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Quick Question.

Written By: - Date published: 12:39 pm, March 8th, 2020 - 61 comments
Categories: culture, Environment, Ethics - Tags: ,

Well? Would you?

Update/Edit.

Interesting that the definitive answers all ran in one direction.

The rest read as a mix of inanity and insanity to me – ie, flailing shades of denial and fear.

For those who think that giving up their current material life means having no material measure of life, I have a question.

What crucial, critical or even just useful technological development have we made in the past 150 years that is so dependent on burning fossil fuels that the knowledge and technology would be utterly lost if we gave up burning fossil? Because unless there’s a rather long list of such technologies that we can’t reconfigure or adapt to or in, a non-fossil context, I just can’t fathom the nonsense that would insist we risk a neo stone age.

Medical science was around and making advances before the wholesale adoption of fossil as an energy source. What medical advances would have been impossible without fossil as an energy source, and which of those (if any exist) would be lost without a continued reliance on fossil?

Likewise, where’s the loss in architecture or engineering? Would we suddenly be unable to grow food or provide ourselves with shelter without fossil energy? Would art and study and the ability to apply learning suddenly evaporate if we didn’t derive energy from fossil?

Is it the case that many people simply can’t imagine how they’d fill days that didn’t revolve around jobs and buying things – that those things provide, if not the sum total, then the bulk of meaning in some peoples’ life?

61 comments on “Quick Question. ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Everything humans do has some impact on the 'world'. From the time we became efficient hunter gatherers we've been changing the world.

    For instance here in Australia, before humans arrived about 50,000 years ago, the fossil record is clear that eucalypts were relatively rare. Once humans arrived and started clearing land with fire, we inadvertently created the conditions to allow the highly fire adapted eucalypt to eventually dominate the whole continent, changing landscapes and climate irreversibly.

    Nor is the idea that modern industrialisation is the sole cause of environmental degradation wholly true. In many respects the footprint of the modern human is far less on a per capita basis than our ancestors. There is no way in hell that 7.5b people could live on this planet in a pre-industrial civilisation; the reason why we can is that the general trend is for technology to decouple us from the natural world. Each tech iteration takes us one small step in the right direction. The less we use nature the more we protect it.

    But your question fundamentally comes down to this; do we stop all technology and human development and revert back to pre-industrial life, or do we press on in the expectation that not only will our population likely peak within a decade or so, but we can have our cake and eat it too. That we can continue to develop better energy sources, better resource management and reduce our physical impact on nature.

    There are technical arguments for both scenarios … I know because I've believed in both. But in the end for me the choice is made on ethical grounds, that the only way we might conceivably pass through this industrial transition, without plunging humanity into certain die-off, is to choose both human development AND protecting the natural world.

    My quick answer to your 'quick question' is that it's a false dichotomy based on our deep evolutionary framework of the world. I'm not being aggressive about this, because I see this dichotomy as very, very common and understandably so. But moving beyond it is I believe the solution to the apparent paradox your pose.

  2. Drowsy M. Kram 2

    YES – would be a good trade.

    As RedLogix observes, humans have for some time been changing the world for personal and species benefit, as our numbers have (naturally) increased. Those changes have improved the material comfort of most, and the true costs/consequences of over-population and 'improvements' are now uncomfortably apparent. Many (but certainly not all) should be able to ‘insulate’ themselves from those costs for a few generations yet.

    https://garryrogers.com/tag/limits-to-growth/
    https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/moving-away-progrowth/
    The current economic system being utilized and internalized relies on perpetual growth. It has long operated counter to the reality that we are confined to a finite planet with finite resources. Yet, this system continues to be practiced and promoted globally. As the environmental and social repercussions of disbelief in limits become increasingly clear, so does our need for a new economic system —one that is not wedded to growth. Neither growth in the number of consumers nor growth in the amount consumed.” – Erika Gavenus

  3. Robert Guyton 3

    Yes.

    • mikesh 3.1

      Obviously. But there is a question of degree. How much would you sacrifice in order to save the world.

      • Robert Guyton 3.1.1

        Sacrifice or willingly eschew? With the right mindset, ceasing to exploit the seemingly free bounty we are enjoying now would be a privilege and a blessing, rather than a sacrifice. A service to the world. An opportunity to create joy. smiley

  4. David Mac 4

    Yeah, alright, you can take my Vistacraft. But on Monday can I start on a fallen log dugout?

