Weighing the Future

One of the criticisms directed at the 'Green' movement is the lack of ability to offer workable alternatives. It appears that much discussion around the nature of problems we (man and womankind) largely make for ourselves, and the attempts to find solutions to, is largely academic.

If meaningful discussion or political action doesn't result in actions of a practical nature; that actually work to address our problems or indicate where solutions lie; then it is a waste of time. This applies of course to any political group or movement.

One other associated problem is the small scale and often fragmented nature of individuals or organisations efforts to effect change. It appears often to be irrelevant or meaningless to the greater population or doesn't reach them as a possibility at all. If we cannot reach and engage ordinary people of both the need to change and the benefits of that change then we will fail to achieve anything of consequence.

It is also apparent that the political system in NZ (as elsewhere) appears completely dedicated to forcing succeeding Governments to focus too often on re-election. This means that action that could be taken that has as it's goal information sharing or involves robust discussion publically often does not occur.

This is effectively a betrayal of ordinary peoples trust, in a system that will likely be seen to be incapable of delivering what is crucially needed for the future.

The expectation that we can rely on politicians to guide us and get things right appears to thus be hopelessly optimistic. It is my view that it is only by creating real change in our own lives that we can raise that same expectation in others.

Criticism of our economic system for example is widespread, but very few of us are hearing or discussing in a practical way what our other choices are!

Walking through any of our cities, observing peoples preoccupation with media inspired issues of little real value but based around endless consumption – despite it's ultimate impossibility – we might wonder where hope lies.

In saying that however it is clear that many individual efforts making incremental changes could one day effect a landslide of change.

It becomes more likely then that the most effective way to create change is by operating our own lives in a way that reflects the responsibilities we have to ourselves, our children and the natural world surrounding us. This is dependant on adequate information reaching those capable of acting responsibly or motivating such action.

By far the biggest 'pandoras box' we have broken into, that has allowed our populations to grow exponentially for several decades; has been our profligate (Oxford dictionary: shamelessly extravagant) use of ancient carbon, stored and compacted over millions of years; being released in less than 200 years in the form of fossil fuels.

It is little wonder that one sixth of the global economy is dedicated to harvesting this amazingly flexible substrate and energy source.

It is this energy that has allowed a huge number of us to progress beyond the literally hand to mouth existence that early populations of humans – even up to only two hundred years ago , and many still– were and are forced to endure.

Unfortunately, we aren't going to be able to continue like this!

There are two main reasons for this.

One is that it has been clearly shown that this oil and gas resource is finite, and is likely to drop off abruptly, probably within the next ten years.Not only the future of fossil fuels, particularly of oil, but also many other resources including water especially and minerals, looks problematic to put it politely.

While there can be relevant debate about how much oil for example is left in the ground, the reality is that future barrels will be much more difficult to extract relative to the past. Energy Returns on Investment (EROI) describes the amount of effort (energy) needed to get one unit of a resource we want to extract. To extract the next unit, our effort has to increase compared to the past, as we have exploited the most easy to find resources. The need to exploit deep ocean oil reserves is an obvious example of this. Prices of resources will rise accordingly while demand either stays the same or increases.

And two, that if we do not voluntarily change our technological and energy systems away from dependance on fossil fuels, we can assure our children that they will inherit a world that is going to become increasingly difficult to survive in. And that the biodiversity that we currently enjoy will also be increasingly seriously depleted, as the impacts of climate change make themselves felt.

If you wish to read further information regarding some of the scientific basis behind what is widely referred to as 'peak oil' and 'climate change' check out the Notes associated in this site.

The second primary concern,itself intrinsically related to peak oil is that of climate change.

Nowhere is a more cynical assessment of politicians reinforced than the recent 'Copenhagen' summit (2009).

Unfortunate self interest accompanied by what can only be described as ignorance is on the one hand leading to countries like the Persian gulf States refusing (through consensus ruling) to allow the UN to even investigate the impact of reaching a 1.5 degree global temperature rise. (Bonn 2010). Ignorance is bliss apparently.

On the other hand these oil rich states and China are buying up large tracts of the African continent to secure food, water, and in the case of China also, energy supplies. One wonders also at the new colonialisation we may be experiencing in NZ as we continue to sell off primary production assets to this massive economic beast to our north, that shares so few of our own cultural desires.

Meanwhile on the sidelines in Bonn some months later, talks have also warned that the world was heading towards 3 C of warming based on current projections and policies by 2100.

“Current science indicates a virtual certainty of exceeding 1.5 C with the likelihood very high of exceeding 2 C., and a 50 percent chance of exceeding 3 C”. (Potsam Institute for Climate Impact Research).

A 3 C increase will be catastrophic for most lifeforms on this planet. There will be, no shelter, once tipping points associated with positive feedback mechanisms create a rollercoaster effect of uncontrolled change.

With the failure of clear direction in general society then, leadership is then left to those who are concerned, aware and have the choice, to move in the directions indicated by any 'new Narrative' . Hopefully with enough people making changes incrementally and setting precedents and examples of holistic living, we can ultimately create an 'avalanche of change' that will carry the day in a much broader sense.