In an after-class discussion with Dr. Meyerson, he framed the major approaches to addressing global warming/ecological damage issues as Technology, Attitude, and Population. I am, of course, in the Technology camp.
The Attitude camp thinks we can fix global warming if we just all wake up to how messed up things currently are. Any political solution is also inherently a “Attitude” approach to the problem. While I fundamentally agree that if we all had full cognizance of our senses and access to the appropriate information we would not be burning gigatons of life’s ancestors to get to WalMart, I think the Attitude camp ignores or diminishes the strength of the artifactual space in dictating the differential expression of attitudes in behaviour.
The Population camp thinks “there are too many of us” so population control is the way to reduce our ecological footprint. While I believe that the single most important goal in the human sphere is that of an Earth where all women are treated equitably, and that the means to control one’s fertility is a core component of said treatment, I have a hard time not shuddering at this argument.
When I hear it, it is mostly expressed by US citizens, who are among the least denesely populated societies on Earth, so I can’t help but wonder which “us” is overpopulated? Surely it can’t be all those skinny brown people over There, could it? Or all those hispanics that have recently moved into someone’s neighborhood? I certainly have heard and read an extraordinary number of thoughts along these lines, independent of any discussion of population control as an ecological act.
When we talk about “reducing global warming” we usually mean something that results in fewer molecules absorbing/emitting infra-red (mae-IR) in our atmosphere, and much of the means to that end involve looking at those current patterns of activity that increase mae-IR. Analogously, when people talk about “reducing population” as a virtue, I feel it lends moral support to anything that reduces the population.
The Ethical branch of this argument says we’ll get there through birth control alone, but I have also repeatedly heard people attempt to diminish the scope of disasters, like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, using the “population control” argument.
Even if they’re not willing to take that stance on such a concrete example, a depopulationist will generally consider the gravity of disasters that haven’t happened yet, like the next flu outbreak, to be lessened because it will diminish the population.
I think that a focus on Population is a really bad idea, because the discourse surrounding it is too infected by racism, thinly gilded eugenic agendas, and outright dictatorial implementations. While a brilliant and ethical person focusing on population problems might produce excellent monographs, I suspect that their work will be used to justify the next generation’s one child policy or ethnic cleansing. Ultimately, even in the most ethical adherents to this approach, it seems to be coupled with a disdain for humanity and an essential hopelessness – that we are bad things and the only way to make it better is for there to be less of us – that I think are deeply corrosive.
So finally we get to Technology. The simple reason why our artifactual space will be the primary mover in returning mae-IR to a pre-Industrial concentration is that artifacts are the component of human society that evolves mae-IR (you could think of humans as a particularly stinky sort of plant life, in that sense). Although most anthropogenic CH4 evolves from the posterior of ruminants rather than from smokestacks, given the climate impact and “life history”, as it were, of animal domestication makes it meaningful to consider a Cow to be a technological artifact. Regardless of its historical status, today the Cow is fully a human artifact.
In my first week’s reading for my Climate Change class, there’s this graph showing temperature fluctuations from 1000 AD to the present, and it shows basically a random walk (i.e. an unchanging average) leading to a linear increase from the 18th century all the way to the present (with a brief respite courtesy Mount Pinatubo.)
That didn’t happen because of anything but fossil fuel combustion, and it’s not going to be fixed by anything that doesn’t come out to a complete phase out of fossil fuel combustion. Since there is no substitute for fossil fuel combustion that is not a “technology”, there will be no solution that is not a technology.