Fossil Fuels

For more than a hundred years of human history, the words “the 21st century” were used as shorthand for the distant, advanced future. Utopians and futurists looked forward to an era of transformation, when knowledge and will would reshape human society almost beyond recognition. Now we are in the 21st century, and we can see for ourselves how those prognostications have fared. In many ways they have fallen short. We still have war, crime, disease and poverty; we do not have flying cars, interplanetary rocketships, or colonies on the moon. But, it is true, we have achieved many marvels, the likes of which people of past ages never even imagined.

Nevertheless, our technology has a weakness. Like the biblical King Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of a great statue with a head of gold and feet of frangible clay, there is a vulnerable point upon which the whole system depends.

Beneath our advanced, digital, 21st-century information economy lies a clanking, grinding, smoke-belching 18th-century industrial economy. For all our sophistication, we still depend on fossil fuels dug from the earth. The advanced electronics and integrated microcircuits that now control almost every major appliance in our homes are still powered by electricity derived mainly from the burning of coal dug from beneath America’s Appalachian mountains. Despite their sleek lines and gleaming chassis, our vehicles are still fueled by the controlled explosions of petroleum distillates wrung from the sands of the tumultuous Middle East. Although we have made improvements in efficiency, although our drilling and extraction technologies grow ever more complex and sophisticated, our society and our world is still almost completely dependent on old technology, largely unchanged since it was first invented almost two hundred years ago.

And that dependence, it has become abundantly clear, is now becoming a lethal threat. Like the ancient blue-green bacteria that once ruled the planet, until their emissions of poisonous oxygen changed the composition of the atmosphere and they wiped themselves out in a self-caused holocaust, our society is slowly poisoning itself with its own waste products. From the burning of coal and impure gasoline, we release into the atmosphere toxic mercury, acidic sulfur and nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter that produces choking smog and causes asthma and other respiratory sicknesses. But more dangerous, because less noticeable, is the invisible, insidious gas carbon dioxide, which is released in vast quantities, gigatons per year, by the combustion of all fossil fuels.

Rising into the troposphere, carbon dioxide accumulates in a stifling blanket, trapping the rays of the sun and warming our planet as surely as a hot car left in a parking lot. In the past, the biosphere had ways to prevent excessive warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: the oceans absorb it, green plants drink it, rain dissolves it, carbonate rocks sequester it. But we are pumping it into the atmosphere at a prodigious rate, burning through millions of years’ worth of hydrocarbon reservoirs in decades, overstressing the balancing mechanisms and driving the system relentlessly out of equilibrium. We are carrying out a reckless experiment, gambling with our own future at stake. And decade by decade, global temperatures tick upwards, glaciers recede, species dwindle, ice caps fragment, sea levels rise, storms gain strength, the extremes of flood and drought worsen, desert spreads, and the few voices crying in the wilderness to warn humanity of the danger are denigrated and marginalized by powerful and wealthy special interests who stand to profit by mortgaging the planet. There is no telling how much damage we have already done ourselves, nor how much worse things will get before the human species recognizes its danger, if it ever does, and takes steps to avert it. By the time humanity finds the resolve to confront this problem whatever the cost, it may be too little, too late.

But combustible hydrocarbons are not the only product of the Middle East that shapes the face of the world today. From those same scorching desert sands wells another fuel. Like oil and coal, this fuel has its origins in the distant past; unlike oil and coal, this one is invisible, intangible, but like them, this one, too, seriously threatens the future of the human species. Rather than being transmitted through drills and pipelines, it travels through the air, leaping from one mind to the next, kindling wildfires of hatred and prejudice. Our economy may run on fossil fuels of oil, gas and coal, but our society runs on the fossil fuel of religion.