  5. greywarshark 6

    Yes I am hoping to. I would like to see euthanasia brought in so I could find out the best way to do it and not upset my family with some illegal carry-on. It's time to stop intellectualising and prevaricating Redlogix.

    All our accumulated knowledge and wisdom has not enabled us to apply it at suitable points in our advancement. We are born to excess, and wish to go beyond any set bounds by previous generations without coolly assessing whether or why we should not. Socrates, Jonathan Swift and Gullivers Travels for instance, were opportunities to ponder and make appropriate thoughtful controls that should have been passed on through education to the young.

    But capitalism, and its desire for growth of capital accretion was only just held at bay by religion as in the Bible it warns against riches, and encourages simplicity and charity. But religion itself is undermined by capitalism offering a tax-free advantage because it is doing good works. And that lack of taxes on churches and charities has encouraged capitalism to infiltrate the giving side of churches, and now there are 'prosperity' churches and sects that call themselves Christian as a useful mask. They can have a virtual princedom existing within the body politic, and keep any money that they make from their exploits.

    There has grown a lack of appreciation of anything; a lack of gratitude and content for having good resources and quiet enjoyment of life, but always the desire for more and to live narcistically. Money and style establish a person as worthy in society, not deeds, not good, quiet living. Capitalism doesn't like that. Draco T Bastard used to point this out repeatedly.

    • David Mac 6.1

      Oh crap, I got you a jet-ski for your birthday. Wanna have just one little go?

  6. Andre 7

    How far are you talking about going? Even a possum-fur loincloth and a long straight stick with a sharpened stone point mounted in the end are material possessions, literally.

    Also, if the answer is yes, what's stopping you doing it, right now?

    • Drowsy M. Kram 7.1

      Good questions – how pervasive is this drive for material self-improvement? Why do some desire more (sometimes much more) than they need – simply poor judgement?

      Is seeking happiness/security via material excess a bit skew-whiff? Such questions make me uncomfortable, but I'll be right as rain after a bit of 'retail therapy' wink

      • David Mac 7.1.1

        Yes they are good questions, we have this thing about hunting down happiness.

        I'm resigned to enjoying 10-30 second rushes of divine happiness, that neat warm feeling. For me it's usually triggered by natural occurrences, the innocence of children, that sort of thing.

        On an ongoing basis I think the best we can aim for is a sense of contentment. Comfortable in our skin. We need a roof and a full belly but beyond that I think an ongoing sense of contentment has very little to do with money. It has everything to do with love.

        • Robert Guyton 7.1.1.1

          This is circulating at present. I'm not sure it's genuine, but it may be."

          A letter from Albert Einstein to his daughter: on The Universal Force of Love

          «When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world. I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.

          There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.

          When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.

          This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will. To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation.

          If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits. After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…

          If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.

          Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet.

          However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.

          When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.

          I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it's too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer!»

          Your father,
          Albert Einstein"

    • RedLogix 7.2

      The people answering yes are not being clear as to what they are agreeing to. Smells like cool-aid to me.

      • Robert Guyton 7.2.1

        The question is not clear. Answering yes is as valid as answering no, or anything else for that matter.

    • mac1 7.3

      Some of this discussion is going very near Four Yorkshiremen country,

      "Possum-skin loin-cloth. Luxury! When I were a lad all we had were a belt made of a flax leaf and a few dried banana skins.

      And we were lucky!"

  7. pat 8

    unfortunately thats a collective question unable to be answered individually

  8. Bazza64 9

    If it meant living in caves, high childhood mortality rates, the threat of larger predators attacking you, no internet, no musical instruments, no telly, no vaccines, having to hunt dawn to dusk to survive, I would say no thanks, give me Maccas & pollution.

    • Robert Guyton 9.1

      No imagination.

    • pat 9.2

      have to say no telly would be a blessing

      • Robert Guyton 9.2.1

        It is. Ours went west years ago. I've no phone or watch. I do though, squeeze news out of my laptop. I'm able to exercise some discretion as a result.

        • Gosman 9.2.1.1

          Oh the irony of someone claiming having no TV is a blessing while stating that they get all their news from their laptop…

        • Jimmy 9.2.1.2

          You obviously enjoy having a computer and internet access.

          • Robert Guyton 9.2.1.2.1

            I'd willingly and happily give both up, if the effect was significant.

    • mikesh 9.3

      That is what it would have meant at some point in our prehistoric past, but the race continued just the same. The main difference between us and them is that we know what we would be giving up were we to return to that state.

