Ehrlich on the Environment: Many Links, One Chain | Seventh Generation
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Ehrlich on the Environment: Many Links, One Chain

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Author: the Inkslinger

Responding to a heckler who said his songs all sounded the same, musician Neil Young once famously remarked that, "it’s all one song." In their new book, The Dominant Animal, Paul Ehrlich, the noted Stamford professor and environmentalist, and his wife, Anne, apply that idea to the environment and argue that it’s all one problem.

This is a truism that too often goes unrealized. We’re not facing a series of environmental issues. We’re facing just the one, but it’s like the mythical hydra, with a lot of heads weaving around each other at a dizzying speed. No matter where we look—from food, energy, and pollution to extinction, overdevelopment, and environmental racism—we’re finding the same thing: a society built on an ultimately unsustainable foundation that’s crumbling faster with each new brick.

Though it’s tempting to be discouraged by this kind of idea, to feel overwhelmed by a foe with a seemingly insurmountable number of guises and tentacles, this is actually a notion that should fill us with great hope. It suggests that as we solve one problem, we’ll also be solving many others.

Once you see this wisdom, it becomes fairly easy to see the rest. As we fix, for example, our energy dilemmas, we’ll also be solving our pollution problems. As we deal with overdevelopment and sprawl, which is certainly part of dealing with our energy dysfunction, we’ll also be creating sustainable cities that better concentrate our human footprint and this, in turn, will preserve natural habitat and protect biodiversity. And on and on it goes.

More importantly, this kind of thinking also offers us a grand holistic strategy. It tells us that as we fix one thing, we can and should be looking for ways that our solution can cure other ailments as well and striving to engineer alternatives that heal more than one ill at a time. This “total body” approach is an ideal one to take because without it we’re likely just grasping at threads in an increasingly frayed tapestry and only really succeeding in pulling it all further apart.

The Ehrlichs have taken a lot of heat from a rather dedicated opposition for predictions that haven’t come true and they are likely to get some flak for their new ideas as well. The point that is missed is that their forecasts may simply be taking a while to come to pass. The Ehrlichs aren’t wrong. They just haven’t been right yet. One thing’s for sure: They’re quite correct about the interconnectedness of the environmental issues we’re dealing with. And even if they’re wrong about the rest of it, that single idea is so important that everything else is just a footnote.


Cira picture
"The M.O. of John Holdren's current view on clmtiae change is basically the same: focus on worst case scenarios and assumptions, while ignoring the adaptability and non-linear nature of the world. Once again we have doomsday predictions and the advocacy of draconian regulations and laws to avert the 'disaster'..."Yes, it's strange to me that Roger seems to be compartmentalizing John Holdren's views on population as though they have no relationship to other very current and relevant subjects, e.g., global warming.As Roa noted in comment #21, Holdren's defense of his 1986 prediction that one billion people could be killed by CO2 emissions by 2020 was nothing short of ridiculous.If I had been in Senator Vitter's place, I would not have let Holdren get away so easily with his insistence that 1 billion people "could" be killed by CO2 by 2020. I would have insisted he come up with a numerical estimate for the probability he is associating with "could." And if he quoted odds of say, 1 in 10, I would volunteered to bet him up to $1000, at whatever odds he quoted, that a mutually-agreed-upon panel of 5 scientists would not agree in 2020 that 1 billion people had been killed by CO2 from 1986 to 2020.And if he quoted odds of say, 100 to 1, or 1000 to 1, I would have asked him why he didn't think that it was appropriate, as a scientist, for him to divulge that the "could" meant such incredibly long odds. (And I also would have challenged him to a $1 bet, at whatever odds he quoted, that a mutually-agreed-upon panel of 5 scientists would not agree in 2020 that 1 billion people had been killed by CO2 from 1986 to 2020.)I consider apocalyptic predictions that are unsupported by science, of the type John Holdren has repeatedly made in his career, to be a form of scientific malpractice. So I don't consider it to be "Much Ado About Very Little," especially considering that the person in question is the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
dorothyp picture
The concept is obvious to anyone who looks at the world wholistically - and to look at it any other way is to be blind. We now know that we cannot separate mind and body. We need to look at our bodies and our world as a whole, not in their parts. See Original Wisdom by Robert Wolff and You Don't Have to be Wrong for Me to Be Right by Brad Hirschfield. We are each parts of the whole. We must care for the whole in order to survive. dorothy