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William Shatner worries about global warming

By Joe Romm on October 17, 2010 at 11:43 am

"William Shatner worries about global warming"

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Plus his must-see interview by Glenn Beck who says, “I think there are too many stupid people”

captain.jpgOkay, this post is mostly my chance to blog about William Shatner, the iconic figure of 1960s science fiction techno-optimism, who has shown that one can build a career around almost absurdist self-parody (much like Glenn Beck).

Star Trek helped launch the optimistic futuristic vision of science fiction, in contrast to the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic vision that is more commonplace today.  Shatner has been widely parodied for his thespian style — to make the clich© meta, if you look up overacting in Wikipedia, there is a picture of Shatner.  He defends his style in a hysterical Beck interview (excerpted below):

He is an advocate of global warming action, as in this Sierra Club video :


Parade has one of its typical puff celebrity profiles on him today, but Shatner manages to sneak a couple of mentions of warming, which is two more than most people:

PARADE: So you like to spend a lot of time outside on Sunday?
SHATNER
: I am an outdoorsy kind of guy, but my previously unassailable energy does have some limitations. I do like to watch the news shows on Sunday morning, but then I start to worry about the melting polar ice caps and what’s happening in Afghanistan. One of my most prized possessions is an iPad; I’m locked into The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on that. But I still get the Los Angeles Times delivered because I’m worried about journalists like yourself being able to make a living these days….

PARADE: And after dinner, as the day winds to a close“¦
SHATNER:
We have a small, cozy TV room with a big leather sofa. My wife sits in a massage chair, and the two 90-pound Dobermans lie in my lap on the sofa. We watch TV until Liz falls asleep, and I just hold the dogs and watch a movie and let all the anxiety about the melting ice caps and Afghanistan””and now your job as a journalist””fade into the background. And I’m content.

He’s a funny guy, which was obvious if you have watched any recent interview, the Priceline commercials, or Boston Legal.  Indeed, Beck interviewed him in part because Shatner played a diehard conservative on that show.

The entire May 2008 Beck interview is online in pieces at YouTube.  Part 2 starts their debate about the environment — don’t miss where Beck says “I think there are too many stupid people”:

Here are the choice parts:

SHATNER:  I`m very much aware. I read Rachel Carlson 40 years ago.
BECK: Sure. OK.
SHATNER: And subscribed to Rachel Carlson`s “The Silent Spring.” It was happening then.
BECK: OK.
SHATNER: People became aware of the disintegration of the world a decade ago. Like everybody is smoking and then one day smoking is bad for you. Suddenly nobody was smoking.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: But it was a decade, as well, ago, before everybody started to realize that even second-hand smoke — now outdoor second-hand smoke, and everything is falling part on the smoke thing.
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: I buy that the world is falling apart.
BECK: Mm-hmm.
SHATNER: In every — in every way. The main cause of it is overpopulation. Not the main. The cause of the world`s destruction is there are too many people.

BECK: No, I think there are too many stupid people.

Here is where I refrain from making the obvious joke about Beck insulting his audience.

SHATNER: No. There are too many stupid and intelligent people. They`re so close together you can`t tell them apart.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: All right? They`re pressed together, defecating into the ocean, and it`s all — it`s just too much. The planet can`t take it.
BECK: I`ve never — defecate — I don`t know anybody that`s defecated in the ocean.
SHATNER: Everybody defecates into the ocean. You defecate here, it goes into the ocean.
BECK: Oh, well, thats New York. Anyway, go ahead.
SHATNER: Also — every — everything ends up in the ocean, OK.
BECK: OK. Right. Remind me not to go have seafood now.
SHATNER: No. Exactly.
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: You`re — you`re trembling on the edge of toxic food and toxic air and toxic water all the time.
BECK: Sure. Got it.
SHATNER: We`re trying to find ways to avoid that all the time.
BECK: See, now you`re scaring me. You`re calling me Chicken Little?
SHATNER: No. I`m saying I subscribe to that.
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: And I`m — I`m in the area of losing faith that there`s anything we can do about it, because people continue to propagate.
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: And so where 6 billion becomes — you know, we`re going to reach 7 billion.
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: And the more there are, even though you lessen the number, the more they get.
BECK: It`s like a Harvard endowment.
SHATNER: Yes, compound interest.
BECK: Sure.
SHATNER: And so here we are. But — but where you should be rational.
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: Because you’re talking to people all over the United States…
BECK: I want you to know, America, I have never made you the promise I was going to be rational. Not once. Not to you. Not to him.