Instead of the compressed remains of long-dead living things, the religions that dominate our world today are made up of fossilized dogmas, shaped in the cauldron of a long-gone world and compressed by the authority of time and habit into an immovable mass. Religion, too, has its impurities, but instead of sulfur and mercury, our beliefs are contaminated with impurities of tribalism and xenophobia, fractions of hate and fanaticism and glorification of martyrdom, and worst of all, the iron certainty that this is God’s will and all who say differently are evil heretics. And instead of smog and acid rain, when burned in the combustion chambers of human minds, they give us suicide bombers exploding in crowded streets, the gas chambers of the Nazis, the choking black clouds of burqas, the suffocating darkness of fundamentalism, bloodthirsty mobs in the streets screaming for holy war, the Twin Towers collapsing in flame.

In the Bronze Age civilizations where it was born, religion’s destructive ability was limited: a few local skirmishes, at worst a regional conflagration. But just like fossil fuels now underpinning the global economy, the fever of faith has spread, and is now infecting not small, roaming desert tribes, but vast, globe-spanning civilizations standing eye-to-eye with the keys to apocalypse in their hands. As terrorism spreads out of control, crowds flock to the banner of jihad, and the constitutional protections of secular democracies purchased by a river of patriots’ blood are slowly peeled back by malignant theocrats, we stand at the brink of catastrophe, and none can say whether we will turn away in time. Just as the lure of cheap and easy energy from fossil fuels has led us to hurl ourselves heedlessly toward destruction, just as we are addicted to oil and gas despite manifest evidence of harm, so too does religion give rise to the same evils. And just as with global warming, those who point out these inconvenient truths are scorned and ignored, while the looming disaster is strongly denied by those most entrenched in the system as it is.

But there is one ray of light in this gloomy picture, one path open to us if we choose to take it. Even while we put so much effort into extracting polluting, nonrenewable fuel from the ground, we are bathed in a golden sea of free, clean and renewable energy. Every day, light pours abundantly down on this planet from the Sun, the same energy that was stored to produce fossil fuels in the first place, more than enough to meet our needs if we use it wisely. And in much the same way, while we focus on religion to meet our moral and social needs – religion that inflames human groups with a sense of dogmatism and self-righteousness, that instills in them a sense of hatred toward all who are different, and that encourages them to impose their will on others by force – at the same time, we are surrounded by a better alternative, a potential sea of rational and humanist ideas, as free and glorious as the light of the sun. Free from the impurities of prejudice and xenophobia, this worldview puts an end to suspicion and hatred of outsiders, encouraging us instead to view the human race as the one united family it is. Free from the stifling weight of centuries of holy tradition, this worldview allows us to adapt to the changing needs of the modern world, and not just allows but encourages people to think for themselves. Just as with solar energy, we hold in our hands the keys to escaping our current predicament. The question is not whether the solution is feasible, but only whether humanity has the will and the courage to give up the old ways and implement it in time.

A Christian vs. an Atheist: On God and Government, Part 11
New on the Guardian: The Peaceful Side of Atheism
Why People Are Flocking to a New Wave of Secular Communities: Atheist Churches
You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Quath

    I think we should be careful of turning from one dogma into another. Sunlight is free (unless it is night), but it is not clean (sun’s radiation can cause cancer) and it is not really renewable (sun will eventually burn out in a few billion years). However, compared to other forms of energy, it is attractive, but we need to know the pros and cons of it.

    For example, making solar panels creates a lot of industrial waste. Sunlight will not meet our energy goals unless we cut back a lot on the energy we like to use. I doubt this will happen and can only imagine that our needs will grow.

    I think a good solution is a comprehennsive one in which all energy sources are used from coal to nuclear to geothermal. I also think we need to spend more money on research into other ways to get and use energy.

  • Philip Thomas

    The problem is not religion but ideology, of which admittedly religion is the common form. Just as the fosssil fuel problem is merely a common form of the energy problem: our energy needs are ever-growing.

    Rational Humanism is a good thing. But it too can be turned into a suffocating ideology if it becomes dominant: a multicultural society which recognises a variety of ideologies is perhaps safer than a monocultural one: not that multiculturalism is without danger!

