The Philosophy of Global Warming


If you are interested in the relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth, individual and collective human purpose, evolution, cosmology, the nature of reality, astrology, spirituality, and how all of this relates to global warming & the environmental crisis of modernity, then I am sure that you will like my new book 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'. In the post below I have provided the book description, the list of contents and the first two sections of the book. You can find out how to get hold of the book by clicking on this link:

The Philosophy of Global Warming





Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Human Population and the Environmental Crisis

I have recently had several encounters with people who think that the human population should be restricted or reduced ‘for the sake of the planet’. Anyone who has taken a course in Environmental Studies will be aware of the basic Environmental Impact formula:

 

EI = P x R x T

 

In other words, the total environmental impact of humans on the planet (EI) arises from a combination of three factors – the number of humans on the planet (P), the average per capita level of resource use (R) and the technological efficiency of producing these resources (T).

 

My encounters got me thinking about the nature of this formula. It is a very simple formula, if P increases then EI increases, if R increases then EI increases, and if T decreases then EI increases. However, behind the simplicity lurk a number of assumptions and complications. The primary assumption is that any increase in EI is bad. The primary complication concerns the nature of EI. What exactly is EI?

 

Let us first consider the primary assumption that any increase in EI is bad. This means that any increase in P or R, or any decrease in T, is bad. Now, one might believe that in the distant past, when P was very low, that an increase in P was not bad. If one believes this, then one is surely correct. However, it is important to recognise that in the distant past the EI formula did not exist. The very fact that the EI formula was devised indicates that humans see increases in P and R as a problem, as a bad/dangerous thing. So, I am suggesting that the assumption lying behind this formula has always been that any increase in EI (any increase in P or R, or any decrease in T) is bad; this seems to be intrinsic to the formula. Have you ever heard anyone say any of the following?

 

 

For the sake of the planet I think that the human population size should be increased.

 

For the sake of the planet I think that all humans should
consume more resources.

 

For the sake of the planet I think that we should use resources less efficiently.

 

 

I doubt it! The assumption is always that ‘for the sake of the planet’ equates to reductions in EI, not increases in EI. Do most humans really know what is in the interests of the planet? Or, do they just assume that they know? When everyone (or almost everyone) unquestioningly assumes something to be true, then there is a reasonable chance that they are wrong! Indeed, from the perspective of my philosophy, the almost continual increase in EI from the bringing forth of the human species to the current day, can be seen as a good thing. This continually increasing EI is effectively a direct measure of the growing strength of the force to environmental destruction. And, as we have seen, the growing strength of this force is a good thing, a sign that life on Earth is thriving and heading towards a successful technological birth.

 

Let us now consider the nature of EI. It doesn’t seem to be a very useful thing to imagine. EI is an attempt to envision the total environmental impact of all humans that live on the Earth; it is a formula, an image constructed in the human mind. ‘Out there’, on the planet itself, there are simply a diverse range of individual environmental impacts. Believing that any reduction in EI (this creation of the human mind) is a good thing has some seemingly unsavoury implications. For example:

 

 

1.      If 50 humans die in a motorway pileup this is good, as reductions in P reduce EI.

 

2.     If unemployed people are put to work using simple technology, in the process replacing technologically more efficient machinery which requires no human labour, then this is bad, as reductions in T increase EI.

 

3.      If 100 people move out of extreme poverty/near starvation and start eating more food this is bad, as increases in R increase EI.

 

4.      If 100 people start eating less food and move into a state of near starvation this is good, as decreases in R decrease EI.

 

 

 

I am not convinced that we should see any of these things (these changes in EI) as being either good or bad for the environment. I am not convinced that these supposedly ‘good’ eventualities (the reductions in EI) would be ‘for the sake of the planet’/beneficial outcomes for life on Earth. I think we would be much better off simply looking at individual situations/problems and giving up on the EI formula. When we do this then we can give up the simple idea that increases in P, or increases in R, are automatically bad.

 

For example, one major environmental problem is biodiversity loss. If P or R increase in a particular location this might lead to a serious loss of biodiversity. However, if the same increase in P or R occurred in another location there might actually be a resulting increase in biodiversity. The realities of the state of the planet cannot be adequately captured in a simple formula.

 

Another major environmental problem is climate change. I am sure you can easily appreciate that P and R can increase without having any impact on the climate; this means that EI would be increasing but that this wouldn’t affect this environmental problem (although there could be a tipping point past which an increase in EI would have an affect).

 

Then, of course, there is human-induced global warming. Let us look at this environmental problem from the perspective of the EI formula. The assumption is that an increase in P (or an increase in R; or a decrease in T) is bad because it contributes to global warming. So, ‘for the sake of the planet’ P should be reduced, or maintained, or restricted in its growth. You will be aware that I believe that a proper assessment of the situation that we are in reveals that this environmental problem needs a particular solution; this solution is the active technological regulation of the GMST. So, this means that maintaining P, or restricting the growth of P, or reducing P, is not a solution to the problem. Future changes in P are of minimal significance to either the problem or the solution to the problem. The EI formula effectively becomes redundant. Future changes in P, R and T will affect EI, but they will not affect this environmental problem, or its solution, in any meaningful way.