Here is where I refrain from making the obvious joke about pretty much every show Beck has ever done (see Fox News blurts out its agenda: “Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through”¦. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these groups trillions,” and then put “the whole corrupt ‘green jobs’ concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream”).

SHATNER: … pointing us, with the millions of people who watch you, is, the government just said that it`s going to be 35 miles a gallon in 2020.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: That`s 12 years from now.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: What? It`s not going to happen. No, of course it`s going to happen.
BECK: It`s not going to happen.
SHATNER: Not only is it going to happen, it will be 50 miles a gallon in five years. I mean, how dare they say in 12 years we`re going to gain seven or eight miles per gallon when oil is reaching $125 a barrel?
BECK: Oh, no, wait a minute, wait a minute, hang on just a second. Are you talking about capitalists making it happen or the government making it happen? Because I believe people, I believe America — I still — I still…
SHATNER: Who cares who makes it up? The Israelis recently have said they`ve got a new car that`s going to transform transportation.
BECK: We`re following a guy right now who`s got a car — he says it`s coming out next year — that runs on air, compressed air.
SHATNER: I don`t know about that. I saw — a guy showed me an engine, he poured Coca-Cola into it, and it ran on Coca-Cola. I don`t know about that. All I do know is that it is well within the technology of today to get 75 miles a gallon. Why is the government legislating 35 miles a gallon 12 years from now when we`re in a crisis now?
BECK: You tell me.
SHATNER: No, no. No, no, you`re the one who`s telling us. I`m asking, you why aren`t you saying, “Are you crazy? Twelve years and seven gallons — seven miles per gallon?”
BECK: Because I`m on the air every day saying government is selling you down the river every step of the way, every step of the way! This government is selling us — both the Democrats and the Republicans have no frickin` clue what`s going on.
SHATNER: That`s why I watch you. That`s exactly why.
BECK: Yes, but I`m saying that every day. And you think I`m crazy.
SHATNER: No. You`re like a crazy prophet. The world is ending, the world is ending and then the world ends. Golly! If I don`t…
BECK: I mean, I`m just saying you should bury your guns, your gold and your food in your backyard. That`s all I`m saying.
SHATNER: And your car.
One of the answers is awareness of the — how little resources we have left, including life forms that are dying off so rapidly.
BECK: We`ve talked about it all week, about, you know — because people are hammering me, because I`m saying drill for oil. But I`m also saying put — put nuclear energy on to the table.
SHATNER: Don`t go to — don`t go to Alaska and ruin another place.
BECK: You don`t have to ruin it, Bill. You know that.
SHATNER: But it`s always ruined. We`re human beings. A drunken cat that drives it into Iraq.
BECK: But, see, that`s the problem. We don`t have to drive — by the way, that`s oil that`s coming from a foreign country. We don`t have to be drunk, and we don`t have to be irresponsible. We can go…
SHATNER: We`re human beings. We`re prone to those mistakes. We`re prone — you have to allow for stupidity in every business.
BECK: Yes. But you also — if you say we`re prone to mistakes, you also have to say, we also can learn from our mistakes.
SHATNER: We know that you need a double-hulled boat, if that`s the — we`re talking about this particular problem.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: You know you knew — up there, with the currents and the winds.
BECK: Sure.
SHATNER: You know that a double-hulled boat is necessary. And being drunk on duty can`t be when you`re going, “Whoa, look at this, you know. There`s a wave! And I`m drunk!” You can`t do that.
BECK: He`s the best. Back with William Shatner in just a second.

