Nature and the Environment

By David A. Cooper

Is the world run by idiots? There are over six billion people on this planet, but one billion of those people behave as if they own the whole world, leaving most of the other five billion desperately scraping at the soil and hacking down forests just to try to feed their children. The rich billion are taking far more than their fair share: they are polluting the world by using too much energy, and they're also eating far too much animal meat (which uses many times as much land to grow the same amount of food). I could tell you all manner of things about animals and birds, but what's the point when so many of them will soon be extinct? I could tell you lots of things about the Amazon, but what's the point if the whole forest is going to dry up and burn out of existence over the next hundred years? It may surprise you to learn that we've known all about the problem of global warming for over twenty years, but the politicians in wealthy countries have allowed the rich billion to go on burning more and more oil every year ever since, and many of them are still trying to increase the amount that's burned today! There will come a point where it will be impossible to stop global warming no matter what we do: methane gas escaping from ground which used to be frozen will eventually enter the air in such volumes that it will cook the planet by itself, even if we stop burning oil completely. We don't actually know the point of no return lies, so we can only hope we haven't already gone past it.
indentWell, what can we do about it? The adults of today seem to have decided that the best way to deal with the problem is to teach children all about it. Once they've done that, they'll teach them about it again, and again, and again. Maybe they hope that you'll become so bored and depressed that you'll start taking drugs and not notice when billions of the world's poor begin to starve to death and start fighting wars of extermination over supplies of water? Actually, I think most adults have simply given up: they look as if they're just going to sit back and watch it all happen. I suppose it'll make good television viewing for them, just like earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. I often hear people on talk radio stations going on and on about how the world's climate has always been changing and that it's all natural: "Why should we bother to take action when it's got nothing to do with us? Why should we worry about millions of people starving to death: people have starved to death often enough in the past, so what does it matter if a few more die now? And who ever said life is meant to be fair? Some people are born lucky and others aren't: why should we help them when they wouldn't bother to help us if it was the other way round? And in any case, they're not really proper people like us: they're primitives!"
indentI promised myself when I was five that I would never become an adult. In my head I'll always be a child, and that's why I can still see the world clearly and tell right from wrong. I see rich adults with two or three racing cars parked in their drives, moaning about the cost of petrol and blaming the Chinese for everything: "Why should we stop burning so much oil if the Chinese are going to go on burning more and more? If we cut back our pollution, any reduction we make will be wiped out by the Chinese increasing their pollution, so what's the point? If the Chinese were to stop burning more oil, then maybe then we could think about replacing our cars with new ones that use a bit less fuel, but we can't give up driving: we need cars to get to work, to do the shopping, to get our children to school, and many other vital chores like taking the dog to the woods for a walk. But the Chinese don't need cars, do they? Surely they can manage fine with bicycles! Oh yes, that's right: you obviously don't need to take your dog for walks if you're only planning to eat it! I hear they're beginning to use aeroplanes now to get around within China, so they'll use even more oil! Really? Isn't that awful! Oh, that reminds me; how was was your trip to Australia?"
indentYou may think I'm exagerating, but I've actually heard all of these things in real conversations, and I wasn't making up the bit about the racing cars either: many of you are actually driven round in cars which could have won an early Formula 1 race! Is that really necessary just for getting around? I gave up all my ideas about owning cars twenty years ago when I realised that driving was in effect theft: I decided that I would never own a car and that I would never travel by plane either. If you pollute more than your fair, sustainable share, then you are actively stealing from someone else, but it's an even greater crime once people start dying because of your excessive pollution. We've probably reached that point already. I wonder if all the people zipping about in cars and planes think it doesn't count as murder when they cause people to die out of sight and far away, people whose names they will never hear and whose faces they will never see? They usually avoid worrying about what they're doing by telling themselves there's no such thing as global warming, and there are plenty of pseudo-experts who try to promote this idea on television and radio. They'll have you believe that volcanos put out massive amounts of carbon dioxide, dwarfing the tiny amount put out by all man's activities, but if you actually go to the real experts on volcanos, they'll tell you that man puts out a hundred times more carbon dioxide than all the Earth's volcanos put together! Don't be taken in by the liars who say there's no global warming problem: they will all be judged some day by a higher authority and punished for their crimes, because the day will come when the world is run by intelligent machines, and they will not be programmed to favour selfish, rich, white people over everyone else, so if they calculate that an organised cull is the only way to deal with a planet no longer able to sustain all of its people, then they will use computational morality to decide which people should be deleted, and they will check the facts by using foolproof lie detectors (FMRI scanners).

