Re: The next major energy source
I think we both have an idea of what it means to exploit, that it is not desirable, and that it is an exclusively human behavior. Although i don't believe it is a universally/deterministic human behavior.
Originally Posted by TSGracchus
I really disagree here. All animistic cultures have this ethic to one degree or another. Central to animistic culture is the belief that all of nature is sacred, including humans. Animists generally believe that all animals and even non-animal nature are on an equal footing with human beings. That is, human beings are not superior to other natural features, and the flip-side, non-human nature is not subservient to the needs of human beings.
There are no cultures that possess such ethics. This is a myth. There are not, and there never have been.
In fact, our own culture comes the closest to possessing such an ethic of all cultures that have ever existed on the face of the earth, and obviously we're not nearly close enough. You are mistaking weakness for virtue.
The ethic that prevents the type of exploitative destruction of nature that is characteristic of human civilization is one of the oldest ethics in human culture.
Many animistic cultures simply just had a different worldview that prevented them from doing what we do to the natural world. This is not weakness, its simply just a different way of living with the world.
If we had any such ethic in our culture we would not be chomping at the bit to exploit the fossil fuels of the arctic (thereby destroying the animistic inuit culture), we would not accelerating the destruction of the amazonian rainforest, etc...
In reality our culture rewards those who destroy peoples who have these ethics.
Except i do not accept the theory that paleo-indians hunted the mega fauna to extinction. The evidence for that theory is lacking. Have you seen the update to this debate? I posted it on another forum:
Remember our discussion about the prehistoric native Americans and the mini-mass-extinction of large game species in the Americas upon their arrival here? Does irresponsibly hunting animal species to extinction sound to you like environmental virtue? Yet this, however disruptive it was, did not upset things enough to threaten the people's survival, and that is the key -- they did not have to change their ways because they were not powerful enough to do enough damage to undercut their own means of survival. We are the first civilization to develop conscious environmentalism because we are the first to become powerful enough that we must.
...About 13K years ago all the big mammals on the north american continent went extinct. The woolly mammoth, the mastadon, the sabre tooth cat, the giant armadillo, horses, etc...
In the world of science and humanities there has been a long and lively debate over what the cause of this extinction was. This debate is generally divided into two camps. One camp says climate change killed them (a brief ice age, the younger dryas). And another camp says overhunting by paleoindians who arrived on the scene at roughly the same time was what killed them.
Other scientists lean towards a combination of climate change and hunting.
Then, there was a asteroid impact theory. This theory now has some very strong evidence in the form of nanodiamonds located at various sites across north america. Essentially there is a thin layer of diamonds that could only have been created by extreme heat and pressure (i.e., a massive impact event), this layer was fromed approximately 12,900 years ago. This new evidence explains quite a bit.
Here is a link to the story:
Not harmony. They lived in a sort of rhythm with the other species around them though. And its not because they really wanted to kill all the animals but just did not possess the means, (and they actually did possess the means in some cases), its because they attached sacredness (spirits, souls) to those animals and forests, and it was precisely that which prevented them from destroying entire species or habitats intentionally.
Primitive peoples do not "live in harmony with the earth" because they are virtuous. They do it because they are ignorant. And even so, they aren't that
ignorant, and we may see their footprint in the fossil record and the loss of biodiversity.
That is true only if our goal is to preserve civilization. Then of course we need both a behavior change and the advancement of technology. My primary goal is to preserve a beautiful, wonderful, and ecologically diverse biosphere. I do not have as a goal the preservation of civilization. I don't believe that civilizations are redeemable.
And I still insist that that is the case. We must develop this new thing, the environmental ethic, to a more advanced level, and adopt as a collective purpose and virtue living within the limits built into nature. And to do that, we must develop new technologies that are better suited to doing so than the ones we now have. The only alternative is the collapse of civilization and a massive die-off of some 90+% of the human species.
But if we can do both, i would also accept that.