SHATNER: That we`ve engendered this takeover, find a solution and do it, and do it well and do it kindly. But we now need an individual to sweep away all the things that America has been doing for all these years without a crisis.  We need election reform. We need — we need true elections. We need people not influencing the government with special needs. We need an environmental policy. We need an immigration policy. We need the war policy. We need people who can make decisions…
BECK: You know, Bill, there`s — there`s — I think — I don`t know what your politics are. I don`t want to know your politics because — I mean, you tell me if you want to. But I think that the left and the right and the liberals and the conservatives and the Republicans — I think all that`s bull crap.
SHATNER: I agree.
BECK: I think people watch — sitting at home, and they watch television they go, “What the hell? It`s not that hard. It`s not that hard to figure this out.”
SHATNER: No, it`s not hard for the guys elected either. But what those guys elected are trying to do is, how do I keep my job and make a reform?
BECK: Yes.
SHATNER: Well, I`d rather keep my job than make a reform.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: I`ll let the next guy, 20 years from now, do the reform.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: And everybody does that.
BECK: Right.
SHATNER: We need — we need the population to say we need a Democratic revolution, and let`s get back to the basics of the Constitution.
BECK: I think it`s going to happen.
SHATNER: I think so, too. I think that if you realize — you`ve got children?
BECK: Yes, I`ve got four.
SHATNER: OK. Your four children, not you…
BECK: Part of the overpopulation.
SHATNER: No, yes. But your four children are going to be in dire straits in 25 years.
BECK: Yes, I know that.
SHATNER: I mean, really bad.
BECK: Who`s the scare…
SHATNER: Apocalyptic.
BECK: Who’s the scare-monger? Who`s the chicken — hang on, zip. We`re taking a brick. We`ll be back. We`ll find out which one is the scare-monger, the fear monger right here. Right here.

Hmm.   When Captain Kirk goes apocalyptic on us, we are in deep doo-doo, or, rather deep “$#*!

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24 Responses to William Shatner worries about global warming

  1. toby says:

    The Enterprise is confronted with a gigantic alien craft of enormous power. An ugly alien comes on the viewscreen and says.

    “Surrender in 1 minute, or I will destroy your ship and everyone on it.”

    The screen goes blank. Consternation reigns.

    Spock to Kirk: “It’s game over , Captain, – Checkmate”.

    Kirk to Spock (coolly): “This isn’t chess, Mr. Spock, – this is poker!”

    Unforgettable moment. Taught me more in 30 seconds than many plays by Shakespeare, though he was a better dramist overall than Gene Roddenberry!

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    We need a prime directive for climate change.

    … in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1948 novel Space Cadet, which describes a military organization very similar to Star Trek’s Starfleet). The Prime Directive closely mirrors the zoo hypothesis explanation for the Fermi paradox. In an interview with Gene Roddenberry in a 1991 edition of ‘The Humanist’ magazine, he implied it also had its roots in his belief that Christian Missionaries were interfering with other cultures http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_Directive

    Do not interfere with the environment.

  3. From Peru says:

    Climate Change: the final chance. These are the voyages of the starship Earth. Its four-year mission: to explore strange new energy sources, to seek out new hope and new economic systems, to boldly go where no denier has gone before!

  4. Vicki says:

    Glenn Beck is a prime pusher of republican corporate greed and corruption. He is profiting and braying like a donkey to the ass#s who are his flock. Beck hates the truth obviously. He is chicken little and hates sane and honest common sense.

  5. Sailesh Rao says:

    It isn’t human overpopulation, it is human overconsumption. The two aren’t equivalent. Our species has set up structures to over consume the resources of the planet, pretty much independent of the population of our species. Since we know human population will stabilize at some point – depending on how soon we take care of the basic needs of those who have the least among us – it isn’t an infinite growth phenomenon. In contrast, human overconsumption is threatening to be an infinite growth phenomenon under our present cultural paradigms. For a species that comprises less than 0.5% of the biomass on the planet, human beings are now consuming between 31% to 35% of the photosynthetic output of the planet with just the top one-third of humanity doing most of that consumption. Just by consuming high up in the food chain, acting like the top predators on the planet. By willful choice.

