spend hours picking at it to have any idea what you're talking about. Some kinds of resources are limited -- fossil fuel, fresh water, etc. And those of us who live in First World countries are rich partially in that we have access to a whole lot of those limited resources that people in poorer countries don't have. I think justice requires rough equalization of resource availability (and other stuff, but that too) globally, and I think the level at which things equalize, if we get there, is almost certainly going to involve less access to resources that those of us in First World countries have now.

This all seems pretty elementary to me -- there's obviously stuff you could disagree with in there, but I can't figure at all what would make it a bad idea to express the concepts I'm trying to use.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:49 PM
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228 to 265.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 4:51 PM
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"Access to resources" gets complicated. Do you include "efficiency of using resources" in that calculation? What about 'capacity for increased production." Because otherwise your point just looks like straight up old school Malthus. You seem to think that there's some finite amount of global wealth that requires re-leveling, as opposed to a the possibility of growth. Your terms are fuzzy enough so that I can't quite tell if this is what you mean, though.

I mean, sure, if productivity can't improve and population expands until the point of starvation, Malthus makes sense. It's worth considering that this isn't actually how the world works, barring some resources that are purely extractive and for which there's been little incentive for husbandry -- e.g., fish in the ocean -- at least not in modern times.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 5:18 PM
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Well, for some important sorts of resources, they do seem to me to be finite. Fossil fuels. Fresh water. Land suitable for growing food. Air capable of absorbing carbon emissions without catastrophic climate change. That kind of thing.

If it turns out to be possible for everyone in the world to live humanely (the sort of thing I've been shorthanding as modern medicine and dental anesthesia) and sustainably at a population of 9 billion, or wherever it levels out naturally, without worrying about this sort of resource constraint -- that adjusting First World lifestyles will be enough to avoid running into any finite-resource problems globally -- that'd be great and I'm worrying about nothing, population-wise. All we need to do then is solve the distribution problems that we'd need to solve in any case.

I am not convinced that this will turn out to be the case, or that it's a good idea to rely on it without strong reasons to believe that it's true.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 5:35 PM
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And come to think of it, anything I'd describe as a resource is finite. Some resources are fixed, or at least reasonably close to it, more aren't -- the amount available changes significantly depending on productivity -- but they're all finite.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 5:43 PM
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Mary Catherine at 260: isn't this the sort of perfectibility of mankind project that gives liberals a bad name?

I don't speak for LB, but I think you may be packing more into "ultimate goal" than I at least would intend. For me it just means potable drinking water, sanitation, health care, a roof over one's head, food enough to avoid malnutrition, and so on. These goals are far enough from us globally right now that offering them as "ultimate goals" doesn't seem outlandish, or even remotely to smack of some sort of 'perfectibility of mankind' project.

Agreed?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:03 PM
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88

If flying were priced correctly you'd probably see a hell of a lot more investment in bullet trains.

This is wrong. Passenger trains aren't significantly more energy efficient than planes. High energy prices make long distance travel in general unaffordable. Planes actually have an advantage over trains in that they have lower fixed costs. High speed trains need very high usage to repay their enormous construction costs and this usage is unobtainable in a high energy cost world.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:48 PM
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186

First world consumers have to cut consumption to get down to the DSL. If we don't, we're all screwed. This is non-optional.

First world consumers (as a whole) aren't going to voluntarily significantly reduce their consumption to help the third world. Any discussion that assumes otherwise is a waste of time.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 6:52 PM
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275:Correct

270:I mostly agree with Halford, although there is nothing wrong with looking for personal efficiences.

There was an old Lester Del Rey story (novel) in which the Catholic Church ruled the future overpopulated world. Abortion was banned even to save the life of the mother. After a bunch of melodrama, the final arguments were a) that the child born might be the genius that saves us all, and b) that the more births we can manage, the better chances those geniuses will be born.

I could riff on that, 1st on the level that forcing a decrease in 1st world consumption will quite likely result in war or 3rd world economic collapse (The Romans stopped consuming, what around 350 CE?)

2nd with the Del Ret, that the more growth we have, the more varied kinds of growth we have, the more the growth is spread arounf the world...the better odds that new productive technologies will be found. Moving the 1st world done to the 2nd level while raising the 3rd world to the 2nd level will not work.

Remember, the Goths and Vandals just wanted to live like Romans.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:08 PM
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I also believe the Earth/Solar System could easily support 50 or 100 billion or who knows people if we got the politics right.

And most of the problem is inefficiency and wasteful allocation. Not just defense, not just the SUV's, not just the food we throw away. 40% plus of our fucking productivity is going to finance and administration.

How many people could we educate in energy or environment science for the price of one Harvard law degree or Wall Street quant?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 7:17 PM
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Remember, the Goths and Vandals just wanted to live like Romans.

