Humane Human Footprint
by Vinay Gupta • March 28, 2007 • Science • 1 Comment
Alex Steffan is blathering on over at WorldChanging about how we can consume our way out of the problem. I am replying.
We can’t buy our way to a better future.
But we can ban our way there.
Years ago I said “we’ll know when people are getting serious about global warming when governments start to ban incandescent lightbulbs” and, as you’ve seen in the news, that time is now.
Consumers did not shift. Even though it made financial sense, even though it was undeniably good for the planet, consumers did not shift. How many of you have 100% CF bulbs in your house?
Not many, I’ll wager.
So, no. The forward move is things like CAFE standards and banning outdated, inefficient technologies. You might choose to tax them out of existence rather than just outlaw them, because you know in a Bruce Sterling sense, incandescent bulbs are going to become fashionable contraband… smuggled, used for lighting art… “he’s a real collector of the past… **incandescents**”
But we’re going to get progress here by chopping off the past, not by purchasing the future, I think.
OK, let’s make this simple.
Take the “sustainable harvest” of the planet – everything we can use without degrading the system further and reducing future yields. So much electricity, so much wood, so much rice and so on.
Now, divide that up evenly among the human race. That quantity of materials is your “humane human footprint” – the amount of stuff you can use without stepping on anybody else’s toes. You may believe you are entitled to more through free market competition, or that people should be *forced* to consume only these amounts – that’s politics. I’m just saying this is the quantity you *can* consume without harming either the planet or yourself.
How much over that figure are you? x200? x500? x1000?
I understand that your family doesn’t like CF bulbs. I think there is a lot that could be improved. Just don’t forget the big picture.
It’s funny to view the past from a view of the future in such light. “Pleah, the past! Nothing good ever came of it!”
Banning the past is parallel to banning history. By outlawing technology we’d be making a gap in our future history, making it possibly even infeasable to construct a true view of what people did back now.
Rather than outright banning or trying to “consume” our way out (which sounds like a lot of bullshit anyway), how about simply supporting certain technologies by way of tax cuts, etc? Let the governments maintain a list of technologies that are to be supported, and that said technology list be changed each year. That, perhaps, any single technology cannot remain on the list for more than three years, and something or other like that. Just a thought… it will have unintended consequences, but they’re invisible to me at the moment.