    Ants have some 30 times the biomass of humans and don’t seem to have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. What do ants understand that humans don’t?

  6. Wit's End says:

    Enough with the paltry improved gas mileage rules! Obama should just declare a state of emergency and ration fuel. Everybody gets the same amount. If your house is too big to heat with your allotment, share it! If your car guzzles too much gas, drive less, carpool, bicycle or walk. Get a goat to mow the lawn. We could buy a lot of time to develop clean energy if our entire society conserved fuel. People accepted rationing in WWII – and this is WWIII.

    The military gets it – what’s with the government??

    http://www.chrismartenson.com/blog/future-chaos-there-no-plan-b/46331

  7. Bob Ashworth says:

    Got to agree with Sailesh Rao #5 about over consumption.

    I worry that if that is advocacy for climate change action, I hope you can find someone a little more forceful!. Sounded like alot of waffle to me.

  8. Chris Winter says:

    Toby wrote: “Unforgettable moment.”

    Indeed, The Corbomite Maneuver was one of the better episodes of ST:TOS. Of course there was quite a bit between those two lines you quoted, building up the tension. And it was Bones who inadvertently enabled Kirk to put the pieces together.

    It would be nice to think that the Denialists’ strategy is something like Baloch’s — to discover our real intentions.

    If only…

  9. OregonStream says:

    Ah, gotta love the Shat. Especially like the bit about allowing for stupidity in every business. But he does come across as just a tad naive when he says “it is well within the technology of today to get 75 miles a gallon. Why is the government legislating 35 miles a gallon 12 years from now when we`re in a crisis now?”

    Maybe because the government so far refuses to hash out policy that prices carbon and offsets the initially greater expense? Sure the technology exists for a vehicle to get 75+ MPG, at relatively high cost and/or at the expense of power/mass/accessorization. The rest of the story is that most people still aren’t changing their driving habits and preferences so that a really lean vehicle can be commercially successful. Currently, hybrids like the Prius (50 MPG combined) look like the pinnacle of commercial success, but they’re still a tiny percentage of vehicle sales. That needs to change.

  10. Paulm says:

    #6wits, the time is almost upon us. I find our behavior impossibly irrational. Our to be more precise our leaders and states persons behaviors irrational.

    How can we be staring the gratest threat to humanity with such a narrow window of opportunity (too late for serious damage) to tackle it and The people who know and can do something about it are just pissing about.

    How can this be?

  11. hapa says:

    periodically i re-watch ‘star trek vi’ (made in 1991) to see how the end of the cold war plays in my changing head, and to draw inspiration from the film’s political wisdom.

    for those who haven’t seen it, the basic story is the klingons’ warmongering left them poor & ecologically wrecked, forcing them to make peace with the federation of planets. but there are parties on all sides who would kill to keep the war going and the enterprise crew — themselves very skeptical of the olive branch — are caught in the middle of the deadly sabotage attempt.

    one thing they nailed was a line i might use on my tombstone. the enterprise crew and the klingon peace delegation have just eaten dinner together and it was a diplomatic trainwreck.

    CAPTAIN KIRK: We must do this again sometime.

    KLINGON CHANCELLOR GORKON: You don’t trust me, do you. I don’t blame you. If there is to be a ‘brave new world,’ our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.

    [KIRK gives GORKON a long thoughtful look as the humans & klingons say their goodnights]

    glenn beck’s audience IS that generation that can’t live w/o the war.

    (note: aldous huxley quoted shakespeare for the title of ‘brave new world.’ before he permanently painted it as a dystopia, the phrase meant more like ‘youthful over-excitement about what civilization can do in the future.’ that’s the sense being used here — gorkon is gently making fun of himself for daydreaming of peace like a little kid. not talking about pod people.)

