What to do?

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What to do?
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Is business blowing up the earth?
◦ and if so, what can/should we do about it?
◦ Can the average person benefit
from business growth?
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Man-made greenhouse gases such as CO2
can (and to at least some extent do) cause atmospheric
warming
Most Ph.D. climate scientists believe the
current trend would produce disaster
A few equally qualified scientists disagree
sharply
Today’s climate management programs are
far too weak to control warming in
mainstream models
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Government-mandated change that the
mainstream models encourage might have
serious negative effects on the economy
◦ But Silicon Valley would be a winner
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Today progress is disgustingly slow by
measures based on mainstream science
◦ But wastefully aggressive according to skeptics
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Maybe we can clarify our minds by looking at
a bigger picture
Unfortunately, much of it isn’t pretty
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They don’t point to other disasters as big,
immediate, and dramatic as global warming
scientists predict
But the variety of major human impacts
suggests we have serious problems
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There does seem to be enough time and
technology to address most of these
problems if today’s activism is the start of
long-term efforts
But what does the path to a stable and
still-wondrous world environment look like?
◦ No one – certainly no business spokesperson – has
a credible answer
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“We have created a regime of perpetual
ecological disturbance, as if we had
organized a grand global plot to do in species
less cagey than ourselves
“But we are not so clever as that. The regime
of perpetual disturbance is an accidental byproduct of billions of human ambitions and
efforts”
- McNeil, p. xxiv
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The news isn’t all bad, but it shows how
much human impact is worsening things.
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Earth’s skin of soil
Earth’s outer shell of rock
Waters on and near the earth’s surface
Atmosphere
Biosphere – the ‘community’ of all living things
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The most advanced change
◦ We use at least 150 million tons of inorganic
fertilizer
◦ Most isn’t consumed by plants, so ends up as
pollutants
◦ Intensity of cultivation causes erosion, makes land
unusable
◦ Manufacturing, mining, military work also render
land unusable
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The area ‘degraded’ by human action is 2
billion hectares - about equal to the area of
the U.S. and Canada
◦ 430 million hectares (1.66 million sq. miles) has been
‘irreversibly destroyed’ by erosion – about 7 times
as large as Texas
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Vast quantities of pollutants
Many (sulfer, nitrogen oxides, soot) have been
controlled during periods of economic growth
◦ From the 1960s, politicians campaigned for
pollution control
◦ Businesses invented ways to do it at reasonable
cost
◦ Air pollution declined dramatically in developed
countries
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But in the majority of places it still is likely to
be getting worse
Globalization of air pollution is much greater
after 1950
◦ Particulates (soot) killed 300,000 to 700,000 a year in
cities annually in the 1990s
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10s of millions killed by contamination
 Mercury from factories such as at Minamata, Japan
 Diseases from urbanization affecting water sources
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Dams, etc., enable us to consume about 17%
of the earth’s freshwater run-off
This produces much food, electric power
But about 10% of irrigated land is now
affected by salinity that accumulates in
irrigated systems
Today the amount of land abandoned due to
salinity, etc., is about equal to the amount
opened by new irrigation projects
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Asteroid impacts caused disappearance of
species at rates comparable to today
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We’re pumping aquifers faster than rain
percolates into them
Countries seem to be taking land out of
international trade without real plans for how
to use it effectively
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Except possibly for soil on a large area of
earth, most of the earth’s endowment of
natural features is not yet ruined
Extinctions since 1600 are very fast by
evolutionary standards, but only 484 animals,
654 plants of 14 million species are known to
be gone
◦ Most extinctions are on islands or in freshwater
lakes
◦ Larger creatures are going faster – 1% of mammals
& birds went extinct 1900 to 1995
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He glorifies activists (mostly anti-business),
but
doesn’t mention Soichiro Honda’s crucial
work on low pollution engines, for instance
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Predicts we can’t feed 9.2 billion people
expected by 2050, insists we need to limit
population to
8 billion (just 17% more than today!)
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Cut carbon emissions 80% by 2020
◦ 12 years from when he wrote!
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Stabilize population at 8 billion or lower
‘Eradicate poverty’
‘Restore the earth’s natural systems’
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Advocates many changes in market
mechanisms
◦ ‘total cost’ of gasoline is $15 a gallon including
environmental impact, so require that drivers by
charged that much
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Much top down planning
◦ ‘Adopt wind power like we adopted PCs’
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Brown’s approach would create lots of jobs
for Silicon Valley MBAs and engineering
managers!!
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