Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

When Less Is More

Learning About Limits

by Emily Spence (July 11 2007)

The purpose of the Live Earth Concerts, held on July seventh, was to raise awareness about global warming. Around the world, they were attended by participants numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

When this overall figure is increased to include those watching the various shows via television and other sources, it is likely that up to two billion viewed the entertainment. All considered, one winds up wondering whether doing so will have provided an effective mechanism to promote people to adopt greener lives, ones in which less energy use and other benefits accrue. Obviously, it is too soon to tell.

However, it is known that the total carbon output for holding the event was conservatively estimated at 31,500 tonnes or more than 3,000 times the annual carbon footprint for a typical British citizen. {1} In addition, some critics linked the event to "greenwashing" {2} or lambasted it as feel-good hype slated to accomplish nothing of any real value. For example, this latter view has been taken by Dr Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute. {3} Meanwhile other denunciations included the seven point pledge, which people were asked to sign during the performances, as being "too little too late" and the ironic incongruity of having Daimler Chrysler as one of the program's main sponsors.

Meanwhile, heads of corporations, including Daimler Chrysler's, will, obviously, have to come to terms with conflicting goals. They will have to decide whether they want to continue with their current objectives fueling (quite literally) climate damage or change, while their competition does not, in ways that could likely cut profit margins.

Concerning the latter, forty-seven of the world's biggest economies (out of 100) are not countries.They are corporations. {4} Fortune 500 companies made record profits last year in the amount of $785 billion, a twenty-nine percent increase over 2005. Indeed, best ever returns existed for many individual companies, particularly those involved with energy provision.

For example, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Conoco Philips all posted top earnings in 2006 while Exxon Mobile's fourth quarter largess, alone, came in at a staggering $10.25 billion. Meanwhile car manufacturers are jockeying for first place rank in overall sales, which are on the rise worldwide due to improvements in economic conditions in some countries. Especially in those with new levels of affluence, such as some Asian nations, new vehicles can't be obtained fast enough.

In such a vein, China had thirty million cars in 2005 - the same number as existed in Great Britain in 2006. Moreover, the last year (1997) that data was tabulated worldwide, 600 million vehicles existed across the planet with the prediction that, given current trends, this number would double by thirty years.

Meanwhile, it does no good to speculate about the number of jets that exist and the frequency that they fly, nor the number of ships navigating every which way. Suffice it to say that thirty million visitors came to Great Britain, alone, in 2006 - roughly the same number of people as existed in Canada in 2000. In other words, people are using oil to travel by land, sea and air as if there is no end to it in sight and as if they don't care that there, actually, is.

So it is all well and good for managers of companies to wax enthusiastic about cutting back on carbon emissions, production of goods (such as cars, jets and yachts) from ever dwindling resources, fair wages for workers and all manners of other constructive goals in support of both human welfare and the environment. However, it is doubtful that change will come any time soon, especially as consumers are clambering for more of everything all of the time.

Let's put it all another way, a CEO of a fishing conglomerate would be fired were he to state, "I am worried about the UN report showing that seventy-one to seventy-eight percent of fisheries worldwide are depleted. I am anxious that our giant fishing trawlers are making it hard for other species and second world fishing communities to not starve. Maybe we should put less fish in grocery stores. Let's do so by having a smaller fleet. We'll, also, use less energy that way." {5} Likewise, can one picture a director of a paper company mentioning his concern that forests are being globally felled at an accelerated rate paralleling human population growth such that very few woodlands will be left by thirty years from now? {6} Similarly, is it conceivable that the owner of a transnational clothing consortium would offer any mea culpa over her company paying third world workers a dollar a day and no health benefits? {7} Can one imagine her, further, declaring that it is a shame the garments have to be transported on oil using cargo vessels and jets to the diesel guzzling trucks waiting to haul them to stores all across the globe?

Meanwhile, many company managers are (literally) banking on the trend that the human population will continue to explode and, thereby, create more customers with the result that there will ever be less available resources and ever more oil expended to supply merchandise until the whole shebang collapses.

Meanwhile, which individuals would not cave to the allure of becoming more affluent by selling farmland (from which one derives backbreaking labor and a modest salary per year) to housing developers for millions of dollars, their woods to paper mills, their rock beds to coal and oil companies, and so on? What portion of the population truly believes that it is not their right to decide the number of children that they can produce if they want big families despite that the world's global population is expected to increase to eight billion by 2028? {8} What fraction would adjust to being told that they cannot buy that twentieth pair of shoes and especially not the cheap variety, that is guaranteed to need replacement in a year? In the same vein, what amount would be willing to not drive, on a whim, to the movie theatre, the ice cream stand, the Little League game, the resort for the weekend getaway, the beach and all sorts of other fun places whenever the desire hits? What percentage wouldn't flip the air conditioner switch at the slightest discomfort or choose not to take an overseas vacation out of some vague concern over worsening global warming?

Yet most persons know that we'd better soon learn to change the way that we treat the world. The current droughts, the wild fires, the expanding deserts {8}, record temperatures for much of the globe, the melting ice sheets, the widespread extinction of up to one half of all species within 100 years {9} and many more indicators are all signs that we need to both limit our human numbers and our use of resources. We, especially, have to reduce purchasing products and partaking of those pastimes somehow dependent on oil - whether requiring it for manufacture or transportation.

All considered, we, hopefully, can learn to adjust to requiring less of much to which we are accustomed. If the means for doing so necessitates attendance at concerts, let's have more of these by all means. Whatever it takes, even musical gigs, will serve.

Yet let us, above all, try to keep in mind Buckminster Fuller's words, "We are called to be the architects of the future, not its victims". If we cannot do so, we will surely learn about having less by other means. However, the outcomes for the alternative ways won't be any bit as pleasant as a concerts on a relatively mild, sunny day. This is guaranteed.


{1} To see an overview and criticism of the event, please refer to:

{2} The term is defined at:

{3} The views of Patrick Michaels are expressed at:

{4} This information was derived from:

{5}The extent of fishery ruin is exposed at:

{6} Forest decimation rate is examined at:

{7} Labor overview is at:

{8} One of the deserts is portrayed at:

{9} Please see page 18 of this text:


Emily Spence lives in Massachusetts and deeply cares about the future of our world.

Bill Totten


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