  12. catman306 says:

    William Shatner’s OK with me. Here as a beat poet reciting Palin.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mF_t1A8LGzg

  13. Wit's End says:

    hapa, this New Yorker article delineates trail from the Cold War to Glen Beck.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/18/101018fa_fact_wilentz

    OregonStream, you should see this video which contains a training session for teabaggers – using an actual mini car as a prop to demonstrate what they don’t want government to force them to drive. Incredible!!

    http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2010/10/palingates-rips-into-koch-brothers.html

  14. Crank says:

    How can we be staring the gratest threat to humanity with such a narrow window of opportunity (too late for serious damage) to tackle it and The people who know and can do something about it are just pissing about.

    How can this be?

    Because the people who are most interested in doing nothing about the problem have all the money. Enough money to acquire enough mindshare of key influencers that they can persuade a significant proportion of the population that there’s no problem.

  15. Christopher Yaun says:

    The EAARTH MATTERS

    Star Trek, The Next Generation….Season 3, Episode 15 (63), “Yeterday’s Enterprise”….best dramatic hour in the history of television, well, best dramatic hour in the history of Star Trek.

    The Enterprise finds itself in an alternate timeline engaged in the final battle…the Enterprise is no longer a “Cruiseship” but a battle wagon, a dreadnought, the ship is dark and tense, constantly on the alert for the next Klingon attack. Only Guinon senses that something is wrong…that time has shifted…that reality is wrong…

    “Every fiber in my being says this is a mistake. I can’t explain it to myself, so I can’t explain it to you. I only know that I’m right….This timeline must not be allowed to continue…”

    Picard, brilliant leader, listens to Guinon’s advise and orders actions contrary to common sense…

    In an tense exchange with the Captain of the Enterprise “C” (it is an alternte time-line after all) Picard takes the Captain aside and in a tense whisper informs her, “The war is going very badly for the Federation, far worse than is generally known. Starfleet Command believes that defeat is inevitable. Within six months, we may have no choice but to surrender.”

    If you love Start Trek you will want to watch this episode.

    I think about that statement….”far worse than is generally known”.

    Climate change….global warming are distractions.

    We are deep in the “Great Disruption”, the Anthropocene Era….humans have disrupted the environment and the very Eaarth is shifting under our feet….Climate Change is one of many great catastrophes that are advancing upon us as we pursue our little human goals…..global warming, ocean acidification, nitrogen cycle disruption, ocean dead zones, collapse of wild fisheries, genetically engineered species mingling with native species, invasion of non-native species, destruction of potable fresh water, rapid species extinction…rainforest destruction….we have had three major environmental “leaks” in the past year…the red stuff in Hungary, the BP Gulf disaster, the coal sludge collapse, was that West Virginia….these are just the few that make the press….

    The Environment is going very badly for all living things, far worse than is generally known. Within the next 100 years the environment as we knew it may no longer exist.

    This timeline must be allowed to continue….

  16. Christopher Yaun says:

    The Eaath Matters

    Everyone needs an editor…the last line of my previous comment should read….”This timeline must NOT be allowed to continue!”

  17. Lewis C says:

    Sailesh at 5 -

    With respect, I don’t see the logic of your statement:

    “Since we know human population will stabilize at some point – depending on how soon we take care of the basic needs of those who have the least among us – it isn’t an infinite growth phenomenon. In contrast, human overconsumption is threatening to be an infinite growth phenomenon under our present cultural paradigms.”

    As far as I can see, human population is rapidly heading for a self-limited peak and decline, probably much sooner that official scenarios project (10 to 20 years?)
    due to both the destruction and degradation of resources and most particularly to climate destabilization. The prospect of this being avoided is plainly limited by diverse obstructions of the requisite timely mitigation (including global emissions control, plus carbon recovery, plus temporary albido restoration).

    Resource destruction is evidently self limiting rather than “potentially infinite” – one cannot destroy the same resource twice – nor is there a continuing steady capacity for further destruction as resources are destroyed. Foreseeable timber scarcity and oil shortages are two cases in point, with various items now serving resource destruction, such as new houses, steel, and chemical fertilizers, becoming increasingly unaffordable as a result.

    The extent of resource destruction may of course far outrun the period of population growth – which of us, when destitute with suffering children to feed clothe and shelter, would not exploit some part of nature in a manner that is unthinkable from within our present status ? But, without collective action for the common good to re-establish the natural resources as ‘commons’, that chaotic exploitation of nature would eventually be self-limiting as this profoundly ignorant aggressive culture fails to enable people to survive with both their capacities and resources dwindling.

