i-think Twenty-Two

Now with more coherency.

A look at the environment

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This is the first in an extended series of articles The Mill is covering examining the environment. I’ll take a logical approach to defining the environmental problems that face our planet and look at some of the potential problems with our current model of thinking.

Global Warming (which I assume is the subject of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) is probably the most prevalent environmental concern that people today are aware of. And why not? It’s simplicity (in summary, not the entire theory) is just right to get into the brains of the masses: “It’s going to get hotter, and heat melts ice”. Unfortunately it focusses on the symptom, rather than the problem.

The second issue with Global Warming is that it is being treated as scientific fact as opposed to theory. Although I suppose that this is a consequence of people’s false perception that a theory is inherently not true. Instead, I’m going to work on the definition of theory given to me by my high school biology teacher (Bill Stephenson):

“A theory is the best explanation for a phenomenon at the time”

It takes time and a substantial amount of evidence for a theory to be considered fact. Yet with the sensational nature of Global Warming, it is easy for the media to get these two aspects confused. So what are some of the problems with global warming? It’s a hard thing to prove with only circumstantial evidence. In order to accurately recognise the symptom you need to identify the pattern and prove causality. Because we are talking about weather patterns that need to be considered on a geological timescale, we need to also have taken the readings on the same timescale. That just isn’t feasible. Additionally the range of areas covered and human error need to be removed from the equation.

So rather than trying to prove or disprove Global Warming, I am instead going to look at other more solid issues. Those issues in turn are related to how it is believed global warming works.In simple terms our problem is sustainability. As far as the environment goes, it is probably the single most important thing to think about today. Thinking about sustainability allows us to look at the root cause of problems, rather than simply looking at the symptoms and not doing all that much about it.

During my Masters degree I undertook a couple of courses on sustainability and whilst I am the first to admit I’m not an expert (Henry Ford said that to think of oneself as an expert, stops innovation) I feel that I have enough of a background to get the ball rolling. Sustainability was probably the most interesting thing that was covered in my degree and applying the thinking behind it is not too hard.So, let’s deal with some facts. We have a growing population with finite resources. All resources are finite, but some resources are able to be re-used rather than just consumed, or the supply is sufficient enough that it can be considered close to infinite for our purposes (such as the Sun, which one day will stop working, but when it does if we haven’t moved to another region of space there’s not much we can do anyway).

Fossil fuels are finite. They don’t renew at a rate faster than we are consuming them. They will run out in time, and our dependency on them will ensure total chaos (I’ll go into this in more depth in a later article). As a consumer-driven society we are adding more and more to landfills every day. Not only does this take up precious space, but this is a sample of resources that are no longer fit for use.

To deal with the issue of fossil fuels we need to move to alternative, renewable fuel sources or reduce our consumption of these fuels (although this is a temporary solution). Landfill issues need to be solved purely by reducing waste. Smaller packaging that uses less resources is the way to go here. Additionally recycling and re-using resources that would otherwise have gone to landfill is vital.

There are plenty of other environmental issues to discuss and it will be tough to get into all of them (but I will try my best). In subsequent articles I will go into more detail, but hopefully this provides an adequate introduction to the sort of things that I will cover. As always I encourage your comments.