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CONUNDRUM; Climate Change, world culture and "democracy."

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Is it even possible to imagine a sustainable world for six and a half (or eight, or nine) billion people? (In America a billion is a thousand million). Many, perhaps most of these billions have seen pictures of the frivolous riches of the richest nations the planet has ever known. Is it surprising that they want what we have? But could the planet support six and a half billion Americans, in the life style we now think our "right?"

I see this as a conundrum, an almost impossible knot of conflicting forces. It is also an ethical problem. We, the rich, loudly preach democracy (although we're careful not to explain what we mean by that term). I'm almost certain that to most people in the world "democracy" is not so much a system of government, but to be modern, to have the cars and gadgets westerners have in such abundance. Can the world support six and a half, or eight, or nine billion people who would live as we in the west live?

If we are honest, we must admit that not all Americans live as the movies portray us. We have a few million homeless people in our midst, and the number of people who cannot afford health insurance is rising. Incomes for the average American is not going up much, for many it is going down. I once saw a statistic that indicated that what half of Americans throw away, could easily feed the other half, and a few million others as well. While we complain that gas now costs $3 a gallon, in most of Europe it is considerably more than double that. And outside of Europe not everyone has a car, let alone an SUV.

Maybe a free market does not worry about the poor here, or anywhere. But can democracy exist in a world, or even a country, with a few super rich people and crowds of poor? The answer is, No.
Can our planet support six, seven, eight billion people at the level we consider "normal?" No.

Scientists who study ecological systems know that ecologies that are unbalanced (too many of one species, too few of another) is unstable. Chances are it will collapse. That is why it seems to me our so-called civilization is becoming dangerously unstable: the gap between haves and have-nots is too great.

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We, in the United States, think of ourselves as the greatest Democracy, a model for the world (although we are ruled by one party! One party controls all three branches of government. I haven't heard much talk about that, but, is that democracy? We used to have another word for a one-party government.)
We've had all these wonderful gadgets, and money to travel, to live well, dress well, have our teeth fixed, hair newly grown, our fertility restored for maybe two generations. Now, the other 95% of the world's people want some of that also. Too bad that just when everyone in the world wants what we have, we are beginning to realize that our high flying exuberance may be unsustainable.

I have wondered why it is that we could have all that stuff. I don't know the because. Is it because we were smarter than other people, or because we were more ruthless? Did the gods smile on us and not on other people? Even within this country there are enormous gaps between not only the wealth but the well-being of different ethnic groups. I have wondered what in our system made it possible for one man to become the richest man on earth in not even half a life time? Only a little thought makes it obvious that when the price of gasoline for cars goes up, the price of airplane fuel must go up also. So, airlines must raise their fares. But in order to survive, they must compete with other airlines, and keep their prices down. Perhaps the airlines add seats to the plane, skip meals; already they don't circulated fresh air from outside, because it uses fuel to heat cold air; it is cheaper to recirculate the air they started the flight with. Anybody who has flown on flights of more than a few hours knows that everybody's bugs get mixed up and served over and over. And even so, airlines record million, billion dollar losses. Who ends up paying the losses?

If we are serious about saving our species, we have to DO something. The easy answer is, always, YOU do something. But if we, the U.S., are really the model for the world, shouldn't we be the example? Shouldn't we, as a nation, decide to drastically reduce our needless and wasteful consumption? Shouldn't we drastically reduce our use of polluting energy producing plants? Shouldn't we? Instead of squeaking tiny adjustments to the price of gas, we could add more taxes (to pay off our enormous debts), by making the price of gas $10 a gallon. The demand for gas-guzzling SUVs would drop through the floor, and we would hastily import the little cars they drive in the rest of the world. Perhaps we would even drive less, fly less.

Of course, I know, and you know, that is not happening, and it is not going to happen. We, the people, would not go for it. For one thing because we have never learned to think globally, even though we are eager to talk globalization. We have never been able to really accept that we are not unique. Can we accept that we share this planet with six-plus billion other humans, who have their own histories, their own faiths, their own ideas of the future, and their own burning needs. We are only a small minority of all humans (less than 4.5% if I did the calculation right). The other ninety-five percent are not resources, to be used as cheap labor, they are people just like us. (Shocking thought!)

I can hear you say: all this is much too complicated; I can't comprehend it. Someone else figure it out...

But meanwhile Climate Change continues. Hurricanes get hotter, summers drier, the level of the ocean is rising, while almost all major cities of the world are at current ocean level. Let our children worry, right?
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robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is wildwolff.com He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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