The challenges and opportunities posed to humanity by our dependence upon, and articulation with, the natural environment are immense, urgent, and of enduring consequence. The set of interrelated issues involving energy, natural resources, environmental contamination and climate change, and their impacts on the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and even the lithosphere, as well as on human political, economic, demographic, and cultural systems, are complex, intertwined, and systemic.
I’d like to start a far-ranging and detail-laden discussion here concerning these issues and system dynamics, exploring how human actions alter the systems in which we are ensconced, and thus alter the context of our own existence. The rapid deforestation and desertification of the world not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming, which in turn increases the frequency and ferocity of forest fires, increasing the deforestation which increases global warming, in an accelerating feed-back loop; it also eliminates rich repositories of biodiversity, at enormous costs to humanity and to the natural world. Our dependence on fossil fuels, also contributing to global warming, contributes as well to volatile and dysfunctional relations among nations and cultures, forcing petroleum dependent developed and developing nations to pander to the sometimes tyrannical and violence-exporting regimes of oil-rich countries.
Considering just global climate change, both well-known aspects (e.g., rising sea levels as a result of global warming, and the threat that poses to low-lying coastal areas), and less well known aspects (e.g., feedback loops such as those involving the albedo effect through decreasing ice caps reflecting less heat into space, thus causing accelerated global warming; and potentially catastrophic chain-reaction effects, such as those involving disrupted marine food chains due to decreased protophytoplankton production), the breadth and complexity of interacting systemic dynamics demand more from us than the superficial and barely informed popular concern and denial that dominate popular discourse on the topic.
In addition to the immense body of systemic theory, empirical observation, and informed speculation concerning how our actions impact our natural context, and how the resulting changes in our natural context impact our existence in return, there is the entire subset of thought and action regarding our actual and potential responses to this reality. The New Energy Economy, focusing on more extensive use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and the technical problems of storage and transmission involved, provides a basis for discussion. Within that framework, specific policy issues, such as the efficacy of cap-and-trade carbon markets, or carbon taxes, or taxes and subsidies more generally, come into play. The history of these efforts, including the intense international negotiations culminating in the tentatively promising Kyoto Protocol and disappointing Copenhagen Accord which followed, and current possibilities, such as more decentralized interconnected carbon markets, belong in the conversation.
As always, I invite any and all to participate, hopefully bringing some combination of expertly informed knowledge and insight, on the one hand, and popular perception and curiosity on the other.