I think they were nations of seers that set out to destroy Rome hoping to kill civilization before their names could be applied to various asses at the mall.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 8:08 PM
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Genesis 1:26: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-13-10 10:23 PM
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...every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

One of my favorite phrases in the bible. "Creepeth" is a particularly awesome word.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 6:14 AM
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High speed trains need very high usage to repay their enormous construction costs and this usage is unobtainable in a high energy cost world.

Shearer is carefully eliding the difference between "energy" and "jet fuel". One needs to be priced higher to include externalities. The other - not necessarily, depending how it's produced.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 6:44 AM
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Well and the 'very high usage' is only high if everyone is flying on planes that use cheap oil instead of riding on your train.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 6:48 AM
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As an Egyptian Lover fan, I must say that the use of "DSL" in this thread is kind of cracking me up.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 6:57 AM
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I looked into reducing our carbon footprint and the horrible waste of fuel involved in flying four people entirely around the world once or twice a year (or, in some cases, SIN-EWK, EWK-SIN, but same distance) is so incredibly awful that it doesn't really make much difference what we do after that. I got whale oil burning day and night now.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 7:04 AM
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frak, I meant EWR, i.e. Newark, N.J.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 7:05 AM
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Passenger trains aren't significantly more energy efficient than planes.

James, we've had this argument here before, and I thought I had adequately demonstrated that you were talking out your ass.

284: It's not THAT bad, alameida. In an ideal world, each of those round trips ought be be carbon taxed at a level that would raise the price by ca. $400-500, to discourage consumption at the margin and compensate for the externalities. But long haul air travel will and should continue in a sustainable economy.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 7:14 AM
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285: EWK, Ewok International, is even more distant.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 7:16 AM
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287: But it's worth it to experience the funkiest airport bar you'll ever see.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 7:20 AM
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284: I, personally, am snacking on a black rhino burger as I type this.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 8:05 AM
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I, personally, am snacking on a black rhino burger as I type this.

Free-range organic meat sourced from authentic artisanal Third World producers? Hippie!


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 8:26 AM
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We're in luck. The BP investigation is being co-chaired by an honorary Mineshaftian:

At a public hearing in Louisiana this week, a joint panel of Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service officials investigating the explosion grilled minerals agency officials for allowing the offshore drilling industry to be essentially "self-certified," as Capt. Hung Nguyen of the Coast Guard, a co-chairman of the investigation, put it.

(From today's NYT piece on the depredations of MMS.)


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 1:27 PM
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Explosion-grilled minerals agency officials? What is that, a menu item?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 1:31 PM
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Drat you Ned, I wanted to post that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 1:34 PM
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Actually, I think that's Moby's line.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 1:35 PM
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286

James, we've had this argument here before, and I thought I had adequately demonstrated that you were talking out your ass.

See the table near the bottom of this article . Amtrak uses about 80% of the energy per passenger mile that planes use.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-14-10 8:43 PM
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I talked to my Mom last Sunday, and she's had plenty of screwy political views, but she's reasonably stable right now and comparatively lucid.

She said, "I think that I believe in global warming, although you wouldn't know it from..." Then, I said, you have to think of it as climate change instead of global warming. And I mentioned the point about England being colder, but Iceland being warm because of the movement of the gulf stream.

But her big question was, "What can we do about it?" And her tone clearly reflected that she didn't see how there was anything that we could do.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-15-10 5:57 AM
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There has to be some way to frame this discussion that does not seem to set off everyone's hot buttons in defense of procreation (the activity in all the world least in need of defense). "It's not the overpopulation, it's the anthropomorphic global warming that's really bad", but we can only look at part of the equation? In some fantasy world, sure; in this one not so much.

Genesis 1:28. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-15-10 8:35 AM
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it's the anthropomorphic global warming that's really bad

OMG, Bangladesh is growing ears!


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 05-15-10 8:43 AM
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Eh, -morphic ... -genic it's all anthro in the end at the start. Ask me about how to make your attempt at an earnest comment laughable.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-15-10 8:53 AM
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You can tell overpopulation is a big problem when we've got three Kobes.


Posted by: Merganser | Link to this comment | 05-15-10 8:20 PM
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All known mass extinctions are caused by ice ages.

This is not even wrong. The major extinction events we know about were tens to hundreds of millions of years ago. The current sequence of ice ages started only a couple of millions of years ago, and the glaciations happen on the timescales of Milankovitch cycles -- tens of thousands of years. Even if there were evidence of similar periodic glaciation at the time of all of the mass extinction events -- and I think there isn't for most of them, but I don't know for sure -- we certainly don't have sufficient information to resolve when they happened at the level of tens of thousands of years rather than millions and correlate that with the presence or absence of glaciers.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-16-10 2:38 AM
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