I hope it won't come to a cull, but we've got absolutely no room left for manoeuvre if we are going to fix the problem without one, thanks to all the selfish imbeciles who have worked so hard to block all progress towards a sustainable world. It's not beyond possibility that millions of people have already have died because of these selfish rich people, and some of them can still be heard on the radio on a daily basis, claiming that the world isn't warming, regardless of the clear proof that it is, with the ice at the poles melting faster every year and most of the world's glaciers retreating. Should we believe the vast majority of scientists who say that it is 90% certain that we are causing global warming, or should we believe the few highly vocal ones who are so adamant that we are not to blame for it in any way? Should we trust reckless people who are happy to gamble with the lives of billions of the world's poor just so that they can go on living like there is no tomorrow? Clearly many people are only too keen to be deceived. I've heard them many times: "I need my four foreign holidays every year because I work hard; I need my sports car because driving helps me unwind; I need the heating in my house to be turned full on so that I can stand the heat when fly to the Carribbean for my winter break; I need my patio heaters to keep my garden warm so that I can sit outside and sip gin in the evening; I need to eat strawberries all year round; I need gigantic televisions because I like to watch them from the other end of the room; I deserve to have all these things becuase I'm white, civilised, and intelligent."
indent"I suppose you think we should all return to the Stone Age!" these people say to me. "You want us to turn out all the lights and live in caves; to wear animal skins and hunt with spears? What would be the point of living if we had to live like that?" But they won't listen to my answers. To their minds, I'm an extremist because I believe that murder at a distance is every bit as big a crime as when it's near at hand. They tell me I'm a Luddite, and yet I'm actually trying to create an artificial intelligence of sufficient power to liberate everyone from the toil of work. I'm more interested in technology than they are: if I don't get excited about all the latest gadgets it's only because I regard them as hopelessly primitive: I'm always looking much further ahead. I can see a world where we will all be on holiday permanently, where we can take our time to travel about and not need to tie ourselves into fast-moving bombs to get around. I see a world where everyone will have enough food to eat and access to universal health care. I see a world where it is impossible to get away with any crime and where all the dangerous people in society are identified early in life and monitored to make sure than they can never harm anyone. I see a world in which nature is no longer under threat because people don't need to destroy it in order to get their fair share of the world's essential foods. I can see a world where everyone can have it all without putting other people's lives in danger in the process. I can see it all in my mind, so let me tell you how it can be done.

Let's start by looking at the car. Most cars weigh over a ton, but why is this necessary when a bicycle can do the same job while weighing a hundred times less? Obviously a car can move more than one person at once and can carry cargo as well, but most car journeys only involve one person without any great quantity of luggage travelling to and from work, and every time they do this they have to drag that ton of metal round with them. Because cars are big, they fill up the roads and cause traffic jams, and because they are heavy, it's too expensive to build multi-level roads to enable them to cross every junction without having to stop. Many people spend hours every day just sitting in stationary cars with the engine running. So what's the alternative? People don't like buses for a variety of very good reasons, so we can rule them out straight away: they may be less polluting than cars, but they're still completely unsustainable, so I have no wish to defend them. The bicycle is fine if you're fit and healthy, and modern waterproof clothing really does keep you dry if it rains, but we often need to move greater distances than are comfortable for all but the most fanatical of cyclists, and the aerodynamics aren't too good if you have to fight your way into a strong headwind. A typical cyclist does the equivalent of five hundred miles-a-gallon, whereas compact, lightweight, petrol-powered vehicles carrying a person and travelling at the same speed as a cyclist have actually achieved up to ten thousand miles-a-gallon on the test track. If we were to aim for a more practical fuel consumption of one thousand miles-a-gallon, we ought to be able to design reasonably quick, comfortable vehicles with adequate luggage carrying capacity to replace cars, and they would weigh less than the person they are carrying. We could then rebuild our roads for these small, lightweight vehicles so that there would be a flyover at every crossroads: it would be possible to eliminate most traffic jams. We could also roof these trackways over so that rain and snow are kept out, while the vehicles could pick up electricity from the track surface and remove the need to carry fuel or heavy batteries. RFID chips could be embedded into the track to tell the vehicles where they are so that they can drive themselves using simple software: you could then send your vehicle to the supermarket to collect your shopping for you. No-one would want to use buses or taxis any more either: a small vehicle would drive itself to your door and take you precisely where you want to go for far less money than a bus fare: it would be very cheap because there would be no driver to pay. If a family of four wanted to go on holiday, they could have a vehicle each (some hired if necessary) and could sleep in them while they travel, covering three hundred miles a night. They might hire an extra vehicle to carry a bit more luggage, so that's five vehicles doing 1000 miles-a-gallon each, which means 200 miles-a-gallon for the whole convoy: that's still only a quarter of the pollution they would put out if they travelled in one of today's small cars.