  • Eziekel

    This analogy is awesome. I love it! Both issues are not only so comparable, but drastically necessary to address. Nice composition as well.

  • Azkyroth

    I’m genuinely curious if it would take more than just roofing every building with solar panels to meet America’s energy needs, possibly several times over.

    And maybe we should start putting solar panels on the blades of wind turbines, too…

  • Eziekel

    Hey quath, we’re talking about converting solar energy into usable energy, not infared, ultraviolate rays, or solar winds. and before all the hydrogen in the sun is converted into helium, thus ending the cycle of the star, our sun, our core, molten metal, will cool, we’ll lose our magnetisphere, and become vulnerable to solar winds; and our planet will become much like mars, and this will all take place long before our sun runs out so renewable is relative, and the sun’s losing energy is both insignificant and not at all relevant. unfortunately philip thomas, rational will never be dominant in a world where there are 2.1 billion christians, 1.2 billion muslims, and 40 million jews. he’s talking about rational humanism as an era, where religion doesn’t need to cause bloodshed and constant bigotry.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Except that fossil fuels pose no such problem. For one thing, they are not non-renewable. There is no evidence of that. That they are made from compressed bio-matter is not proven, and we always have more oil than we did before, not less. Furthermore, the warming issue is moot. Even if I just go ahead and say, fine, we do have global warming, so what? Who’s to say what is a “good” temperature? 200 years ago, Europe was much less productive agriculturally. You want to go back to that? Why? I call that a GOOD thing. Furthermore, CO2 does not warm us exponentially or linearly; it actually is less and less effective. CO2 does not “trap” anything; it absorbs and reemits electromagnetic radiation. Since we only get a limited amount of radiation from the sun, there is only so much warming that could occur. Take all the theories at face value, and we might end being about 5 degrees warmer than we were in the 70′s. Ooooh. And the “few voices in the wilderness”…come on Adam, you know better. Lessee, these few voices would be the governments and the people of Albania, Algeria, Antigua, Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijian, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, North Korea, DR of Congo, Denmark, Djiboute, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guaemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bessau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao Democratic People’s Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Maurutanta, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaraugua, Niger, Nigeria, Niue, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, South Korea, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sre Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobaco, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, The United Kingdom, Tanzania, Uraguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Yemen, not to mention the Democratic Party of the US and the opposition Party of Australia. You sound like a real minority. No, it’s those on the other side of the fence being marginalized, insulted, and ignored. Sorry for the long list, but the “poor us” comment rubbed me the wrong way.

    They regard themselves as the only educated elite, over all others. They work hard to show the general public the “truth”, but had certain groups of people they create false stereotypes over to hate and slander at every opporunity. Anyone who attempts to honestly question them is shown to their select texts. If those too are questioned, they are told that any competing source is evil and lies, and that if they continue to ask their questions, they will be put in with those same evil people. Those people are marginalized at every chance, and when they finally set up some bulwark for themselves, that’s attacked at every chance. Any support they have from even neutral groups is assailed. They follow the fallacy of “remebering the good and forgetting the bad”, seeing every piece of evidence as proof of their side, even if it’s speculative, but see every piece of contrary evidence as lies or it’s just validated enough for them. But evidence is usually not so important; they generally focus on suckering in the uneducated public, using terms and rhetoric over data. And it’s regretfully working in many places. Yes, just like creationists, extreme environmentalists do not fall in the realm of science. Not to say that there aren’t many people who are smart and buy into it; just like religion, they exist. But the fact is that 9 times out of 10, they simply point to a web site, make smart ass comments, ignore you, or if they actually know some things, try to hound you into silence.

    So, again, the best stance here is middle of the road, aka, it might be happening, let’s look more.

  • Ebonmuse

    I’m genuinely curious if it would take more than just roofing every building with solar panels to meet America’s energy needs, possibly several times over.