 

So, the EI formula doesn’t seem to be that useful, and it also leads to simplistic broad-brush thinking. For example, ‘for the sake of the planet we should reduce P’.

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Monday, 4 June 2012

Technology & the Environmental Crisis

You will probably be aware that the phenomenon of technology is central to my philosophical worldview. The human species IS that part of life on Earth which has become technological, and it is this fact that distinguishes the human species from the rest of life on Earth, this fact that elevates it to a position of 'superiority'.

In my writings I have outlined why it is obvious to me that technology is in the interests of life on Earth, obvious that the bringing forth of technology is a positive event in the evolution of the planet. This view does not entail that ALL aspects of technology are positive/beneficial/in the interests of life on Earth. Indeed, such a view would be blatantly absurd. Everyone knows that technology has both positive and negative aspects.

Yet, when it comes to the environment, people typically have a very polarised view of technology. The neo-Luddites see technology as a wholly bad phenomenon which is the cause of the environmental crisis. At the other extreme is the view that whatever environmental problems arise technology can provide a solution; technology is conceptualised as a silver bullet, a panacea.

Sometimes people mistakenly believe that the Silver Bullet view of technology is part of my philosophical worldview. The reason for this mistaken belief seems to lie in the conflation of two different beliefs: 1) The belief that the evolution of technology is a positive event for life on Earth. 2) The belief that technology can provide a solution for every environmental problem. These are two very different beliefs; I advocate the first belief and reject the second.

In my latest book:


I outline the environmental realms in which technology is obviously in the interests of life on Earth. I also outline the environmental problems which seemingly cannot be solved by technology; non-technological solutions are required. A serious view of the place of technology in an evolving planet needs to do this, needs to embrace both the positive and the negative aspects of technology. Technology simultaneously eliminates risks which threaten the survival of life on Earth, and presents a danger to life on Earth. A serious approach to the 'environmental crisis' needs to outline which areas require technological solutions and which areas require non-technological solutions. The extremes of the neo-Luddite view and the Silver Bullet view are equally useless.

In a broad sense the suffering caused by technology is crystal clear for all to see. When one hears on the news, as one regularly does, that a bus full of children has crashed and that the vast majority have died, what is one to think? One thinks if it wasn't for the technology of cars/buses etc. that this death and suffering wouldn't have occurred. One wonders: Why on earth do we whizz around at 80 miles per hour in bits of metal in confined spaces? Of course, the death and suffering which results from such whizzing about is a wholly negative effect of technology, but it is a price to be paid for the benefits of technology for life on Earth. Non-human animals also suffer immensely because of technology. Hit by cars, ripped to shreds by airplane propellers, shot by guns, harpooned in the ocean, killed by wind turbines. The suffering is there for all to see, a price to be paid for the benefits of technology for life on Earth.

There are good grounds for believing that the suffering caused by technology will reduce in the future, whilst the benefits will become exceedingly clear. When this happens a widespread reconceptualisation will be possible - the human species, as that part of life which has brought forth technology, is the saviour of life on Earth. The earliest stages of technology are the most dangerous ones. As time progresses technology can be more effectively controlled and suffering can be greatly reduced. For example, in the future the amount of road deaths looks set to be slashed as technological advancements enable cars to be self-driven. The Metro newspaper reported on Wed 30 May 2012 that ('Convoy of driverless cars completes 200km test run'):

"a convoy of self-driven cars took to a public road for the first time. The convoy of Volvos kept a gap of 6m (19ft) as they travelled at speeds up to 52mph for 200km (124 miles) on a road outside Barcelona. The test cars were fitted with cameras, radars and laser sensors that allowed them to maintain a gap as they copied a lorry, which was controlled by a professional driver."

Clearly, the suffering resulting from the bringing forth of mechanised vehicles and roads initially increases as they spread over the Earth. However, there becomes a tipping point, after this point technological advances enable the suffering to dramatically fall. In this realm, and many others, technological solutions ultimately reduce the suffering which was previously caused by technology.

Whilst there are these grounds for optimism, it needs to be remembered that technology is a complex phenomenon. In some areas technological development provides large benefits for life and no risk or suffering whatsoever (when the realm is considered in isolation); for example, the technology to protect life from a meteor strike. In other areas, such as geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere, there is an absolute need for the technology, but there is also risk and a potential for suffering. In this realm, one naturally hopes that the technology will 'work first time'. But, as with the evolution of technology in the realm of road safety, there is every reason to expect progression. In other words, there will be lots of small-scale experiments which don't go exactly as planned, but these will lay the foundations for a technological solution which provides vast benefits and negligible deleterious impacts.

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