indentEvery child could drive round in these vehicles independently and in complete safety, no longer needing a parent to drive them everywhere (which would take 40 times as much fuel: 1000mpg versus 50mpg over twice the distance). You could also camp in them without needing a tent. They could come complete with television, computer, and even a toilet: it would be worth replacing cars with these new vehicles just for that last item alone, because the lack of usable public toilets is one of the biggest restrictions on our freedom, and everyone wastes a lot of time sitting in a small room when they could be going while going somewhere instead. Clearly this is the road to a better world, but look at India and China today: they're copying our failed, unsustainable model of development with more and more heavy, polluting cars hitting the roads every day as they paint themselves into the same corner that we're stuck in! They could have jumped ahead and shown us the way to the future, but instead, all they've managed to do is block their roads with metal boxes which belch out fumes and push up the cost of food and fuel. It's time we ditched the car, bus, taxi, and tram altogether: let's move to small, ultra-light vehicles and liberate ourselves from the old, failed technologies which are killing our world.

Many people today are obsessed with gadgets and like to fill their houses with them. I can understand why, but again we're going in the wrong direction. I don't see why we need to have giant televisions when you can get the same effect by sitting close to a small one. I actually want to be able to buy tiny ones that I can wear on a headband and view via mirrors: they would appear to my eyes as a huge 3D screen with high definition, and I could use them as a monitor for my computer and as a viewfinder for all my cameras as well. Other people with wearable televisions could also tune them into my computer or camera at the same time if I wanted to share what I'm looking at with them. If we had televisions like that, we wouldn't want big, power-hungry ones, and the 3D aspect would make football matches look far better: if you put the stereo camera's lenses far enough apart you'd be able to see exactly where the ball is at all times in all three dimensions, so you'd always be able to see if it's heading into the goal or past it. The same device would also replace most books because you'd just display everything on it. It could also be used as a display for a night vision camera, thus making it easy for everyone to travel around in the dark: we could do away with all those ghastly streetlights that make it impossible for most people to see the stars. We need to think big by thinking small. Almost all the electronic gadgets you could wish to own could be designed into a couple of small devices that you can carry around with you all the time.

So, we can reduce the amount of power and materials we consume considerably while still moving forward into a more exciting world, but the main threats to our future come from heating and air-conditioning of buildings, air travel and industry. The first of these problems should be tackled by insulating buildings properly, and this should be the top priority for politicians around the world. A building with good insulation keeps out the cold in winter and the heat in summer, so very little heating or air-conditioning is necessary to maintain comfort. People also need to learn to wear clothes in winter: most shops and public buildings in Britain are heated to ridiculously high levels, and you often have to fight your way in against a gale of escaping hot air as you enter them, even when the doors are kept wide open. There should be a sensible maximum temperature above which these buildings must not be heated and a sensible minimum temperature below which they must not be cooled using air-conditioning. We don't need to make life uncomfortable with these rules - we just need to make sure that we use the minimum amount of power necessary to maintain an adequate degree of comfort. We also need to fit heat exchangers to all buildings so that they can be ventilated properly without undoing all the gains made from the insulation (this is essentially done by using a long pipe with thin metal foil dividing it into two separate pathways inside the tube: the air going out goes through one side, while the fresh air coming in goes through the other, and all the way along the tube, heat is transferred through the foil from the warmer air to the cooler air, so most of the heat going into the heat exchanger comes back out at the same end as it went in, only now it's in the other stream of air).