    From my understanding, it wouldn’t even take that much. The total amount of solar energy our planet receives every day is far in excess of what humanity currently uses; even if solar panels become no more efficient than they are now (about 15%), we could easily supply all our energy needs that way. According to this paper from Columbia’s Earth Institute, the Earth receives 170,000 terawatts of power from the Sun each year, whereas humanity’s annual energy consumption is about 15 terawatts. (Admittedly, much of that 170,000 is already intercepted by photosynthetic life, but there should be more than enough left over for us, considering.) Wikipedia says that the effective solar energy production capability of the Sahara Desert alone – and what better place to put solar panels? – is over 450 terawatts per annum. Whether it’s feasible to immediately begin producing solar panels on that large a scale is a different question, of course, but in terms of sheer energy available there are no problems whatsoever.

  • Jeff T

    If we as a society mature enough to be able to centralize power sources such as the solar panels in the Sahara, wind mills in the midwest, wave energy harvesting along the coast, nuclear (or fusion) reactors in the arctic etc, and use these power sources to power a modern electric grid world wide that exists without social, ethnic, and religious barriers, then the energy dilemma will be solved. However, when one reads of religious fanatics suicide bombing oil pipelines and remembers watching the Kuwaiti Oil fields turn the day into night… I seriously doubt our race will accomplish this. I have heard professors who state the earth has a couple hundred million years left to support carbon based life as we know it… lets hope the roaches have better luck.

  • Ebonmuse

    Even if I just go ahead and say, fine, we do have global warming, so what? Who’s to say what is a “good” temperature?

    A good temperature would be one that does not result in widespread extinctions of species, massive glacial melting and consequent rises in sea level (which could cause extensive economic damage to densely populated coastal regions worldwide through erosion, flooding and salinization), the spread of dangerous diseases out of the tropical areas to which they were formerly confined, and major increases in the strength of hurricanes and other destructive storms caused by rising sea temperatures. All this could occur with a global temperature increase of a few degrees or less. By comparison, the “Little Ice Age” that caused major famines throughout Europe several centuries ago was brought on by a temperature decrease of about 2 degrees.

    And the “few voices in the wilderness”…come on Adam, you know better. Lessee, these few voices would be the governments and the people of Albania, Algeria… not to mention the Democratic Party of the US and the opposition Party of Australia. You sound like a real minority. No, it’s those on the other side of the fence being marginalized, insulted, and ignored.

    Yes, the number of countries that signed onto the Kyoto Protocol is definitely a hopeful sign. However, of the two countries that have not yet signed on, one of them is the United States, which is by far the greatest CO2 emitter in the world both in absolute terms and per capita. To put it plainly, the participation of the entire rest of the world is not going to be enough if the U.S. does not take steps to curb its oil-addicted, environmentally destructive and unsustainable way of life. And in the U.S., conservationists are definitely a voice crying in the wilderness compared to the global-warming deniers in positions of power, such as Senator James Inhofe who, for example, has fought to censor federally funded studies on the possible effects of global warming, or the Bush administration that hires former oil-industry lobbyists with no scientific qualifications, such as Philip Cooney, to edit and delete sections from scientific reports on climate change at whim. There’s definitely one side here not playing by the rules of science, and it’s not the conservationists.

  • Azkyroth

    Except that fossil fuels pose no such problem. For one thing, they are not non-renewable. There is no evidence of that. That they are made from compressed bio-matter is not proven, and we always have more oil than we did before, not less.

    I’m not entirely sure what “we always have more oil than we did before, not less” is supposed to mean, so I won’t comment, but it sounds rather like you’re in a position similar to that of a person who expects a bottle to never be empty simply because he can keep drinking when it’s 1/8th of the way full at the rate he was when he first opened it. However, the claim that fossil fuels forming from compressed biomass is “unproven” is absurd on its face. The formation of coal from buried, compressed plant life is well understood and strongly supported–note the partially coal-ified fossils of plants found in coal formations on that page. The formation of oil from buried, compressed marine biomass is similarly not a matter of serious dispute. The highly speculative alternative models mentioned on both pages were both proposed by Thomas Gold, who is by profession an astronomer, not a geologist. While this fact does not automatically invalidate his opinion, the track record of people with specialties like astronomy or, for that matter, hydraulic engineering, proposing hypotheses outside of their areas of expertise which run radically counter to the scientific consensus in the relevant fields is somewhat poor.

