Andrew Revkin – The Story On Climate Change

by Mark Lovett on December 3, 2008

It’s supposed to be the age of the small guy (and gal) instead of big media, those traditional folks who have lost their way in the internet age and will never catch up.  But every once in a while the big guys hire someone smart and give them the freedom to make a difference.

One such individual is Andrew Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times.  His articles are always worth reading due to his ability to bring difficult subjects to light in a way that explains the heart of the matter, and at the same time prods us to think beyond what’s written.

Andrew Revkin

Andrew Revkin

His blog post dated December 1, 2008, Climate, ‘Not the Story of Our Time’, includes video of a speech he gave to journalism students at Columbia University on November 19th, 2008.  With Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, the film clip runs about 50 minutes and covers a range of topics, from developing and protecting government sources in a time of secrecy, to the dark side of the Bush administration and media coverage of climate change.  The video is worth watching in its entirety, but the section that Mr Revkin transcribed in his post is so powerful that it deserves a bit of expansion and dissecting.

The Big Question

About 20 minutes into the video this question is posed by the moderator:

Q. Obviously climate change is the biggest story on your plate right now, but looking ahead what do you see?

A.
My coverage has evolved. Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a
subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory — not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite — how can we make a transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.

Arizona Solar Power Installation, Chris Richards for The New York Times

Chris Richards for The New York Times

Facing Up to Reality

While the media has been focusing on climate change and what the potential ramifications may be in the years to come, we’ve lost sight of the basic reasons that this change is upon us.

“Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite.”

This notion of living on a finite planet is something our society has been (and continues to be) in denial about, though I disagree that we’re just now figuring it out.  I remember having discussions back in high school about the fact that everything has limits, including the ability of the earth to support an ever expanding population.

“So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory – not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite – how can we make a transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.”

But most of us are afraid that the stabilization side of the equation will kill our prosperity as the economy stagnates and growth trends toward zero, or even negative. Think about what would happen to the stock market if the nightly news announced that the world economy would no longer grow, that the economy as a whole had flatlined and would remain in that state for a long time. Truth is, the world itself would be just fine with zero growth – continuous growth is in no way a requirement for a healthy planet – but the world of investing would undergo major changes.

Stock Market Trading Floor

Stock Market Trading Floor

But there’s an aspect of our expanding population within the confines of limited resources that is not touched upon by Mr. Revkin’s.  We not only face the possibility of a stagnant economy at some point down the road, but the very real  possibility that the planet will be rocked by resource wars.

Fighting to the Death for What’s Left

We like to think of ourselves as civilized when it comes to issues like ownership and private property.  What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours – and if I want something that you own, and you want to sell it, I will buy it at market value, a value determined by supply and demand.

The question we will face in the not-so-distant future (five, ten, twenty years from now) is:

Will we remain civilized when resources become tight and prices rise to unacceptable levels?”

On the off chance you consider that a crazy question, just think about Iraq for a moment.  There were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no nuclear program, there were no links to 9/11 – just a lot of oil that we wanted/needed access to.  The price tag was a trillion dollars and over 100,000 lives, but we now have access to the oil.

And if we continue on our current path of population growth, with a corresponding desire to maintain our current rate of resource consumption, that war won’t be the last.  And it won’t just be wars that we’re forced to deal with; there will be all sorts of uprisings, protests and food riots.  That’s not so far into the future,  as we’ve already experienced a few of those situations in 2008.

Mr. Revkin correctly points out that climate change is a symptom of an expanding population and the decisions we have made along the way.  What we need to now realize is that there are many other consequences, of equal severity, which will come to light based on the lifestyle decisions we make.

The Global Patriot mantra is doing what’s best for the planet, but can we maintain that ideology when ultimately faced with shortages of natural resources that everybody wants?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth December 8, 2008 at 10:06 am

Except even the rights to the oil were given up! So the entire undertaking has to be put in the loss-category.

I hope this current economic slowdown is used efficiently to make the changes needed to assure increased sustainability in the future.

Have you read much on the current recyclables market? The prices have dropped so much on many kinds that the financial incentive to recycle has disappeared. Let’s hope that changes soon.

Love the blog and what you’re doing here.

Seth

Reply

Global Patriot December 9, 2008 at 10:20 am

Seth, you’re right that on paper we don’t have rights to Iraqi oil, but removing a leader, in this case Saddam, allows access on the open market – eliminating the chance of another oil embargo. In this light, the current administration was also looking for ways to “remove” Hugo Chávez from Venezuela.

As to recyclables, this is a tough time. The need to reduce, reuse, recycle has never been greater, yet the economics don’t always make sense. Same holds true for alternative energy, where the numbers may not support the technology with oil under $50 per barrel, yet we also need to move forward and consider the future.

Thanks for the kind comments!

Reply

Seth December 8, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Except even the rights to the oil were given up! So the entire undertaking has to be put in the loss-category.

I hope this current economic slowdown is used efficiently to make the changes needed to assure increased sustainability in the future.

Have you read much on the current recyclables market? The prices have dropped so much on many kinds that the financial incentive to recycle has disappeared. Let’s hope that changes soon.

Love the blog and what you’re doing here.

Seth

Reply

GlobalPatriot December 9, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Seth, you’re right that on paper we don’t have rights to Iraqi oil, but removing a leader, in this case Saddam, allows access on the open market – eliminating the chance of another oil embargo. In this light, the current administration was also looking for ways to “remove” Hugo Chávez from Venezuela.

As to recyclables, this is a tough time. The need to reduce, reuse, recycle has never been greater, yet the economics don’t always make sense. Same holds true for alternative energy, where the numbers may not support the technology with oil under $50 per barrel, yet we also need to move forward and consider the future.

Thanks for the kind comments!

Reply

Paul @ Green Pepper December 3, 2008 at 11:45 pm

You’re posing an important question here, Mark – “can we maintain [the] ideology when ultimately faced with shortages of natural resources that everybody wants?” Somehow I doubt it. Whilst I, and many others, see cooperation as a way to secure the future for the benefit of all, there’s plenty of greedy b*stards about who want it all for themselves. It’s a worrying prospect and one, I suspect, we might have to face up to.

Thanks for another informative and challenging article, and the opportunity to join the conversation.

Reply

GlobalPatriot December 4, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Paul, you really hit on the key issue – greed. Whether it be greed for money or greed for power (or both) our survival depends on a shift away from greed and toward compassion and global family values. Thanks for your insights!

Reply

Paul @ Green Pepper December 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm

You’re posing an important question here, Mark – “can we maintain [the] ideology when ultimately faced with shortages of natural resources that everybody wants?” Somehow I doubt it. Whilst I, and many others, see cooperation as a way to secure the future for the benefit of all, there’s plenty of greedy b*stards about who want it all for themselves. It’s a worrying prospect and one, I suspect, we might have to face up to.

Thanks for another informative and challenging article, and the opportunity to join the conversation.

Reply

Global Patriot December 4, 2008 at 10:21 am

Paul, you really hit on the key issue – greed. Whether it be greed for money or greed for power (or both) our survival depends on a shift away from greed and toward compassion and global family values. Thanks for your insights!

Reply

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