      Interestingly, i.n H G Wells' novel, The Valley of the Blind, that blind race came to regard as myths those stories handed down to them from their sighted ancestors

  9. AB 10

    My material life is everything other than what goes on inside my head. (And even that is material at some electrical-chemical level). To give up your material life is to be dead. I don't think it's a helpful question – because it opens the moral door to 'solutions' to climate change that are just another form of austerity imposed on the 99%.

  10. Ad 11

    The world trades every day with my material world.

    Much of that trade is through tax.

    More of that trade with the material world is through my labour.

    Some of that is through trade with public institutions.

    Even more of it is traded with family.

    Would I? We have since trade enabled us to be human.

    So the answer is: yes I would, because I always have.

    It’s more accurate to call us homo permutatio than homo sapiens

  11. Adrian 12

    There is this to consider. One of the few jobs that pays Bangladeshi women money is the fashion industry so they can feed their children and send them to school. Without this money hundreds of thousands of children would face starvation. Yes the bulk of the industry there needs to clean up its act and that is happening but the answer to that is for us stop demanding the cheapest teeshirt possible.

    And dont say "they can grow their own food '", that is a patronising and colonial mindset that disregards the practicalities of life there.

    Btw, I don't think the answer is "go high tech "either, I thought that was our bullshit answer.

    • millsy 12.1

      The working conditions in that part of the world seem to be improving. It's the conditions that workers have l in the like of Amazon, etc that people should really be worried about now.

    • greywarshark 12.2

      The problem is the desire for profit that is insatiable. If we were willing to pay more at the demand end, would the supply end receive a rise in pay?

      Wasn't there a story about Nikes tremendous mark-up on its brand of shoes, with the workers getting the usual for that area in wages and conditions. They may have changed, but they may also have talked about changing and done very little.

      • KJT 12.2.1

        I remember buying running shoes from the South Korea factory in the eighties, for $10 when they were selling for over $300 in New Zealand. I don't think the markups have changed.

    • KJT 12.3

      Someone gave the example of, "why buy an NZ made sweatshirt for $120 when you can pay $40 for the same one made in Bangladesh".

      Well, true, but if we stopped paying the multinational who brings them to NZ, $35, we could pay the Bangladeshi worker $5 instead of 20c, still have a cheap sweatshirt and have some money left over to pay our rent, and the coffee shop owner down the road. And maybe even have some to buy that NZ wool Jersey.

  12. Billy 13

    I will never serrender my fridge full of limp carrots and plastic bags.

  13. Janet 14

    I think now is the perfect time to start scaling back,.With the Coronovirus arrival things are already becoming disrupted. Turn a "negative " into a positive. I am planting more vegs this autumn for a start…..and I sure won,t be flying anywhere!

  14. Gosman 15

    I don't think the question has been properly thought out. There seems to be this idea that the cause of the majority of the problems in the World are as a result of materialism and removing this from our motivation the World and our lives would be greatly enhanced. You may as well state that you want to remove the desire for food and water from the World. Materialism is as much a part of us as those feelings.

    • Robert Guyton 15.1

      "You may as well state that you want to remove the desire for food and water from the World."

      Utter nonsense, Gosman. That ploy is called reductio ad absurdum (Latin for '"reduction to absurdity"'), and is a bore.

    • KJT 15.2

      There is a huge difference between having "enough" and wanting the 100 metre yacht, the three mansions and the private jet.

      I remember someone saying that NZ businesspeople are content when they have obtained the beemer, the bach, and the boat, as if it was a bad thing.

      In fact, the concept of not being too greedy and having "enough" was one of the good things about New Zealand. We looked down upon people that were too conspicuously acquisitive. The Doctor, Lawyer, Dentist, Businessman, Wharfie, Road labourer and Cleaner, and even beneficiaries, lived in the same suburbs, and talked to each other.

      Now, too many people revere wealthy, to put it bluntly, unethical, crooks. Who spend their lives, finding ever more creative ways of taking our money.

  15. Chris 16

    If we're allowed all drugs – all naturally grown and unprocessed, of course.

  16. Sabine 17

    Already been doing this for a while. And its funny, the less you have to own the less you worry about shit, and funnily enough you also have more money left to pay for stuff that matters, like food, booze, and gardening tools and rescue chickens and and and…

    Above all you have more time i find.

    So Yeah, yes.

    • Bill 17.1

      Indeed. And if "the neighbours" also shifted their mind set, the developing community would open up a world of possibilities way beyond what one person or two people acting in relative isolation could ever realise.

