Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

Re: Stupid Abundance

It seems to me that the Wired article is a combination of the usual breathless Wired rhetoric with someone who either has only just realised that environmentalism isn't about 1960s stereotypes, or that the best way to promote an agenda is to needlessly and inaccurately trash other people to make yourself look good. Of course, there are schools of thought that claim that economics can do a sufficient job of limiting mankind's impact on the environment; for example, as weather gets more severe, this affects the insurance business, which in turn affects anyone buying insurance, which can affect any number of things. But it's debatable as to whether the market can propagate the signals fast enough and to the necessary places to make the right decisions without governments stepping in and forcing people to change their ways.

And I think there's another school of thought that desperately clings on to the belief that we can enjoy a luxurious lifestyle of overconsumption forever if only we have the technology. That group doesn't seem to consider the very special combination of circumstances that have produced the late 20th century lifestyle: abundant stores of cheap energy (burning millions of years of stored energy in an instant), fortuitous control of disease using agents that may prove to be unsustainable, amongst other things. The problem is that if we do escape any disaster scenario, I imagine that some of these people will believe that environmental change was never a really serious threat, whereas if things get really bad, no-one will be in any doubt, but no-one will be able to do anything about it, either.

Comment on Stupid Abundance
by Paul Boddie

Comments:

And I think there's another school of thought that desperately clings on to the belief that we can enjoy a luxurious lifestyle of overconsumption forever if only we have the technology.

I think this is actually a false choice. Or, at least, implies a choice between personal satisfaction and collective responsibility towards the environment. But I think restraining consumption can increase personal satisfaction, if we do it thoughtfully and not as slaves of the market. In the US everyone has a car or SUV and two televisions, but we also have a horrible healthcare system that shows off every disfunction of market based infrastructure. But we do nothing to fix that, because we have no idea how -- the idea of doing anything that isn't driven by the profit motive is beyond the conception of our institutions.

Which really is an optimistic way to think about it, because there's so much potential. We are squandering our wealth and our technology; but it's there if we want it.

# Ian Bicking

I think this is actually a false choice. Or, at least, implies a choice between personal satisfaction and collective responsibility towards the environment.

Well, "personal satisfaction" isn't always the same as "overconsumption", of course.

But I think restraining consumption can increase personal satisfaction, if we do it thoughtfully and not as slaves of the market.

I made references to the market to indicate that some people don't equate market behaviour with relentless exploitation of natural resources and of people.

In the US everyone has a car or SUV and two televisions, but we also have a horrible healthcare system that shows off every disfunction of market based infrastructure. But we do nothing to fix that, because we have no idea how -- the idea of doing anything that isn't driven by the profit motive is beyond the conception of our institutions.

What's interesting is that there have been proposals to improve healthcare coverage which have been market-oriented and which have fairly obvious economic motivations: it's easier to prevent health problems amongst the uninsured than to provide emergency treatment later on. I can't see why, when both compassionate and financial justifications exist to improve healthcare coverage, that something decisive isn't done, but I guess that says quite a lot about the people dragging their feet on the matter.

Which really is an optimistic way to think about it, because there's so much potential. We are squandering our wealth and our technology; but it's there if we want it.

Perhaps the most promising sources of "alternative" energy can be brought online on a viable basis soon enough to make energy something we never have to worry about again, but there's the question of whether we'll ever get a better shot than right now (or in the next few decades) at achieving such things. It's much harder to muster the effort for nuclear fusion research or for things like a space programme in a society without access to cheap and convenient energy.

# Paul Boddie