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Observations on Everything

So NOW is Climate Change a Clear and Present Danger?

For years – for decades – climate scientists have been telling us that global warming was going to have some seriously bad, seriously expensive effects on the environment. Slowly, the population at large has gone from considering this a “unproved theory” to a “concern”, but it’s never been a real “problem”, at least not in the sense that a ten cent increase in the cost of gas is a problem bordering on a crisis. Read more

Why I’m Voting Green in 2011

It’s probably pretty obvious from this blog that my political philosophy most closely aligns with the Liberal Party. What’s less obvious is that it’s hardly a tight fit. Its more of an alignment of averages. Some probably perceive me as radical left (for example I believe in a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians), some as radical right (along with guaranteed income comes the cancellation of many social assistance programs). I believe in competition, but I don’t subscribe to the interpretation that competition requires traditional capitalism. Read more

The Environment, the Economics of Raw Materials, and the Collapse of Civilization

The theft of perfectly functional manufactured goods for scrap value has become a serious issue over the past decade. The number of stories of small to medium scale theft, primarily of copper, has gone from rarity to ubiquitous. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has declared copper theft a critical threat to infrastructure. The size of the problem has grown because the recovered value of many easily recycled raw materials is exceeds the risk of getting caught.

This can be generalized. If raw materials aren’t cheap relative to wages, civilization collapses by dismantling itself. This is a grave matter, and I find the implications profound. Read more

Our Legacy: Environmental Barbarians

Almost everyone who looks at the history of North America through the lens of current times is appalled at the brutal decimation of native populations, at slavery, and at the complete absence of any concept of human rights.

It occurs to me that 50 to 100 years on, survivors of the environmental apocalypse will look at us in a similar way. Sadly, we’ll be even more culpable. We’ve known the planet was destined to become overpopulated with humanity for at least 30 years, and our response has been indistinguishable from nothing.

Polar ice caps are disappearing more quickly than even the most alarmist had expected. Climate change wreaks trillions of dollars of damage on our economies. Critical ecosystems collapse and even species we deem to find attractive border on extinction. Meanwhile, we worry about bailing out car manufacturers.

It looks to me like we’ll just keep on trying to get by and maintain our “standard of living” until there’s a real environmental crisis, until we pass the “tipping point”. Then we get to try to put our lives back together in the face of huge population migrations, limited food resources, war, disease, and eventually feudalism. Then we’ll “buy locally” — there won’t be any other choice!

Our legacy will be that we’re the ones who ushered in the Second Dark Ages. Our barbarism will make the early history of the continent look like innocence. The worst, the saddest, part is that it might be too late to change a thing.

RIP, SUV: Gas Prices Are “Getting There”

This weekend the Toronto Star announced the death of the SUV. One of the reasons this came up has to be the closing of the General Motors truck assembly line in Oshawa. It seems that as the price of gas gets above about $1.25 per litre (or $4/gallon in the U.S.), the number of people who “need” an unsafe gas guzzling SUV drops off pretty quickly. Now these same people “need” to unload their luxury land barges. There’s nothing like a flexible definition of needs.

This is a good start. There’s going to be a lot fewer road trips in the family road boat this year. Some people will argue that this is a bad thing, that families should be able to get out there with their kids to see all that this vast country has to offer. These people haven’t actually seen a family in one of these vehicles. The parents are happily enjoying their time “together” while each kid is in their own isolated space with individual DVD players and noise-reducing headphones. They see as much of the countryside in their basements. Besides, a lot of travel options remain open. Our geography is every bit as dramatic from a train. Better yet, on a train it’s a lot easier to get your kids to come out of their multimedia shells and look at something without risking a major accident. Read more

Earth Hour: Little More than a Message

Earth Hour has come and gone. Overall it was pretty successful: the statistic I heard was that electricity consumption in Ontario was down by 8%.

What does that mean? From a pragmatic viewpoint, not a hell of a lot. From a political viewpoint, it’s pretty significant. I don’t have the numbers that project the percentage of the population that participated, based on an 8% reduction, but I’ll guess it’s somewhere between 15% and 25%.

That’s a lot of people sending a message. At this point it seems the big environmental problem is politicians. Most individuals get it, most corporations get it, but the politicians, who can actually manage the process of real change, just aren’t there yet.

Maybe having as many as one in four voters demonstrate their commitment to change through Earth Hour will be enough to wake them up. I’m not holding my breath though. Read more

Online Shopping versus Traditional Shopping

It’s interesting how often the question of online versus traditional shopping comes up. A friend asked me this earlier today and I gave him the same answer I’ve been providing for a decade now.

These days the response seems reasonable, but back in 1998 it was heresy. It used to be guaranteed to make a room full of start-ups and venture capitalists go dead quiet. Of course back then we were in the middle of the dot-com boom, when somehow geeks who don’t like daylight managed to convince everyone that their concept of a good shopping experience was somehow universal.

So here it is: Read more