      • Sabine 17.1.1

        this is true.

        I just find amazing the free headspace not having to 'need' all that crap gives one.

        I have a bank account, no over draft, no credit card and i live quite well. My mortgage is lower then what i ever paid rent in NZ in 20 years, and again, i only bought what i 'needed'. So life is good atm.

        But above all i enjoy the lack of stress that having all these 'wordly' possesion bring. I would like a small wooden rowing boat for fishing on the lake. But i might see if i can save up for it. 🙂 And i think that living this type of life might show others that it is quite possible to do so and live well and lack nothing.

  17. Bazza64 18

    Good thing editing your original proposal Bill, it was really a case of “Ask a silly question, get a stupid answer”

    Re fossil fuels, most of the computers we use to post on this website have some plastic content, derived from fossil fuels & also metallic content as well (shock horror – this has been mined). Maybe their is a non-plastic substitute ? If not, should we all ditch our computers & opt for a more simple life ? Most of us would say no to that.

    just because you have material things doesn’t mean can’t also enjoy quiet times, non-material things & also appreciate the other non-material things in life.

    In terms of burning fossil fuels, Heather Du Plessis Alan has pointed out that the greens take the most flights of any political party, happy to preach climate change while clearly not changing their own behaviour.

    • Bill 18.1

      I'll fess up to knowing sfa about chemistry. Maybe you can help? Is it necessary to combust fossil to procure plastic? Besides and regardless, plastic can be made from a number of sources besides fossil.

      But why plastic anyway? Pretty sure there are a million and one materials that could be used for casings, components and packaging.

      (And humanity has been mining “since forever” – I dare say there are ways to mine that don’t involve the wholesale trashing of environments…that, and a lot of mining undertaken today probably isn’t necessary in terms of its sheer scale)

      And I couldn't give a fuck about the Green Party or their MPs btw. Yes – they possibly use more fossil in a year than I've used in my entire adult life. And yes, they probably think that off-setting their flights is "a good thing" (because physics ignores off set carbon – puts it in a special wee box in the sky somewhere).

      And again. Global warming is a systemic problem and not an individual life choice problem. The solution is at a systems level.

      • Robert Guyton 18.1.1

        There's plastic and there's plastic:

        : capable of being molded or modeled plastic clay

        b: capable of adapting to varying conditions : PLIABLEecologically plastic animals

        4: capable of being deformed continuously and permanently in any direction without rupture

        5: relating to, characterized by, or exhibiting neural plasticity

      • Bazza64 18.1.2

        Bill I'm like you – know bugger all about chemistry. Yes agree mining should have less impact on the environment & that would be better for everyone.

        You say that global warming solution is at a systemic level which is probably right, but I still think that solutions will cost more (in money terms only anyway) & in the end each of us will have to pay more for that individually which is where it may come unstuck.

        France tried to tax fossil fuels to make other options more attractive, but the protestors were the people at the bottom of the financial pile who were already on a tight budget & didn't want to pay the extra tax & who can blame them ? Difficult to have a focus on climate change when you can't make ends meet week to week.

        • Bill 18.1.2.1

          Funny how when financial institutions teeter, endless amounts of money can be found to shore them up, but when the world where we live is teetering because of what we do, it's too expensive to do anything other than what we do.

          I say "funny", but y'know….

          • Bazza64 18.1.2.1.1

            Yep the bankers carry on recklessly & then the taxpayer bails them out. But the $ we are talking to fix climate change will be many trillions & will make the bank bailouts look like chicken feed. But take your point & agree.

            • pat 18.1.2.1.1.1

              the 'money' was easily found no doubt….but the finding has created problems.

              Having said that if the 'finding of trillions' was going to be done the best current use would likely be to transition off fossil fuels

            • Bill 18.1.2.1.1.2

              We don't get to 'fix' climate change (not any more than we get to fix a china shop after a bull's rampaged through).

              But where is the talk of $$ being made available to retrofit all homes so they are fit for the future climate that's unfolding before us? Not on the radar.

              The talk of the $$ to future proof an energy system and distribution/travel networks? Not on the radar.

              The talk of $$ required to ensure that other basic infrastructure remains intact and serviceable in the coming decades? Not on the radar.

              We're going to keep doing shit like a late 19th and early 20th C tech mind-set will see us through. It won't.

              • pat

                no it wont 'fix' anything…but it is a much better use of fiat currency than bailing out the banks and it will provide some mitigation

    • Robert Guyton 18.2

      If the team with the most important climate message stayed at home, vastly reducing the effectiveness of their message's reach, would you regard that as wise?

