Monday, 27 July 2009

A lose/lose future

People concerned with the present-day state of the world often tend to be polarised as this article by Mark Steyn shows, between those who believe the threat is global warming and those who believe it is lowest-low fertility:
I wondered if you had noticed that the same criticisms applied to global warming also apply to demographic projections.
Furthermore, a demographic decline is a compound phenomenon, unlike the climate. Even if it’s 12˚C today, that doesn’t prevent it being 31˚C in 20 years’ time.
What Steyn has completely wrong here is that a climatic change is a compound phenomenon according to both the Tertiary paleoclimate record and observed climate change in the part thirty years whereby the Hadley circulation has expanded ten degrees poleward since 1975. Already climate scientists know we are locked in to a further poleward expansion to beyond the latitude of Wilson’s Promontory, with the consequent change of what were once lush mountain ash forests into extremely arid and hot deserts. Even if Australia’s meek and accepting population does manage to cope with the desertification of Victoria and southern New South Wales (and I mean quite seriously desertification to a climate as arid as any historically known in Australia) there will be tremendous ecological costs not yet seen even with February’s bushfires but can already be predicted very well from paleoclimate maps that are far from recent in their compilation.

The “point of no return” is as severe (or more so) for southern Australia’s climate as for the demography of Europe and East Asia. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will effect the climate for a very long period, and even if Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand manages to achieve a carbon-neutral economy mortgage belt politics makes this impossible in Australia. The southwest of Australia has more plant biodiversity than all of Europe outside the Mediterranean drainage area, but present climate change makes its long-term survival even less likely than the cultures and languages of Europe and East Asia.

How, then are we to solve this serious dilemma? The clear answer is that we have an obvious and severe mismatch in cultural values.

Essentially, Australia has retained cultural values appropriate for a European environment but ecologically unsustainable in Australia. It is of course these traditional values of Western Civilisation that makes Mark Steyn (more than most on the American Right) show praise for Australia as a courageous nation against a cultural tide. Actually, Australia’s suburbs, insulated by distance, serve as a kind of natural cloister from the cultural revolutions since 1914.

Another way again of seeing the crisis is that, whereas the American Right often sees Europeans as spoilt and childish because they are paid so much welfare, Australia’s population is equally spoilt through living in a country possessing an endless natural glut of usable land and especially energy deposits, which means they pay a fraction as much for electricity and consequently use it wastefully. I can testify this by comparing the insulation offered in houses in Berlin vis-à-vis that found in Melbourne. A Melbourne house feels as cold at 15˚C as a Berlin one at 2˚C!

Essentially, what is required is a way of changing living costs to levels that reflect ecological costs of living. This would actually make presently the most expensive nations to live in the cheapest, and vice versa. How to do this is something I cannot imagine, and we are left with a quite literal no-win situation of inevitable cultural and ecological crises – or worse.

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