Friday, August 1, 2008
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight
Like many people who write for blogs, I sometimes have a lot to say and, at times, have very little to say. There are days when I can bang out 3 or 4 posts a day and days when I have no time, energy or wits to get going on a topic. Generally speaking, this translates to a buffer of posts which I can schedule to be posted one at a time. At any given time, I tend to have 4 or more posts in the buffer so I don't have to give a second thought to days when I'm not up to writing.
Keeping what I've just said in mind, I have a simple math question for my readers. If I have a buffer of 5 posts and I use them up without creating any new ones, what will happen? The answer is, of course, I can't continue to post. More have to be created.
"The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight" is a book I'm reading which endeavors to make this point clear. The only difference is that it's talking about planetary resources instead of blog posts. The basic idea is that a great deal of what we have been consuming for the duration of humanity's time on this planet has been the result of interactions with the sun. At one point in time, the earth was covered with miles of vegetation which eventually became the oil we have been using up. As we consume the oil far faster than it is replenished by the earth's natural processes, we're using up the buffer built up over hundreds of thousands of years in record time. We like to ignore the fact that we're emptying that buffer or pretend that there are hidden caches somewhere that will allow us to consume indefinitely, but we're just fooling ourselves.
The book also covers issues such as deforestation and desertification and it discusses all these issues in a very clear and easy to understand way. In fact, I daresay few books speak so clearly to the reader about these topics. It's actually a very hard book to read from an emotional standpoint. Reading about all the things that are happening to the planet which I have no control over makes me feel helpless and desperate.
The point of "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight" isn't to depress you or scare you, but rather to raise awareness and (supposedly at the end...I haven't got there yet) to inspire you to change your lifestyle to one which can be supported by sustainable resources rather than continuing to empty out the earth's coffers, which took eons to fill, in just a dozen or so decades. If you can't control your frivolous consumption after reading this book, then you probably have a shopping-related disorder or no social conscience whatsoever. The cost of the little trinkets we buy for temporary amusement and later toss away is far greater than the money we spend on them.
As I read this book, there is one inescapable idea which keeps running through my mind. It's not a comfortable one, but it's impossible not to think it. There needs to be population control. The fact that the planet can't support the number of people living on it is so glaringly obvious that I can't believe more people don't take this into consideration. I'm not talking about Chinese-style policies for dramatic cuts in growth, but rather about people slowly putting the brakes on it such that the population worldwide gradually shrinks.
Unfortunately, a lot of people will use denial or weak rationalizations when it comes to considering environmental problems. While discussing this in an on-line forum, I was told that the idea that deforestation harms the planet was bullshit. The poster knew this because that's what he learned from Penn and Teller's Bullshit television show. He advised me to watch it so I'd learn "the truth". Strangely, I find a non-fiction book on the topic which gives details about how leaf canopy size and how deep roots of older trees affect oxygen replenishment and carbon dioxide (and carbon) more compelling than a T.V. show by a couple of sarcastic and profane magicians. I'm irrational like that. However, if listening to Penn and Teller helps some people with their internal denial dialog and a book negates it, then listen to Penn and Teller they shall.
I also once read a comment by a woman on the idea of trying to control population to take the burden off the earth who said that she had 6 kids because she believed that, if the population is reduced, those who remain will simply consume more. Her attitude was that she'd do whatever she wanted and everyone else could just get by with less. The thing that troubles me is not that I'll have to get by with less. In fact, I'm old enough now that it's unlikely that I will suffer the very worst of what might come to pass and I already am getting by with much less than the average American (much, much less). The thing that troubles me is that in the future the choice will not be one of more or less, but one of nothing at all. If you love children and care about their future and quality of life, wouldn't it be better to have only one or two and keep in mind that if everyone did the same, all future generations would have an improved quality of life?