    I don’t know whether you’re sincerely misinformed, experiencing cognitive dissonance, or being disingenuous, but at any rate, you have a model of the origins of something which is strongly supported, accepted by an overwhelming scientific consensus, and has not been seriously challenged in a very long time, which you are claiming is “unproven.” I note also that you have not yourself suggested an alternative explanation for the formation of fossil fuels. I suppose you want us to “teach the controversy?”

  • Archi Medez

    A thoughtful piece Adam. Interestingly, this same piece could have been written 30 years ago with only a few minor changes. A few comments:

    1. I wish you would cite references to back up what you are saying in the article. You are no doubt aware that there is much research to support your argument viz global warming, the use of alternative sources of energy, etc. Indeed, if I may be so presumptuous, I’d like to see you adopt a more scientific format to your articles, essentially laying out your argument and backing it up heavily with references (though for brief articles such as the above you could refer mainly to a smaller number of comprehensive review papers), and dealing with likely objections from those of the opposing views.

    2. I thought that your discussion of the negative effects of religious ideology was in some respects too general, and in others, too specific.

    It is too general in the sense that not all of the three main surviving Middle Eastern religions are equally engaged in terrorism and intolerance. It is overwhelmingly Islam that is engaged in terrorism and most severe in intolerance today, and this is likely to increase in the future. (It is likely to increase because, since 9/11, we have done practically nothing to stop its ideological source, namely, the Islamic schools, clerics, media, and traditional attitudes, combined with the relative increase in the Muslim population compared to the non-Muslim population overall). To say that an ideology is implicated causally in some various atrocities (acknowledging that ideology is one among other causal factors), it is necessary to show the actions of those who espouse the ideology are in accordance with the doctrines in question. In Islam, the practice of terrorism today matches the 7th-century doctrinal support. It’s not that there aren’t some Christian and Jewish terrorists. But there are so few of them, and so little support for them world-wide, that they can be regarded as exceptions. Importantly, from an ideological standpoint, Christianity has no clear mandate for terrorism against non-believers. In addition, although the Old Testament is descriptively violent and even prescriptively violent in many places, the interpretive traditions within Judaism never did arrive at anything like the legislation of jihad, which is accepted by mainstream Islamic scholars today (the most influential and notable being Qaradawi). Moreover, all those terrible statements about dashing babies on rocks, stoning adulterers and apostates, etc., are not actually followed by Jews. In other words, the Old Testament provides plenty of doctrinal support for mayhem and wanton destruction of human life, but these are interpreted as historically-bound descriptions largely confined to that past context. In Islam, however, mainstream interpretive and juristic traditions take the legislation of jihad prescriptively (i.e., orders to be followed) for all time until the Last Day. This has always been the case, ever since Mohammad claimed that Allah put His laws into the hands of the Muslims. Only Islam today still regularly orders the execution of apostates, “blasphemers”, and non-violent dissidents of various kinds. Only Islam today orders the execution of adulterers, gays and lesbians, and mixed-faith couples (specifically, this penalty is given where the man is non-Muslim and woman is Muslim; note that Muslim men are permitted to marry Christian, Jewish, and in some cases Zoroastrian spouses). In Muslim countries that don’t go with the full sharia penalties, other penalties such as jail terms, torture, ostracism, expulsion, seizing of property, are often given. “Moderates” within Islam, though often featured in the western media, are few and relatively powerless. Indeed, those who propose reforms that would modernize Islam are often executed or assassinated or live under death threat. I guess the point of all this is that none of this can be said to apply to Christianity or Judaism today, or else in certain respects applies to a much lesser, milder extent.