    When, OTOH, we can pull together and recognize that we have no future outside of the recognition of natural resources as the heritable Commons, (which technically are defined by the schedule of the agreed rights and duties of their users, be they shepherds or nations), then we should start to reverse the net erosion of sustainable resources and accept the intergenerational rationing of those which are finite.

    This will entail putting down the pernicious viking economics of ‘Open Access’ resources, that Hardin and his exponents falsely describe as being inevitably and tragically abused ‘commons’
    in order to provide a fraudulent justification both for continuing the resources’ exhaustion (before they’re exhausted by others – e.g. the fisheries)
    and, wherever feasible, for the resources’ seizure and fragmentation as exclusive and expendable private property (e.g. the ex-rainforest agribusiness estates).

    Viking economics by the way is the charming but rarely acknowledged basis of the ‘Western’ school of corporate ideology. Its mission, in breif, can be summed as:
    “Trade when you must; pillage when you can; rape when you get the chance.”

    My nation, now known as the ‘Welsh’ (which translates as ‘foreigner’ in Swiss-German) have had the honour of resisting that viking mentality for over sixteen centuries. There’s a strange satisfaction in seeing things coming to a head at long last.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  18. catman306 says:

    “Within the next 100 years the environment as we knew it may no longer exist.”

    One hundred years, that long, you think? The environment I knew 50 years ago is already gone, not coming back. And that was BEFORE the many hockey sticks of exponential destruction took their bend.

  19. John Mason says:

    O/T but what part of Wales are you/were your ancestors from, Lewis? (not sure if you’re posting from the US or UK….

    I’m in Machynlleth.

    Cheers – John

  20. Jay Alt says:

    Great words from Shatner – sorta weird but entertaining, full of meaning and emotion. Thanks! Glenn Beck is only 46. He’ll probably be around a long time, doing some variation of his act.
    So after 25 years has passed, don’t forget to remind him of this interview, over and over and over again. Until he’s just as sick of hearing about it as we are of hearing about HIM!

    SHATNER: No, yes. But your four children are going to be in dire straits in 25 years.

  21. Christopher Yaun says:

    catman306: yes, I agree….How do I speak that truth? Few notice the changes and even fewer want to hear…it is called “normalization”.

    http://esciencenews.com/articles/2010/07/01/trophic.cascades.disruption.may.include.loss.woolly.mammoth.saber.toothed.cat

    This article on “cascades” speaks volumns.

    Chris

  22. Bob Doublin says:

    I can’t decide what’s worse and who I pity more: His four kids for having a father like Glenn Beck or us (the rest of the world)if ANY one of the four ARE GLAD they have a father like Glenn Beck and want to be just like him when they grow up (if so I hope I NEVER meet them).

  23. Gnobuddy says:

    #@5: Sailesh Rao says:
    For a species that comprises less than 0.5% of the biomass on the planet, human beings are now consuming between 31% to 35% of the photosynthetic output of the planet

    By willful choice.
    ——————————————
    I’m totally with you about needless conspicuous consumption, but even so your comparison is not being very fair to the human species. You’re ignoring some basic biology and physics that really cannot be ignored – not all forms of biomass are the same.

    Consider, for example, enough ants to add up to the same mass as one human being. The ants, being cold-blooded, need far less energy to stay alive than the human does. Humans are not only warm-blooded, but also have a disproportionately large brain, which needs a disproportionately large amount of power to keep it running. So again, the human needs more resources to stay alive than the ants do. Finally, ants move at much slower speeds and cover much shorter distances than nomadic humans do. So the human also needs far more energy for locomotion than the ants do.

    I don’t know the exact factors for any of these items, but it’s clear that a kilogram of ant biomass is not equal to a kilogram of human biomass in terms of demands on the environment, even if the humans were living as our ancestors did a hundred thousand years ago.