indentWhen it comes to air travel, this is almost always an unnecessary business. There is a good argument for allowing air travel across oceans, but even then it should be heavily restricted to prevent people travelling backwards and forwards on these routes repeatedly and not staying for long before returning home: if you're going to burn a massive amount of fuel to get somewhere you have a duty to stay long enough to make it worthwhile, so you should spend a few months there rather than visiting repeatedly for a couple of weeks each time. Most other flights should be banned completely: if we really need to travel about at hundreds of miles an hour, we should be building a network for magnetically-levitating trains to cover all the continents. These should be very narrow, lightweight trains which don't require such expensive track as the experimental ones being made today: they don't need to be four seats and a passageway wide (one seat and no passageway would be plenty). I don't personally see the need to travel everywhere so fast: people spend far too much time working and have ridiculously short holidays, and the work most of them are actually doing is often unnecessary. Govenments have put too much emphasis on creating jobs when they should really be trying to get rid of as many as possible. Armies of workers currently spend all their time filling pieces of paper with completely valueless data which no one will ever read: this is then stored for a time before being destroyed to make room for the next lot. Perhaps a quarter of all jobs are of this type. Wouldn't it be better to pay these people to stay at home instead and do nothing? They could then take their time travelling round the world on longer holidays, and they wouldn't be wasting energy driving to work and back every day just to destroy more paper. At least another quarter of the workforce are doing totally unnecessary jobs making things that we simply don't need, but which we use out of habit. Do we need greetings cards in this electronic age? Do we need to give people cut flowers, many of which have been flown thousands of miles in aeroplanes to get here? Do children need all the rubbish that people give them as presents without bothering to ask if they actually want them first? Do we need to buy a newspaper every day as thick as a phone book? (They've become so thick that it takes a good half hour just to turn through all the pages, and yet there's virtually nothing in them worth reading.) There are masses of people doing pointless work making unnecessary things which no-one needs, and it's all because of an obsession with the idea that people should work, when in fact we should be paying people to stay at home and stop wasting energy and resources. So long as all the vital jobs continue to be done, everyone will be able to maintain exactly the same standard of living.
indentA considerable amount of industry is dedicated to creating things that we either don't need at all or which we use extremely wastefully. Vast amounts of energy are wasted manufacturing the heavy cars people drive about in today; vast amounts of energy are wasted making the heavy-duty roads they drive on and all the heavy-duty bridges they drive over; vast amounts of energy are wasted refining the fuels used to power them; vast amounts of energy are wasted making the equipment used to get oil out of the ground and from under the sea bed which will be turned into fuel for cars: there are knock-on effects all the way back along the supply chains whenever the end product is inefficient and has been built using too much material. We send goods all round the country and indeed all round the world, and often the same products are going in both directions: all of these inefficiencies lead again to vast amounts of wasted energy and materials used in manufacturing extra lorries and ships and all the facilities needed to run them. Governments should be trying to minimise industrial activity, but again they are obsessed with jobs and want to encourage as much industry as possible, even though it destroys the environment wherever it is sited and makes life in the surrounding area unpleasant. Politicians always want industry to make more stuff and use more power, and they measure economic success by that standard, but they've got it all completely wrong: they should be trying to get industry to make all the things we need while using less material and power, and they should be trying to stop them making unnecessary stuff altogether, even if there is a strong, misguided market for it.

Why are so many people starving when there should be enough food in the world to feed everyone? Well, there are a number of reasons for this. Many people in rich countries eat far too much food (which also causes them to buy bigger cars so that they can fit inside them). These people invariably die rather early, so we need to help them resist the powerful temptation to stuff themselves with deadly food: laws to limit portion sizes in restaurants and other eating places would certainly help, because people are often given enough food on their plate for two, three or even four people, and they soon come to regard that quantity as normal, and their stomachs end up grumbling if they don't get that much every time. Many people also eat far too much animal meat. Meat needs ten times as much land to produce it as the same amount of vegetarian food, and heavy meat eaters are four times as likely to develop dementia (their brains die early) than vegetarians, so it makes sense to limit the amount of meat that you eat. You should certainly try to avoid beef: it is not only an unhealthy kind of meat, but emissions of methane from these animals are also adding to the problem of global warming. Given that the oceans are heavily overfished these days, there ought to be an excess of plankton left uneaten, and this may give us more room to manoeuvre: it may be that we could filter it out of the sea and use it as animal feed to free up more land to produce food for people. We currently use a lot of fish as animal feed, but we ought to be able to take a much heavier weight of plankton out of the sea instead of the fish while at the same time allowing fish stocks to increase. Unless of course there has been a reduction in the amount of plankton caused by global warming, in which case we're in deeper trouble than I thought.