      • Sabine 18.2.1

        so you are saying that they must travel by air lest they stay at home? what about trains? Cars? Busses? Nope? That would not work for them? To 'public' a transport form? Skype for some of hte meetings? Nah, not sexy enough?

        The fact is that the team that screams the loudest seems to have the lest issues taking airplanes. Maybe its just the convenience, maybe its the fact that they don't pay themselves for it, maybe its just a 'fuck it' i do because i can. Who knows.

        But frankly, it is kind of poor optics at the very best, downright stupid at the very worst.

        But then, as per our current budget, very little to nothing for those that use public transport (generally the poor, elderly, students) but a whole lot for those that drive cars. Go figure. So green, right?

        Maybe they will use planes a little less when they get their free electrical vehicles, 'electricity' included all courtesy of the tax payer.
        maybe Bills question should be put towards them?

        • Robert Guyton 18.2.1.1

          Have you read the Green's response to the charge that their use of aircraft is excessive? Or are you just ranting, without having gathered the information? Do you maintain The Greens don't use cars and that buses are "too public for them"? That they don't Skype? That they ignore all these options because they are not "sexy" enough? Do you really characterise The Green's statements on climate change and actions as "screaming the loudest"? Do you really believe the Greens who do fly, justify their actions by saying, "fuck it!"?

          Really???

      • Bill 18.2.2

        They have "the most important climate message"? Really?!

        I seem to recall Shaw touting climate change as a great thing for business opportunities (research on cows) – also saying to the gathered audience that he felt "pollyannish" about the future – advocating for a regressive carbon tax at the same public meeting – and displaying the fact he had. not. a. clue. about integrated assessment models (IAMs) or their implicit bias, or the fact they underpinned IPCC "pathways" (pathways the IPCC itself states should not be used to inform policy) that government is basing policy on.

        Anyway…

        The question wasn't about the Greens, and there are reasons aplenty as to why I couldn't give a flying fuck about them these days. (If they ever extract their head from NZ Labour's liberal back-side, I might have a second look)

        • Robert Guyton 18.2.2.1

          Of our political parties, they have the most important climate message"

          YES.
          The post wasn’t, as you so rightly point out, about The Greens, so your comment that you “couldn’t give a flying fuck about them” seems unnecessary, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps you’d like to say something similar about other agencies that aren’t the subject of this post – Plunket, perhaps, or the Anglican Church?

          • Bill 18.2.2.1.1

            Well, "of our political parties" is a pretty low bar.

            And as for what their message may be…hmm. I'm blanking. Seriously.

            But you say it's important. Cool. So it won't be anything along the lines of "no chocolate" (as per previous Green Party lit on AGW), and it won't be "electric cars", and it won't be "throw Billy in the cells for having his limp carrots in plastic bags"…. So, what is it?

            A different colour of growth perhaps? (No. That's electric cars and associated bumf.) Low emissions? Net zero? Nope. Can't be either of them, because they do nothing to stop AGW in its tracks.

            What is it…this important message?

            edit. Just saw the edit you made to your comment. The Greens came into the thread because Bazza 64 appeared to be wanting to use them as a stick – as though anyone with any take on AGW had to be a supporter of the Green Party and therefor able to be dismissed by association.

            • Robert Guyton 18.2.2.1.1.1

              If you've "blanked" on The Green's climate change work, both in policy and through James Shaw's brokering of the Zero Carbon Bill, then there's nothing I can say that would help. I can't help wondering though, given your dismissal of political parties views and actions as "a pretty low bar", why it is you are here on a politically-focussed blog? Wouldn't it be better to haunt the Open Internet, or even Facebook, in the hope of finding a higher bar to measure yourself against? That said, I don't place much faith in mainstream politics as the door through which we might pass in order to get to a climatically-better place but I do at least have a view on which of those parties is most likely to have the most beneficial effect on us all. I don't expect any of them to be as good as I would like them to be, nor to produce miracles, but when it comes to voting, I will be voting for the party that is best, or perhaps, least worse.

              • Bill

                I blanked on what might be reasonably viewed as "important" and covered off swathes of their supposed work in that comment. And…

                why do you imagine I'm measuring myself against anyone or thing? The comparison you brought into the conversation was between the Green Party and other political parties.

                Anyway. I do hope your comment doesn't presage another year for the "the lesser of two evils" merry-go-round. Because that ride's so mind numbingly dull and stupid.

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