Duck Soup: The Crystal Slips

Raving tree huggers, myself included, sometimes claim we may be destroying planet Earth. Pie-eyed techno-idiots insist everything will be peachy if we just dump environmental regulations and the Endangered Species Act, and let the free market rock and roll. Who is right? Is there any prayer we can find common ground?When I voice concern about the environment I tend to believe I support Life. But, really, my concern is for "life like us." Bacteria are really neat little goobers and we couldn't survive without them, but they did just fine without us for about 90 percent of the time since things began to wiggle on this planet. The urgency I feel about toxic waste or global warming involves preserving the current population of the planet.. I have a fondness for oxygen breathing, carbon based life forms like dolphins and cats and gorillas and bats, hummingbirds and butterflies, tuna, termites, lizards and people. Well some people, at any rate.When I put people into the equation it looks like I might speak the same language as the movement which has adopted ""Wise use,"" as their theme. The "Wise-users" are the folks who want to permit mining, grazing and hunting in national parks, and insist old growth forests are a renewable resource. They claim that global warming is an illusion, that there are no foreseeable limits to the human population of our planet, and that science will solve all of our problems by next week some time. They say the only useful measure of any policy is whether it is good for people and they like to trot out a few scientists to bolster their claims. Okay. Let's go with that.What? Me, a raving tree hugger, ready to accept the bottom line defined by earth rapers like Rush and Chainsaw Charlie? Have I been drinking to excess? My single caveat would be that we all must be willing to rely on real science instead of rhetoric to settle policy disputes. I am ready to concede any environmental debate on that basis. By "real science" I refer to the consensus of the majority of knowledgeable researchers in a given field. Why do I say consensus? Shouldn't we demand scientific proof? Nice idea, but science doesn't work that way. Outside of mathematics where everything either adds up or it doesn't, proof is impossible. For example, if you release a crystal goblet ten feet above a brick patio it will probably fall and shatter. Scientifically speaking, there is actually a tiny chance it will bounce and land safely, and a much tinier chance it will not even fall. But, based on our experience of gravity and bricks most of us would agree that the crystal is history. In the same way, if the overwhelming majority of scientists agree about a particular issue, and one or a few disagree, the odds are very strong that the majority is correct. Ready to be blinded by science?In 1992 nearly 1600 of the world's senior scientists, including over half the living Nobel Laureates, women and men from every discipline and every continent, signed "The World's Scientists Warning to Humanity." More have signed it in the years since.In 1993, 56 of the world's scientific academies met in the first ever world Science Summit and issued a collaborative statement. Most of the world's scientists agree that if the human race is to survive we must reach zero population growth within the present generation. We must act now to shift from fossil fuels and non-renewable resources to sustainable technologies. We must act now to reduce introduction of toxins and pollutants into the biosphere. We must act now to protect the biodiversity upon which all life depends.Translation: the crystal goblet is headed toward the bricks. There is nothing wrong with using human benefit as the measure of our policies, but short term profit is a bad gauge of success if it threatens long term survival. If you are intent on amassing a fortune to leave to your heirs, you will also need some heirs to leave it to. Are our current environmental protection laws necessary? Sorry Charlie. We have barely begun.


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