"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Carbon-Dioxide Emissions: A Species’ Death-Wish?

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning rose 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest amount on record, according to an analysis released in early December, 2011 by the Global Carbon Project. According to the analysis as reported by the New York Times, “the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.” 
The researchers did not expect the extraordinary growth to persist, but did "expect emissions to return to something closer to the 3 percent yearly growth of the [2000-2009] decade, still a worrisome figure that signifies little progress in limiting greenhouse gases. The growth rate in the 1990s was closer to 1 percent yearly.” In other words, the trend has been the opposite of that which one might have expected years after Al Gore’s documentary on global warmth. Increasing knowledge of global warming did not result in a reduction in contributing to global warming; rather, more carbon dioxide has ensued. To be sure, the negative correlation is not causal in nature; knowing more about global warming has not caused people to decide to pollute more. That would really be bizarre. Even so, it does appear that mankind is not sufficiently interested in protecting the specie’s own long-term viability at the expense of more immediate interests. Put another way, governments have enabled their respective businesses to produce more (or cheaper) even while knowing that the earth is warming.
According to the New York Times, “Scientists say the rapid growth of emissions is warming the Earth, threatening the ecology and putting human welfare at long-term risk. But their increasingly urgent pleas that society find a way to limit emissions have met sharp political resistance in many countries, including the United States, because doing so would entail higher energy costs.” Short-term costs are more important than long-term survival. This, in short, is why our species does not deserve to survive. We have produced this sad verdict ourselves. “Each year that emissions go up, there’s another year of negotiations, another year of indecision,” said Glen P. Peters, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo and a leader of the group that produced the new analysis. “There’s no evidence that this trajectory we’ve been following the last 10 years is going to change.” This was borne out in the “deal” reached for a “New Emissions Treaty” at the U.N. climate talks ending in December 2011.
According to the New York Times, “The European Union had pushed hard for what it called a ‘road map’ to a new, legally binding treaty against fierce resistance from China and India, whose delegates argued passionately against it.” Developing countries, including China and India, had surpassed the developed countries in their overall greenhouse emissions. In 2010, for example, the combustion of fossil fuels and the production of cement sent more than nine billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the new analysis found, with 57 percent of that coming from developing countries. Even so, emissions per person were still sharply higher in the wealthy countries, which had been emitting greenhouse gases far longer and thus they account for the bulk of the excess gases in the atmosphere. The level of carbon dioxide, the main such gas, had increased 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. A long-term cost was being incurred simply in debating year after year without actionable results in lower emissions. For developing countries, it would seem that having an equal opportunity to pollute was worth risking the planet, at least as far as human habitation is concerned. “Am I to write a blank check and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the E.U. ‘road map’ contains?” asked India’s environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan. “Please do not hold us hostage.” This way of thinking—or decision to use hyperbole—also qualifies mankind as not deserving to survive.
Even as carbon-dioxide emissions were “alive and well,” the “deal” reached in December 2011 would continue the Kyoto agreement, to which neither the United States nor developing countries such as China and India are parties, until  2017 or 2020. The terms of any agreement that replaces it would be negotiated at future sessions of the governing body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The basic mentality behind such a wan or pallid “deal” amid knowledge that global warming is indeed proceeding is transparent in this passage from the New York Times: “Scientists say the rapid growth of emissions is warming the Earth, threatening the ecology and putting human welfare at long-term risk. But their increasingly urgent pleas that society find a way to limit emissions have met sharp political resistance in many countries, including the United States, because doing so would entail higher energy costs.” That “increasingly urgent pleas” are being essentially ignored may itself point to a “hard-wired” weakness in the species that can be characterized as “self-defeating.”
Behind the increased emissions alone, moreover, is the failure of the species to self-regulate its own size. On October 31, 2011, the global population (of human beings) was estimated to have hit 7 billion. It had passed the 6 billion mark in 1999. The 10 billion mark is expected by the end of the twenty-first century. At a basic, biological level, organisms must consume resources and expel waste products: the more people, the more consumed and expelled. It is ironic that humanity places so much reliance on its technological abilities to mitigate this basic fact even as the species seems incapable of simply acting on the basis of the extant knowledge on climate change to make emissions reduction “actionable.”

In An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus pointed to disease, famine and conflict (war) as nature’s trove of solutions to arrest a maximizing species from piercing a broader ecosystem, which is inherently at an equilibrium (i.e., homeostatic). Perhaps we could add a fourth solution—namely, a shift to a climatic equilibrium inconsistent with human habitation. Perhaps this is nature’s way of handling the arrogance of man, or perhaps it is our way of judging ourselves as a species. Perhaps unconsciously, the sordid species, which presumes itself to be “made in God’s image,” has a death wish—a humble sensibility underneath “just saying no” to the overweening superciliousness of the arrogance that seems almost hard-wired in the species. That is to say, the “result” of the global climate talks “attained” in December 2011 can perhaps be read as the expression of an unconscious collective will—a tacit verdict of a species on itself by procrastinating in the context of “urgent pleas.” In the context of a maximizing trajectory in terms of population, which seems to suggest dominance or victory on this planet, the species’ own verdict is certainty ironic. From the 2010 figures alone, my initial gut reaction was that the species had failed the “test” in a way that shows human nature to us as it is. Accordingly, I have no doubt that the verdict will be fully implemented in a few generations—our days being limited as a species.  

Sources:
John M. Broder, “U.N. Climate Talks End With Deal for New Emissions Treaty,” The New York Times, December 11, 2011. 

Justin Gillis, “Carbon Emissions Show Biggest Jump Ever Recorded,” The New York Times, December 4, 2011.