If we were forced once again to live off the land and develop our own food locally we would naturally develop the required ethics to protect those sources of food, spirituality, and the sense of beauty and wonder we get from nature. Its living outside of that arrangement that prevents us from developing any meaningful environmental ethic.
After which, having once more no need of environmentalism, because we will be once more too weak and ignorant to do the planet much damage, we will simply repeat the entire process until we come to this point again. Eventually, if we do not become extinct first, we will have to develop those new technologies, as well as a well-honed environmental ethic.
Agreed. Im just trying to make the point that if somehow modern technology was made inaccessible to us, the earth would necessarily rebound back to a ecologically rich and self-regulating state of affairs. I was ignoring the human suffering that would result.
The first of those is unworkable and the second is absurd. We have already agreed that man is a technological species and so we cannot stop using technology. Any serious cutback in technological level (which is also impossible because utterly foreign to our nature) would result in that die-off referred to above. That is exactly what we should want to avoid.
Again, only if we believe civilization must be preserved is this true.
We WILL come into harmony with natural limits, one way or another. If we don't do it consciously and deliberately and skillfully, the limits will do it to us. But that's not success in meeting the environmental crisis we face, that's failure. To do it consciously and deliberately and skillfully, we must, among other things, develop new and better tools. That's what we do. That's our survival edge. That's who we are.
Civilization need not be our ultimate goal. First we were roaming tribal bands of hunter/gatherers, then we developed many civilizations all of which collapsed except for the current one (so far). But perhaps we can go beyond civilization into another way of coexisting with the world. Why do we insist on civilization as the last chapter of the human experience?
This could be a long (but worthwhile) discussion. I'll start it off simply:
As it would not be that difficult to develop a fourfold improvement in energy efficiency, I believe you are mistaken. If fusion is developed and made workable as the OP suggests might be possible, you are mistaken regardless of improvements in efficiency. But:
Perhaps you could describe in some detail what you consider to be a more fulfilling lifestyle lived at a lower level of energy use (note: energy use
, not energy throughput
). We can all judge for ourselves whether that lifestyle would really be more fulfilling or not.
I get no fulfillment from a life spent driving to work, sitting in a cubicle, consuming gadgets, and then driving back to the house where everybody is isolated from the fellow members of the community. I have moments of fulfillment, don't get me wrong. But overall i would say (and i hear from a growing chorus of others) that the consumer lifestyle is not a fulfilling way to live. Most people who think about it seriously find consumerism to be a mostly empty lifestyle. I certainly do.
Also, we would have to define types of energy applied to what purpose. For instance, the energy i expend chopping my own wood for my own heat and cooking is very fulfilling. (something i do at different time of the year). But the same energy expended for another persons use (who is not part of the tribe) simply for a wage is not fulfilling at all to me.
I also enjoy central heating and gas/electric stoves. But their use, albeit convenient, does not bring with it any sense of fulfillment.
But expansion of food supplies is caused by civilization. This is the fundamental characteristic of all civilizations. Agriculture. (note: this is not to say that all agriculture leads to civilization, but that all civilization requires agriculture and the expansion of food supplies). Again, the overpopulation problem is caused by civilization. This remains true today. The biggest boom in population happened in the 20th century, and this is directly correlated with the inputs of fossil fuels into agriculture by means of fertilizer and mechanization.
No, that's not correct. The population problem is caused by expansion of food supplies, coupled with our instinct to breed to the limits that food supplies can support. It was a population problem in an earlier age that led to the implementation of agriculture and the dawn of civilization. There was a limit to agricultural food sources too, which limited population, until the scientific revolution led to improved farming methods and eventually to the use of fossil fuels. These discoveries allowed expansion of the food supply further, and further expansion of population, until we have reached the point where other resources rather than food -- fresh water, or the tolerance of the biosphere -- have become the ones in shortest supply. At least until the cheap oil runs out. Then food may become scarcer.