    Only Islam has a doctrine of martyrdom that permits suicidal attacks in contexts defined as jihad (that includes practically every context where Islam is perceived to be opposed). One becomes a martyr in Islam by killing or dying in the process of intending to kill non-Muslims in the cause of defending or spreading Islamic practices, beliefs, and laws. This has been accepted for the last approximately 1400 years, and is still accepted by mainstream scholars. All major schools of Islamic jurisprudence endorse the legislation of jihad (essentially, physical warfare to defend or spread Islam); many influential scholars (e.g., Qaradawi) fully support suicidal attacks against non-Muslim civilians who are deemed to be of a people at war with Muslims; and a large minority to a small majority of the general Muslim population supports suicide attacks (see the PEW website for those figures, which range from country to country). Indeed, had those survey questions referred specifically to suicidal attacks against non-Muslims (rather than just suicide attacks generally), the support would probably be much higher. According to the recent CBC and PBS documentary Nuclear Jihad, approximately 60% of Pakistanis approve of bin Laden.

    I thought your assessment was too specific with regard to religious ideology as distinguished from (dogmatic, rigid) ideology that may or may not be religious. (On this point, I’m in agreement with Phillip Thomas, above). It is not chiefly the spiritual aspects of Islam that give the world all this chaos and terror, but rather it is its worldly policies. One need only cite the examples of Stalinism and Maoism to show that not all evil ideologies are religious ones. Islam is very much a political, social, legal, military ideology. It is like a tribalism or nationalism that, ultimately, recognizes the legitimacy of no other kinds of borders. People are divided between believers and non-believers, and there is Land of Islam versus Land of War, yes, but belief is measured by outward obedience, by behaviour, by striving (jihad) in all available ways (violent and non-violent) to further the cause of Islam while thwarting all other ideologies (with the ultimate goal of destroying them on earth). The emphasis on outward manifestation of faith, the battling of evil (mischief/corruption) in the world, etc., comes from the Koran itself (e.g., see )

    Although the most problematic policies of Islam today (and to a lesser extent Judaism and Christianity) are its worldly ones, I don’t want to imply that there are not also problems with the theological aspects. In Islam, of course, it is difficult to separate the religious from the non-religious elements. However, the firm belief in an afterlife, specifically wherein Islamic martyrs are rewarded in Paradise for killing and being killed in jihad, is clearly a religious element that contributes to the willingness of terrorists to carry out their acts.

  • MissCherryPi

    BWM – I’ll ask you again, can you show me a peer reviewed jornal article that claims to have support for the hypothesis that global warming is not man made or is not a problem?

  • lpetrich

    Although it’s true that fossil fuels are, in a fashion, renewable; we are consuming them at at something like a million times the rate that they are being formed. And that’s not a figure of speech but an approximately-correct number.

    And it gets worse in some ways. I’ve seen serious speculation that termites had greatly reduced the rate of coal formation. They evolved from cockroaches in the Triassic, about 200 million years ago. And there were large coal deposits before then but not nearly as much afterwards. And according to this speculation, termites ate many the dead trees that would otherwise have become buried and coalified. And termites are will with us, eating dead trees.

    Here’s a reference I’ve been able to find on this subject.

  • Cassandra

    See this post over at the Carnival of the Godless! Thanks for the submission!!

  • Manoj Bhardwaj

    Quantification of gap between availbility of various energy sources and their consumption rates in future is not only difficult but also uncontrollable.
    Individuals will hae to cut down the consumption and relish the fact that they are contributing to the future.It is high time when a balanced approach towards consumerism is developed.Of course,it is against Business of the existing time,but this cultural shift will only help us in the long run.

  • Gordon Hide

    There is only one environmental problem. World human population is at least one order of magnitude too high and is still increasing. But don’t worry. If we don’t address this problem mother nature will address it for us. She has done so many times in the past with other species. Of course nature’s macro management of these problems tends to be a little messy.

