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Academia and "Dissident" Concepts

Academia and "Dissident" Concepts
November 30, 2009, 12:18:11 AM
I would like to introduce three individuals that understand the fate of modern society: Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne H. Ehrlich, and John P. Holdren. Of course, their research does not focus on the more behavioural/proximate causations regarding why modern society is stupid, but it's nonetheless insightful information dating back to the early sixties/seventies. They are good examples of what we, as individuals, should hope to accomplish.

Anne and Paul Ehrlich have a website in that promotes teaching students in a formal manner about sustainability. They have also written many books on the subject, such as "The Population Explosion" and "The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment." John P. Holdren is currently the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and co-chair of President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST). If anyone were to change the world for the better, this is the person. His influence makes me question the value of academia. Presumably 40+ years with countless articles would be enough to spark some public interest, or at least policies regarding population growth.

Here is some literature by them:

"Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment" (1977)

"Impact of Population Growth" (1971)

Excerpts from "Population and Panaceas A Technological Perspective" (1969):

The existing and impending crises in human nutrition and living conditions are well- documented but not widely understood. In particular, there is a tendency among the public, nurtured on Sunday-supplement conceptions of technology, to be- lieve that science has the situation well in hand that farming the sea and the tropics, irrigating the deserts, and gen- erating cheap nuclear power in abundance hold the key to swift and certain solution of the problem. To espouse this belief is to misjudge the present severity of the situation, the disparate time scales on which technological progress and pop- ulation growth operate, and the vast complexity of the problems beyond mere food production posed by population pressures. Unfortunately, scientists and engineers have themselves often added to the confusion by failing to distinguish between that which is merely theoretically feasible, and that which is economically and logistically practical.
. . .
Furthermore, technology is likely to remain inadequate until such time as the population growth rate is drastically reduced.
. . .
[Technology] could also easily produce the ultimate disaster for mankind if they are not applied with careful attention to their effects on the ecological systems necessary for our survival (Woodwell, 1967; Cole, 1968).
. . .
No effort to expand the carrying capacity of the Earth can keep pace with unbridled population growth.
. . .
That there is insufficient additional, good quality agricultural land available in the world to meet these needs is so well documented (Borgstrom, 1965) that we will not belabor the point here.
. . .
The world has water problems, even exclusive of the situation in agriculture. Although total precipitation should in theory be adequate in quantity for sev- eral further doublings of population, serious shortages arising from problems of quality, irregularity, and distribution al- ready plague much of the world.
. . .
Man's problems with energy supply are more subtle than those with food and water: we are not yet running out of energy, but we are being forced to use it faster than is probably healthy. The rapacious depletion of our fossil fuels is already forcing us to consider more ex- pensive mining techniques to gain access to lower-grade deposits, such as the oil shales, and even the status of our high-grade uranium ore reserves is not clear-cut (Anonymous, 1968e).
. . .
Furthermore, we have not conveyed the extent of our concern for the environmental deterioration which has accompanied the population explosion, and for the catastrophic ecological con- sequences which would attend many of the proposed technological "solutions"' to the population/food crisis. Nor have we treated the point that "development" of the rest of the world to the standards of the West probably would be lethal ecologically (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1970). For even if such grim prospects are ignored, it is abundantly clear that in terms of cost, lead time, and implementation on the scale required, technology without population control will be too little and too late. What hope there is lies not, of course, in abandoning attempts at technological solutions; on the contrary, they must be pursued at unprecedented levels, with unprecedented judgment, and above all with unprecedented attention to their ecological consequences.
I will provide the above article in full to people by personal request via private message.

What irks me about these three individuals is their publicity. I did not know much about their work before today. Since it's fairly obvious that their ideas are not popular, even with their extensive efforts, and I believe I will stop education after my undergraduate degree because of this. I believe that this reinforces the idea of building a community that possesses similar ideas as one's own, and promoting sustainable ideals within it, rather than following an academic career. However, individuals like these may one day get lucky, and their popularity will snowball.

Re: Academia and "Dissident" Concepts
November 30, 2009, 05:27:41 AM

What irks me about these three individuals is their publicity. I did not know much about their work before today.

You are wrong about their relative popularity, at least in Paul Ehrlich's case.  The Population Bomb was a well known book in its time (sold multi-million copies to this day) and is still consistently cited, usually negatively, by those looking to oppose the Malthusian outlook.  Just drop "The Population Bomb" into Google and see what you find.

Re: Academia and "Dissident" Concepts
March 06, 2012, 11:40:55 PM
After several years of schooling, I have discovered some very interesting concepts that relate to environment, economy and society.

Anyone interested in industrial ecology, the fundamental aspect of "T" in the I PAT equation, the one only method for saving our planet is a systematic approach to cycling all waste and byproducts into functional products. It is a concept to treat our planet as a spaceship with limited resources.

An update on my efforts:

I never thought I would go in the route of environmental management and policy-making, when I first started my degree and it's definitely a concept that is not well-accepted by industry and has actually digressed in Canada. In the near future though or once humanity is independent of an oil-based economy, there will definitely be a great demand of this type of career, even though you will be hated for your decisions. My professor for my industrial ecology course has discussed with me the very negative reality:

With 25 years of bitter experience – I am a non-believer in energy conservation education, waste management education etc etc.   They only way to change people is ‘make them pay’.   Carbon Tax (people with conserve and use better clean energy because it is cheaper) (but Canadians voted this out).  Raise the price of power – people conserve instantly (but Canadian governments refuse to do this).  Make people pay for their waste – they change their practice overnight.  Make heating your home more expensive – poorly designed homes loose valve and people pay for renovations.  Etc. etc.   This has been demonstrated in study after study, product after product.  ‘Society’ refuses to pay for better environmental practices and  products - period.   But there is always hope in the new generation

Anyone interested in making a difference to the environment should consider becoming an environmental lawyer (reactive although chance for precedent cases), working in an environmental consulting firm (reactive), or focus on environmental management and policy-making (proactive). These books are good starting places:

"An Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy in Canada" by Muldoon, Lucas Gibson, Pickfield (if you're Canadian)
"Applications in Ecological Engineering" by Svenerik and Jorgensen
"Environmental Chemistry" by Colin Baird and Michael Cann

"Applications in Ecological Engineering" is probably one of the greatest books that I have read in 4-5 years. While ecological engineering is generally not considered a part of industrial ecology, it does utilize the inherent value of nature into engineering practices. While it may be considered an exploitation of nature, compared with other forms of engineering, it is one of the most benign forms, simply because it takes a system that can potentially equilibrate within an open system, thus perpetuating its own existence without worrying about lifecycle, which is a major problem in engineering design nowadays as resources become more expensive and it is typically cost-effective to recycle material.

In the future, I plan on doing work that involves taking previous industrial facilities, agricultural land, etc. and turning it into wetlands, essentially making this ANUS flier a reality. While this is a more reactive approach, perhaps I am bitter toward my experience in engineering, but this approach of reverting it back to a natural state seems like it would be very rewarding. We'll see how it goes!