Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Proposal for an Individual Citizen Response to the Problem of Global Warming

18 March 2007

In Canada, the
Liberals have just proposed to tax Canadian industries to resolve the problem of global warming. In my book, this places them in the same unredeemable category to which the Conservatives assigned themselves when they determined to assure continued government revenues by taxing income trusts.

The layers of hypocrisy behind the notion that industry should foot the bill for the problem of global warming are mind-boggling. As though industry is not providing goods and services consumed – and desired – by the general public!

I am not one of the skeptics that human activity causes global warming. I think the balance of probabilities is that it does. But it is a separate matter entirely to suggest that this is yet another problem that we bill to industry. In Canada, the Liberals have a lengthy history of such boondoggles, and the present situation now offers no political choice, as the Conservatives are punishing industry and investment by taxing the income trusts, and the Liberals propose to tax productive companies to settle the account for our guilt-offering for global warming.

I have studied enough ecology to recognize that human activity impacts the environment, and there is no doubt that human activity is ecologically disruptive. Asia has now joined the wave of rising expectations, and the ecological impact of Asian economic growth will be unimaginable, as well as uncontainable.

I think I may be in the minority in believing that we need smaller numbers of people on our planet living better. Perhaps that would be the ultimate human challenge – to decide how to limit out population – without resorting to the coercive tools of dictators (among whom I include the Liberals and Conservatives of Canada). How would free people choose to limit their population – and do so cooperatively?

I know the Chinese are just now coming out of their period of the one-child policy, yet there are some estimates that the Chinese population could be as high as 1.5 billion souls. Believe me, we will not have 1.5 billion Chinese living a North American lifestyle without far-reaching and damaging global ecological consequences.

I do not believe it will work to tax or otherwise punish people for having children, so there has to be some other scheme to bring about voluntary population reduction.

The Africans are solving the problem by indiscriminately sharing communicable diseases with each other – often under coercion, as well as by engaging in seemingly interminable ethnically and ideologically-based genocidal atrocities. I see this as the most undesirable of all responses to the population problem.

The rising socialist governments of Latin America are doing it by robbing from the rich to pay the poor (most of this being filtered by government agents on its way down). Mr. Mugabe in Zimbabwe has demonstrated definitively that this policy does not work (and Mr. Putin will demonstrate it yet again in the new Russia).

The Arab nations are failing in their efforts to distribute the wealth of the oil boom, and this, along with Western reactionism, is feeding the mood of jihad across the Muslim world.

The desperate solutions of the third world represent in my view the worst of all possible answers to the problem. The danger signals are loud and audible, and the first world is no more secure than the so-called third world.

Yet there is also no leadership in the first world – if we may still call it that – only shallow, ideologically-based “politically correct” reactionism in which one politically-motivated entity shifts responsibility for addressing the problem to another politically defined group – with the hope that by doing so their hands will be washed clean of the implied personal responsibility for responding to this gradually unfolding but all too evident crisis. The first world solutions, from UN bureaucracies to legislated carbon emission levels to Canadian corporate taxation schemes, are every one of them reactive, coercive, punitive and ultimately counter-productive.

Every proposed scheme is patently doomed to fail, and the shortcomings of the proposals are so apparent that any child could see the certainty of their failure before their implementation is begun.

If there is a solution to global warming, it will inevitably have to address the fact of ineluctable human population growth, as well as individual human lifestyle choices. More difficult still, any workable solution will have to affix the problem at the level where responsible action is possible – in the sphere of individual human choice.

The necessary end – human population reduction and voluntary lifestyle change – will certainly be enforced by nature if it is not first advanced through human action.

Therefore, the problem will be solved, whether passively, through the “blowback” of natural systems in response to human disruption of the ecosystem, or, also undesirably, by the failure of human civilization through global warfare or anti-globalist and inwardly-focused nationalism, regionalism or ethnocentrism, or – and this is what I very strongly desire – actively, through voluntary and collaborative human action.

I prefer the latter option, though I do not know how it can easily unfold. That is, I am not sure how it is even possible to get “there” from “here.”

How would individual humans voluntarily determine to limit their reproduction, as well as, moreover, to live a simpler and more local way of life with reduced environmental impact, simply because it would assure human quality of life and our survival as a species? Our daily decisions are, in essence, never based on such considerations.

I have no grand scheme to offer. I do not think the solutions will be either comfortable or easy in the reflexive sense. This is not because the solutions would fail to improve our quality of life. We would certainly all live better – both locally and internationally – were we to decide, on a globally collaborative basis, to limit human population growth and with it, environmental disruption through human activity.

The conundrum is that at the individual level we are entirely capable of exactly the type of selfless action required to resolve our unfolding ecological crisis.

Individual humans are, in my experience, infinitely accommodating and generous under the correct circumstances. The challenge is that we are incapable of acting in a yielding and self-giving way when we organize ourselves politically.