    As for fossilised dogma, education and enlightenment are the only hopes.

  • Shawn Smith

    So, Gordon Hide, because you believe “we” need to “address the problem” of there being too many people by at least one order of magnitude (ten times too many, in other words), how exactly would you address it? Forced sterilizations? Post-birth abortions, aka infanticide? Medical experiments (c.f. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life)? Euthanasia? Global thermonuclear war? What exactly, are you proposing?

  • Alex Weaver

    Shawn: While Mr. Hide has not impressed me so far, you should consider that what he may mean is simply a concerted societal effort to have fewer children through contraception and aggressive public information campaigns…or ask him to explain in a less loaded fashion.

  • Alex Weaver

    PS: You left out “Take the warning labels off everything that’s already obviously dangerous.” If we have to try and reduce the population, that approach gets my vote. ;/

  • Shawn Smith

    Alex Weaver, you’re right. It’s just that as someone who would have died as a toddler had it not been for modern medicine, I see these Malthusian ideas put forth by Mr. Hide as the equivalent of, “Shawn Smith should be dead!” As a result, I tend to fly off the handle when I see them.

    And I don’t see how contraception, no matter how concerted, would be enough to lower the population by at least 90%. Heck, even the Nazis killed “only” 2/3rds of the Jews. And he did talk about the global human population, not some regionally limited area.

  • Alex Weaver

    1. Reproduce well below replacement rate.
    2. Wait a few decades.

  • Shawn Smith

    Well, if by, “few decades,” you mean one century, and if by, “reproduce well below replacement rate,” you mean that there’s only one child for every five couples, then I can see how that would work. A big problem with that scenario is that most people in their twenties and thirties enjoy sex too much for that to realistically work. Also, it seems to take for granted the assumption that humans are a net negative for the planet, which I don’t necessarily agree with.

  • hi

    hi so….. put somthing about the negative effects of fossil fuels on the environment up plz!!!!!!!!!!

  • Kilgore Trout

    Is there a way to text a standing ovation? clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap
    You get the idea.
    Great article, thank you for making this a must read.

  • spsmyth

    Also, it seems to take for granted the assumption that humans are a net negative for the planet, which I don’t necessarily agree with.

    I don’t agree with that either, however, (and I am not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination) humans have, through our technology, raised ourselves above the natural environmental chains. Name one natural predator that humans have besides disease or each other (and please, don’t say sharks, sharks attacking humans are always random events).

    About the solar panel thing; yes it is true, current silicon panels only capture about 25% of the available spectrum, and the most efficient, made from a combination of germanium, gallium arsenide and gallium indium phosphide grabs about 36% but are cost prohibitive. Currently, there is a joint effort at CIT and MIT working on a three bandgap panel that would capture 50% of the spectrum.

    Let me give you a real world example. I personally know people that have solar panels on their roofs that have access to so much power they can store it and still sell a surplus back to their local utility. For bad days, they can use that stored energy or (circumstances forbid) turn the switch back on and get energy from the local.

    There is a surplus of solar energy, the reason why development has slowed to a crawl is politicians and the energy companies that have them in their pockets, prefer to live in the 20th century. Why kill a cash cow?

  • Vjatcheslav

    A little remark about christianity: a “true believer” could easily torture unbelieving people until they repent. It simply means that the repenting people don’t have to go to hell, which is a very good deed for a christian. Actually, they used such arguments for the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Inquisition and the torture of witches.

  • Joffan

    Without getting too deeply into the future energy side of things; which as I understand it was mainly an interesting backdrop and analogy for the religious phase of the article;

    To me, “solar power” roughly takes the analogy of passion, of caring deeply and actively. Global warming is driven by solar energy, redirected by the fossil fuel emissions of the industrial world. In the same way, bloody conflict is driven by human passion directed by the dead hand of dogma. The opportunity and challenge now before us is to remove the religious dogma and instead channel that same passion, the human spirit, into creating and maintaining a rational caring society.