The current debate about global warming and the over-use of all sorts of natural resources, raises issues about human nature. Fishing quota permits have been over-allocated and threaten to destroy the fisheries. The response it to buy back the permits, reduce quotas and request voluntary restraint. In Australia, the irrigation licenses to extract water from the mighty Murray River have been over allocated, so that there is not enough for the environment, and the river no longer drains to the sea. The response has been for the Government to buy back some of the licenses and to try to impose water withdrawal limits on every sub-catchment. This has threatened to destroy local irrigation businesses and various towns are on death row. There has been a huge outcry and attempts to block the changes.
The strategy to address global warming is based on forcing everyone around the world to use less fossil fuel and to reduce carbon emissions.
All these approaches depend on humans making sacrifices for the common good, to benefit future generations and to save the planet and its limited resources.
But is this approach realistic in relation to human nature and human willingness to make sacrifices and show restraint? Can acceptance of the common good, the rights of future generations and saving the planet ever overcome selfishness?
There are several points about human nature:
The latest solution to global warming in 'Science', is a good example of these issues. The international team started by examining whether there was a solution to stopping global warming apart from forcing everyone around the world to use less fossil fuel? Burning less fossil fuel is the most obvious way to stop the greenhouse effect caused by humans releasing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But it is always someone else who should cut back and make the changes.
Why should we use less power when they (the undeveloped countries) are doing nothing about it? When people and governments are made aware of the economic cost of reducing greenhouse emissions they won't act because the cost of electricity will increase. Saving money and protecting economic growth stifles any attempt for changes in the West. People will make some trade-offs like energy efficient light bulbs, but they won't make the bigger sacrifice or pay more for electricity to save the planet.
So the team looked for a 'win win' situation by examining ways to reduce global warming while also decreasing the levels of the soot and smog in the atmosphere that are damaging agriculture and health in third world countries. The research team's models showed that soot (Black carbon) spewed from diesel engines and traditional kilns and cookstoves makes a significant contribution to global warming by increasing the heat absorbed by snow and other white surfaces.
They found a series of actions that could work, including: switching to cleaner diesel engines and cookstoves, building more efficient kilns and coke ovens, capturing methane at landfills and oil wells, and reducing methane emissions from rice paddies by draining them more often.
If these strategies became widespread, the researchers calculate, the amount of global warming in 2050 would be reduced by about one degree Fahrenheit, roughly a third of the warming projected if nothing is done. This impact on temperatures in 2050 would be significantly larger than the projected impact of the commonly proposed measures for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
These measures would yield lots of benefits long before 2050. Because people would be breathing cleaner air, 700,000 to 4.7 million premature deaths would be avoided each year. Thanks to improved crop yields, farmers would produce at least 30 million more metric tons of food annually. No matter what people think about global warming, there aren't a lot of fans of dirty snow, poor crops and diseased lungs.
The beauty of these pollution-control measures is that over five to 10 years they pay for themselves in the developing world. They slow global warming, but there are local benefits, too. If you make black carbon reductions in China or India, you get most of the benefits in China or India.
This proposal is a classic - "Get them to do something because we are unwilling to change our way of life"
The efforts to reduce water extractions from the Murray River in Australia, to save the riverine environment is another classic case. The iconic aim is to allow the river to discharge to the ocean again! The latest proposal has stalled because people are unwilling to reduce the total amount of water extracted from the river to provide an environmental flow. No one is willing to bear the loss of income and all the farmers blame everyone else and want them to change. The water extraction is over-allocated but no one is willing to use less.
A story about the Wakerie Irrigation scheme in South Australia illustrates he problem and how the current situation developed. The Wakerie Irrigation scheme was developed after the second world war to grow citrus crops on the sandy soils on the banks of the Murray River. The Government had developed the dams and infrastructure to deliver very cheap water for irrigation. The water was abundant and cheap and the farmers grew beautiful oranges. After about ten years some of the farmer noticed signs of rising water tables and water logging. The obvious cause was over-use of water, but this was not the solution. The government scientists conducted an investigation and found that there was a clay layer beneath the sand that was impeding drainage. The government then used public funds to get contractors to drill a series of holes in the clay layer so the water could drain away. This worked well. After several years there was growing concern about the rapidly increasing salinity in the lower Murray River which threatened the irrigated grape crops. After a series of research studies, scientists found a river of salt was entering the Murray River beneath the surface near Wakerie. They discovered that drilling all the bores beneath the irrigated farms has allowed the water to drain into an ancient store of salt which was picked up by the water and drained into the Murray River along an ancient subterranean river channel.
So over-watering the citrus crops with cheap water and the bores dug to stop rising water tables has created a huge new problem. Was this the time to consider stopping the over-watering and improving the watering efficiency. No Way! The solution was for the government to spend millions of dollars of public funds to build and salt interception scheme. Bores were dug and the salty water was pumped out continuously and dumped into an evaporation basin. Now everyone knows that 'evaporation basins' do not evaporate the water - that would be far too expensive as the reservoirs would have to be much larger and leak-proof. The truth is that 'evaporation basins' leak and are designed to leak. So where does the water go - into the watertable and where does it drain from there - into the river. So when will the salt start to drain back to the river - probably in about 10 years time. Did the farmers reduce their wasteful over watering - NO! The huge expense for the 'solution' was paid for by the government and in each case was not a real solution by was merely BUYING TIME and postponing the inevitable environmental disaster. In Australia there have been serious proposals to use the Murray River as a salt drain and to distribute he good water captured in the dams upstream through pipes.
Elsewhere in the Murray Basin, major drainage and salinity problems developed through rising water tables in the dairy areas. Grazing dairy cows was only possible in these areas because of irrigation and for man years this area was touted as the most efficient in the world because of the guaranteed supply of extremely cheap water. The irrigation method was like growing rice. The paddocks were enclosed in shallow earthen walls and the paddocks were flooded periodically to a depth of about 9 inches (20 cm). What a perfect way to inject water into the water table. After several years the watertable rose and started killing off the grass. What was the solution - Reduce the amount of watering? No, the solution was for the government to pay for a large number of pumps to be installed to raw down the watertable. Where did the pumped water go? It was put back into the irrigation channels! The water from the dams is of such good quality that it can dilute the salt - for now. Everyone knows that this is just buying time and eventually the salinity will rise to levels that threaten the crops, especially if less water is available for dilution.
Clawing back the over-use of limited resources and true sustainability is so hard to do because of human nature. Will we ever have a Global Solution to Climate Change before its too Late?
Perhaps Stephen Hawking is right to suggest that the only future for the human race is in space.
QUOTE: "I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Hawking tells Big Think. "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Lees hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."