This is another problematic facet of the bane of the political correctness of both the left and the right. Neither side can act – collectively – in a self-giving way. And this creates exactly the conditions that block the type of yielding and accommodating individual human action that is required to answer to the dilemma of international human population growth and ecological disruption.

What we fail to do every time, in my observation, is to ask individual humans to take voluntary personal action to solve the problem. Again, I have no grand solution to offer.

But if there were some process by which our leaders could enter into dialogue with us as citizens about how each of us, individually, could limit our impact upon this fragile earth, I suspect that solutions would begin to emerge. They would vary from person to person and from locality to locality, but I believe that something would arise and begin to grow which would be workable. We simply lack the processes to carry out popular actions of this kind.

I am not suggesting that changes and innovations in government policy would not be required. It certainly makes no sense to reward and subsidize population expansion and wasteful consumption of finite natural resources. But I am suggesting that our government policies, both nationally and internationally, should emerge in response to the requests and initiatives of individual citizens who are in some way enabled to carry their share of the responsibility for global problems.

The answer is not to shift responsibility for the problem of global warming – which in itself is merely one aspect of environmental degradation – from one politically-defined entity to another, but to restore responsibility to the level of individual human action and choice, and from there, to rework our government policies in response to citizen initiatives.

I cannot predict what this will look like because a process of this kind is, by its very nature, unpredictable. It will depend on the generosity and selflessness of
6.6 billion humans around the globe. Obviously we are not there yet. But perhaps it is now time to decide that this is in fact where we want to go.


  1. Hi Laurence

    In the early 1960's Suzy Spotless tried to encourage us to not be 'litterbugs'.

    The population of Canada would have been less than 20 million. 2-3 generations have passed and although the environmental movement is strong regarding GHGs (as long as it doesn't affect me personally) go to any parking lot, or other public area and you'll see the failure after 45 years of trying to encourage people to use a garbage can.

    I think it requires something more than relying on peer pressure to cause people to want to change anything.

    Our birthrate in Canada is around 1.3 which does not replace the existing population but neither will it support the retirement of the baby boomers. We need to use immigration just to keep our numbers up to where we can provide for our population.

    I don't see your plan achieving the results.

    Just a few thoughts of mine.


  2. My plan is to ask YOU to suggest what is needed to achieve the results, and then to empower you to take action to carry out your plan, in collaboration with other like-minded citizens.

  3. NGU - if you are going to "spin" something you really have to develop your segue. I don't follow your logical, commenting on a post about greenhouse gases and somehow ending up talking about retirement and immigration with no logical progression doesn't actually further any of your arguements. Better "spin" would allow you to confuse more people with your rhetoric and possibly get some votes with your "BS baffles brains" technique.

  4. Come on, Susane

    Follow the discussion. LOL

    Our esteemed author offered up the solution of population reduction. However, this is not an option for Canada. We have negative birth rate and an aging population.

    Our CPP/OAS programs are are 'Unfunded Liabilities' of our government. Thus they cannot provide without the population increasing.

    My post was getting too long already, I figured I would rely on the person having read the same article which I did! LOL

    Continue having a great vacation!

  5. A more responsible approach to Canada's negative population growth would be immigration.... there are enough people in the world, the problem is they live in places that can't sustain them.

  6. To be honest, we would all be better off with a 95% global human population reduction, all other things being equal - which they would not be. Humans got along well with the environment when we lived in small clusters in the African savannah. Aboriginal North Americans also lived strikingly in balance with the ecosystem (though this was not true in all cases among the aboriginal South Americans). In all cases of ecological success, we are talking about tiny numbers of humans. I hope it is unnecessary to state that I am against violent forms of population reduction. It is once again a matter of arranging the incentives to reward those who choose to practice birth control and population limitation. And don't get me started on CPP/OAS. These contributions should never have flowed into general revenues. They should have been invested for the future. Psychology demonstrates that groups of humans engage in "risky shifts" that individuals would never undertake. Governments spend money to win the transient support of voters. Governments rarely do well at saving money, unless they are rich as Albertans. Though I believe my solutions (those of the Utopian Party of Canada) are the most workable of all solutions, considerable courage would be required to implement them.

  7. I fail to see how, without violent forms of population reduction, you will decrease the population by 95%. Who decides who live and who dies.... non violently?

    Would you be willing to give up your computer, cars, long vacations to distant foreign parts in the US to help reduce ghg?

    The lifestyle of the First Nations was considerably different than your lifestyle. Is the plan that we revert to that? O_O

    You can't live in the past, Laurence. You'd think you would have learned that by now... the future is forward.

    Enjoy the rest of your vacation.



  8. To simplify my argument, I think what I'm really saying is that role modelling will be more effective than lecturing in addressing the problems of our carbon-based lifestyle. We are more likely to change our individual behaviour in response to inspiring examples of wise living than in response to ratiocination.