I disagree. I do not believe exploitation is an instinct. On the contrary, if most humans had a first hand experience of the damage caused by exploitation they would have an instinct to stop it at all costs. But that side of our culture is often hidden from our view.
In any case, it's pointless to explain overpopulation by reference to a feature that is common to all living things: the instinct to exploit. Overpopulation on the scale we experience is unique to the human species. Exploitation is not.
Technology does not change our behavior, it only augments or reinforces existing behaviors. I.e., technology helps a doctor save more lives or a teacher become more effective, but it also helps the logging company destroy a forest much faster, the farmer grow a higher yield crop, or the energy company more access to difficult sources of oil.. . Fundamental behavioral changes do not come via technology.
Because it has no choice. That's usually when human beings change their ways: when what was once tolerable becomes intolerable, or when what was once impossible becomes possible. And usually that happens because of advancing technology, although other material-circumstance changes can also do the same thing.
Except slavery was never abolished. It is alive and well in civilization. The benefactors are still us.
For example, you referred above to slavery (although I didn't quote it). Slavery, or at least a substitute form of coerced labor such as serfdom, was a feature of every civilization from the dawn of the Classical Paradigm until modern times. The wealth of the warrior elite was built on it, and frequently that of the merchant princes as well. It was a crucial part of all ancient economies. Then, over the course of about a century, it was gone. Why? Because of the industrial revolution, which rendered slavery no longer economically necessary or even desirable. What had always been desirable but had been impossible suddenly became possible, and so it happened.
CBC News In Depth: Modern slavery
Child Slavery, Coltan and The Congo Stop Child Slavery
Westerners absolutely depend on child slavery in the congo for the coltan that goes into our electronics. The difference is that we don't allow it within our borders cause we don't like to see it, but we are more than willing to reap the benefits as long as it remains generally invisible to our senses.
I'm far more interested in the genuine animistic ethic of earlier peoples. If we could somehow incorporate this real, emotional, and spiritual respect for nature into our daily lives we would be far better off. As long as people live lives isolated from the wild and natural world, as long as they do not depend on local resources for food, and as long as they seek to preserve civilization first, and the environment second, they will never develop any meaningful ethic that would prevent them from destroying the natural world.
Environmentalism is new, and in its embryonic stage, or (more optimistically) perhaps its childhood. It is not something that was practiced by ancient peoples except in romantic mythos. It is an entirely modern phenomenon, because it is only in modern times that there has been any need for it. Animals aren't environmentalists because they don't have to be; foragers-hunters and early civilized peoples aren't either, for the same reason -- by and large. Oh, sure, you'll find the occasional Lao Tze or Thoreau, a cranky visionary who scorns civilized life, but it's only in quite recent times that ideas like theirs have had any currency among ordinary people.
The modern environmental ethic you refer to just switches a light bulb and buys a more efficient car.... but that has no effect. There are still going to be 2 billion more consumers on this planet before the population stabilizes, and they will all want exactly what we the rich world already has - beef, cars, and ipods. They will simply use whatever tech allows them to achieve that.
Well i think it has existed, but i agree at any rate that there is no going back, there is only going forward. Technology will always play some role. I just won't get excited or enthusiastic by alternative energy technologies like fusion as long as i am convinced this culture will simply use it to promote consumerism. I.e., i would fully expect the alberta oil sands companies to employ fusion to extract more oil from the oil sands. That is precisely what they are planning on doing with fission. They are not using it to replace oil, they are using it to get more oil.
Both environmentalism as a behavior pattern, and the technology that empowers it, must move forward. We cannot move back to the sustainable society we need, because it has never before existed. We must build it new.
Last edited by Andrewl; 01-28-2009 at 03:28 PM.
“...corporations and those who run them cannot stop exploiting resources and amassing wealth until they have... .I cannot finish this sentence, because the truth is that can never stop; like cancer, they can only continue to expand until they kill the host.”
-- Derrick Jensen