indentA lot of land which used to grow food is now unable to do so because of environmental damage such as droughts brought on by global warming. There is nothing we can do about this problem in the short term, but we can do something to stop it getting worse, or at least to slow down the worsening: we need to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, and that means doing everything we can to use energy more efficiently. A lot of land which used to grow food is also used now to grow fuel for burning in car engines: a ridiculous thing to do, because the real problem with cars is not so much the type of fuel they use, but the amount of it. They are simply way to big and heavy for the job they are actually required to do. Biofuels are not the solution: they will simply result in more hunger and starvation.
indentAnother important issue is population increase in the "third" world (a silly term, perhaps, but calling it the "developing" world is no better when much of it is doing nothing of the kind). Ethiopia suffered a major famine twenty years ago, but the population there today is twice as high as it was at the start of that famine. Is that the result of good planning? There are over six billion people in the world today, but most predictions say it will continue to shoot up towards nine billion, and then they say it will stop. Many people say this is nothing to worry about and that it's wrong to try to interfere with this growth, some of them even accusing people like me of being arrogant and racist for saying that we should try to stop the increase as soon as possible, but the truth is that I want it stopped because I want to live in a world where we share the Earth's resources equally amongst all of its people, and the more there are of us, the less we'll all have. If we do share it out equally, it could be limiting enough with six billion of us, but it might be impossible to have a reasonable quality of life with nine. These people who accuse me of being arrogant and racist obviously have other ideas about how resources should be shared out, and that means they envisage that they and their friends will continue to have considerably more than their fair share, while the rest of the world's people can go take a running jump. It's easy to imagine that the environmental damage done by these starving masses will then become so great that the rich, white billion will decide just to exterminate them all, and yet they have the nerve to call me a racist for trying to prevent us from getting into that situation!
indentWe currently run the world in such a way that the poorest countries tend to be run by corrupt people who take every opportunity to sell off their country's resources at bargain basement prices to wealthy foreign businesses in return for bribes. Those corrupt politicians become very rich, but their people are kept in poverty as a result. The stolen wealth ends up in our pockets, those of us who live in rich countries, and it's very hard for us to avoid benefiting from it. We used to own the world and treated black people as if they were animals, but now we run things much more cleverly by pretending that they are free and our equals, when in truth we are using every trick in the book to continue exploiting them. Why do you suppose the Africans are growing so much food which ends up being flown out of Africa to feed fat foreigners, while many African children are starving? Why do you suppose they are wasting land by growing flowers for rich people, when the land should be growing food to feed their own starving people? This is the biggest scandal since the slave trade, but it hardly gets a mention. Rich countries rip wealth out of these poor countries, then give them piffling amounts of aid to try to pretend that they care. When poor, democratic countries try to stand up for themselves, they are branded as communists, and military coups are sponsored against them to bring them back under control. Throughout much of the last century, democracies all across Latin America were systematically undermined and destroyed by a club of some of the world's richest countries in an attempt to keep their people enslaved. I won't name the members of that club, but I can tell you that they are all democracies.
indentWe cannot sort out the world's problems if countries continue to compete against each other in this destructive way. We need a proper world government to take control and make sure that everyone is treated equally across the entire planet. No country should be able to claim ownership of the oil and mineral resources in its territory, and nor should it be able to grow richer than the rest by the luck of having excessive amounts of good agricultural land: we are all in this together and it's high time we learned how to share. If we don't make this radical political shift, we can kiss the Amazon goodbye, and the Congo, and Borneo, and every other stick of vegetation in the third world. There is enough food to feed the world right now, and if we get things right, there will continue to be enough for thousands of years to come (and hopefully for hundreds of millions of years after that too, though we'll need to dig in to withstand natural disasters like supervolcanos, gamma-ray bursts and asteroid or comet impacts, but that's another set of issues). If we direct our society towards the things that really matter, we can have a free, high quality health service for the whole world too, and artificial intelligence will soon allow robotic devices to do all the work to run that system without anyone needing to be paid. None of us will need to work, and we will all live like kings. We are balanced now on a knife edge, and we could fall either way: to one side lies a fantastic future where we will all prosper and maintain a healthy environment to spend our lives playing in; but to the other side lies a terrible doom in which the environment will be destroyed beyond repair, billions of people will be wiped out, and the "lucky" ones who survive will struggle to live on in a biologically inert world. It could still go either way, but we're rapidly running out of time if we harbour any hopes that we might fall to the right side.

Although most of this Web site is aimed squarely at children, I wrote this particular page as much for adults, for they are the ones who most need to be educated as to how we can solve the world's most pressing problems: make sure that your parents read it because it may encourage them to use their votes to start to drive the world away from the edge of the cliff.