People once wondered if we would run out of fossil fuels. People who liked fossil fuels delight in showing how we keep finding more. “Ha!”, they imply, “we’ll never run out. It’s not a problem. Anyone who thinks we’ll run out is a fool.”
We could talk about the finite number of molecules of oil, coal, and gas under the Earth’s surface, but when an economist like Julian Simon says we’ll never run out, he means something more subtle. His subtle point is still wrong, but there’s a more important consideration.
Imagine Earth had only formed enough fossil fuels to last fifty years. The Industrial Revolution would have started and ended over a century ago. We’d have no fossil fuels left to know what could be done with substances so dense with energy. We’d say people a long time ago were able to make steam make looms and vehicles move, but we wouldn’t be able to replicate it.
Instead, we keep augmenting their accomplishments. They didn’t notice the pollution was filling up Earth’s reservoirs. Now we see they have, but we’re so addicted to what the pollution brings, we ignore that we’re poisoning and killing people, content to rates of obesity and overweightness of 80 percent, regions of our country called “Cancer Alley” and “Sacrifice Zones”, and consuming fentanyl and the like like candy. Actually, candy addicts and kills more people than fentanyl.
Too much fossil fuels means too much pollution
In other words, unbounded by running out of fossil fuels any time soon, we’re achieving the actual problem with them: their pollution is killing us. Find more fossil fuels makes things worse, not better, if our measure of good is human flourishing.
Pollution poisons everyone. Even the most libertarian, I think, agree one of the roles of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. Pollution destroys all three, so reducing it seems by their vision a legitimate use of government. Everyone else’s too, I’d think.
Sustainable traditional cultures
If we bring down civilization but not the few remaining sustainable traditional cultures, like the Hadza, whose culture traces back some 50,000 years, their future generations will regard us as the odd bunch of people who showed up for a few generations with odd devices like computers and cars then disappeared forever. They may also correlate our brief appearance with when their air become smellier, plastic filling their waterways, birth defects and cancer increasing.
Our civilization is on track to becoming the odd curiosity for the cultures that existed hundreds of times longer and may outlive us.
Maybe I or others will help pull us out of this death spiral.
Step one: everyone get through their thick skulls that we’ll find freedom, fun, and joy from living sustainably, not deprivation and sacrifice.
Step two: everyone realize pollution happens when we pay people to extract and refine, not in the coral reefs or where we see the results. We all have to stop paying to extract, refine, and disperse fossil fuels, nuclear power sources, and other things that pollute. That means stopping buying plane tickets, buying doof, and having more than one or two kids, among other things, and most important, to learn to lead others.
Step three and so on: enjoy living sustainably.
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