Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Your Beliefs and Mine

You believe that the shortage of is the world’s great danger.

— I believe that we can easily handle changing energy technology but that is an enormous danger that must be confronted immediately, with all the commitment that intellectuals and activists can muster.

You believe that the way to solve the energy crisis is to reduce your personal “” to fit the “” of our land.

— I believe that one can reduce the “footprint” only by changing the of whole societies, and that this can be done in ways that do not cause much inconvenience or deprivation. Indeed, the global footprint and the carrying capacity are always relative to a particular prevailing technology. Whenever technology improves, it is possible for the land to support larger populations, so the “carrying capacity” increases.

You believe in reducing your standard of living so as not to consume too many scarce resources or disturb the ecosphere.

— I believe that reduction of personal is necessary in some ways (especially by not flying in airplanes) but that overall it cannot make the decisive difference. Our future depends primarily on technological innovations that enhance efficiency.

You believe that the use of technology inherently endanger the natural and that it will be necessary to use low-level technology to stay in harmony with nature.

— I believe that when shortages arise, there are many solutions — primarily through the mechanism of price signals in a market economy, which prompt innovations using resources more efficiently or substituting other materials. We have to keep aware of environmental side-effects and respond to them intelligently with economic, political, and technological innovations.

You believe that the majority of the human is doomed because of the looming energy shortage, and that we can do nothing to prevent it this die-off, nor should we, since the world will be better off with the small, sustainable population that survives.

— I believe that every human being is precious and a partner in developing our common future. We must do everything within our power to protect our species and our civilization. Moreover, we are doing so with great success. Almost everywhere on the planet, is increasing, along with improved health, , , and acquaintance with the wider world.

This improvement has been going on at least since the industrial revolution, though there have always been doomsayers predicting famine. Hunger only occurs when there is no effective demand – insufficient money to buy food. But over time around the world, the price of food and other commodities generally have declined – become less scarce, rather than more.

This is the result of improved technology. Look at the chart above, for example; it shows the real over time. The world's population has multiplied six times since the industrial revolution. If the world's raw materials were becoming scarcer from these increases of consumption, the graph would go up, not down.

You believe that economic growth is inherently destructive and must be replaced by a – one without growth. Economic growth, you assume, uses up the world’s resources and enables populations to expand, hastening the inevitable day when the world’s resources are used up and most people must die.

— I believe that is essential for the well-being of the poor everywhere, and if it stops, even the current capitalist system will collapse, impoverishing everyone. (For example, one borrows money from the bank at interest to start a business. If the business does not grow, it will be impossible to pay the principal back with interest, and the business will go bankrupt. Multiply this by the number of businesses and you'll see the outcome.)

—I believe, moreover, (and in every case, evidence supports this belief) that economic growth is famously the “best contraceptive,” for whenever nations become prosperous they reduce their so that their population levels off or declines by choice, not as the result of shortages.

— I also believe that current technology advances by deploying less material and more knowledge – intangible goods and services. saves gas, for example. We hardly even need to drive to the library anymore, since we can read journals on-line. Even newspapers are going out of business. Only travel remains an insurmountable problem; we do have to curtail flying.

You believe it is ethically acceptable to withdraw to a small farm and carry on subsistence farming, so as to live in harmony with nature, thus writing off the rest of urban civilization for extinction.

— I believe that resource conservation is morally obligatory when practicable within the society where I live. (I am glad to be living in a high-rise building, for example, near a subway, for these allow for substantial reductions in greenhouses gases.) Nevertheless, conservation is far from decisive in determining the future of the planet. What makes a difference will be the policies enacted by governments to choose among new technologies and legislate structural changes affecting energy and climate.

Policymaking and political engagement are the task of intellectuals and technological experts. Anyone capable of participating in this work is ethically obliged to do so – full steam ahead, for we are faced with the stupendous task of saving Planet Earth and its inhabitants. I count myself among the most privileged people in history, for the opportunity I have to address these problems and the hopeful prospect that they can be solved. Not for anything in the world would I abandon this challenge.

You believe the universe has no purpose and no meaning.

— I believe that that everyone who seeks, can find guidance, encouragement and consolation from sources beyond everyday knowledge. Without that belief, I might even believe many of the things that you believe.

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