    If you do the same comparison of human biomass with vegetative biomass – algae, say – the difference gets even bigger. Algae does not move of its own accord, therefore plants require pretty much zero energy for locomotion. (Not quite zero since they actually do grow vertically, which requires some energy – the damage a falling tree can do illustrates just how much energy is needed to erect that tree in the first place.)

    That said, there’s no doubt that we spoiled first-world humans use orders of magnitude more energy than what is needed just to sustain life. Still, it is extremely naive to believe that billions of humans could exist on earth without exhausting its resources.

    As an example, don’t forget that we need plants for food, and most crop plants need nitrogen in the soil to grow. Lightning (by oxidizing atmospheric nitrogen) provides much of this, bacterial activity and decomposing animals and plants produces some also. However by 1898, there were so many humans on earth that all the lightning on the planet was insufficient to grow enough crops to keep us fed, and we humans were dependent on mining saltpeter (sodium nitrate) from Chile as fast as we could to keep from starvation (two-thirds of all the worlds nitrogen-rich compounds used in fertilizers came from Chile in 1898).

    Luckily for us (or unluckily, depending on your point of view) Fritz Haber’s chemistry research and BASF’s engineering together created synthetic ammonia – and we were able to make enough synthetic nitrogen-rich fertilizer to avert world starvation and allow the human population to continue to balloon, to the ludicrously large number of nearly 7 billion today.

    Perhaps if ammonia had not been synthesized at that time, the world population would have leveled off at a number that would have averted the disaster we are facing today. Who knows. But a hundred years ago, we were already facing a huge crisis due to overpopulation – we had exceeded the natural ability of the planet to grow enough food to feed us.

    Idiots that we are, we ignored that warning more than a hundred years ago and plunged ahead. Our chemistry saved us. Now in 2010, we’re still ignoring the warnings from the global environment, and still plunging ahead blindly. And we’re still hoping our technology will save us. Swap out your incandescent light bulb for an LED bulb, that will save the planet. Sure it will – it will bring back the melted icecaps and the millions of extinct species and fix our water shortage crisis, right? Sure it will!

    -Gnobuddy

  24. Sailesh Rao says:

    #17 Lewis C and #23: Gnobuddy, My comment was a reaction to William Shatner’s claim that the main cause of the world’s destruction is overpopulation. This is a popular view among those who travel in private jets while shaking their fists at the breeding masses in poor countries.

    Please see the video http://www.gapminder.org/videos/population-growth-explained-with-ikea-boxes/ . Here, Hans Rosling shows that as child survival rates improve, families all over the world choose to have less children in roughly the same proportion as families in rich nations have done. This is just historical data that he’s projecting. If we had known this in 1960, I hope that rich nations would have then transferred their child survival technologies and mechanisms to poor nations in 1960 itself, so that the world population would have stabilized around 3 billion. In hindsight, we now know that helping those poor children survive in 1960 would ultimately help rich nations live sustainably in 2010.

    Nothing has changed on this aspect. We need to help the poor around the world not just for their benefit, but for our benefit, the benefit of the Facebook crowd as well. This is not charity, but enlightened self interest.

    With respect to the root cause of the world’s destruction, at the moment, our dominant culture instils violence towards Life, especially women and other life forms, and envy and self promotion as core human values. This is how the culture keeps the citizenry suitably frightened and continuously consuming various novelties that it churns out. As George W. Bush unwittingly revealed right after 9/11, consumption is the engine of this culture and consequently, its Achilles heel as well. Cut down on it and unnecessary corporations begin to wither away and die. And the pillaging and polluting of the planet would be vastly reduced. As such, over consumption is more of a root cause of the world’s destruction than over population per se.

    In contrast, if we begin to adopt Ahimsa (nonviolence) or compassion towards all Life as a core human value, then I believe that would give us the best chance of survival as a species. Purely, from an ecological standpoint. This is because an Ahimsan outlook would lower our photosynthetic footprint on the planet, release vast photosynthetic resources to regenerate forests, restore ocean life, sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. That is, we need to modify our culture and structures to help other life forms to survive, not out of charity, but for human survival, for the enlightened self interest of our species.