by Richard E. Garner, Jr
Once. Or sometimes maybe twice in a day a potential customer would call my Dad’s TV repair shop while I sat there answering the phone for him during the great Oil Embargo from late 1973 to early 1974. People were not getting their TV sets repaired. The Yom Kippur War had occurred in the Middle East in October 1973. As one of the consequences of this war the Arab member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had declared an embargo on the sale of oil to two nations, the United States, and the Netherlands, in retaliation for an airlift of military supplies to Israel during that war. Because of the embargo there were serious shortages of some petroleum products in the United States, like gasoline and home heating oil.
The shortage of gasoline was a serious disruption of daily life in the United States. Both the availability and the price of gasoline were affected. Many gasoline stations frequently had to close. People often had to wait in long lines to buy it.
Because of the impact of the Oil Embargo on the US economy, many people had less discretionary income for things like getting their TV sets repaired when they needed to, and there was great uncertainty about what would happen next.
For my Dad, a man who had grown up during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the consequences of the Embargo were like another economic depression. For the American people, the embargo and its consequences came as a great shock. A way of life based on the automobile and cheap, easily available oil and products made from oil had spread rapidly throughout American society throughout much of the twentieth century. This spread had been especially rapid in the post-World War II period from the end of the war in 1945 up until the time of the Embargo in 1973. Suddenly this great abundance was under threat.
To give President Nixon and many other leaders in American government and business some credit, they did see a problem coming with oil and energy in general at least a few years ahead of the Embargo. However, they mostly misconceived and misunderstood the nature of the problem. President Nixon told Americans that they faced an energy crisis. President Nixon and these other leaders saw the energy crisis as essentially a crisis of energy supply, or the types of energy sources from which we got our energy or what part of the world we got it from.
Energy can become a problem of supply for two reasons:
- The members of your society approach the exhaustion of your finite supply of your preferred source of energy for useful work. The discovery that the supply of your preferred form of energy is finite and not endless may be rather sudden and unpleasant.
- The number of people in your society using your preferred form of energy expands rapidly.
Energy can become a problem of use if you start using it to do and to make and to sell more and more things. All these things that you make a rapidly growing use of energy to do will inevitably have a growing impact on nature, which, as previously noted in earlier posts to this blog, is finite. All these uses of energy that are exhausting or approaching the exhaustion of your finite supply will be producing more air pollution, more water pollution, and more toxic substances, or more other kinds of pollution from the new products you are making with your preferred energy source.
At the time of the Oil Embargo of 1973 – 1974, both categories of reasons why energy could be a problem of both supply and use applied to the United States. Americans were using more and more products made from oil or using oil. And there were more and more Americans engaged in these uses of oil.
At the time of the Oil Embargo of 1973-1974 world human population was approaching four billion people. This was an increase of 100% in only fifty years from about two billion in 1925. In the United States human population was over 200 million in the 1970s. It had only been about 150 million a quarter century earlier in 1950. This was an increase of a third or 33 and one-third per cent. ( See https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year and also https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/worldwide-population-throughout-human-history.htm . And for US population figures see the US Statistical Abstract 1980 part 2 – Section 01 at https://www.census.gov/library/publications/1980/compendia/statab/101ed.html )
Much if not most of this rapid population growth in the United States and in the world came because of a rapid increase in the use of fossil fuels. This included natural gas, which was used to make an artificial nitrogen fertilizer that greatly increased agricultural productivity using something called the Haber-Bosch process. It also included the use of oil-based insecticides like DDT to keep the insects that might consume much of the food crops eaten by human beings at bay, and to combat human diseases like malaria. (See Countdown – Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth by Alan Weisman, Little, Brown and Co. 2013 Also, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population )
The discovery and use of antibiotics like penicillin, by lowering the death rate, also contributed significantly to human population growth.
The use of oil brought a whole new way of life to the United States that greatly reduced the physical hardship of life for many people and helped to promote widespread prosperity. (See Energy for Survival – The Alternative to Extinction by Wilson Clark Copyright 1974 by Wilson Clark Anchor Press 1974 – also The Prize – The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power by Daniel Yergin Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin,,Touchstone Simon and Schuster)
The problems of energy supply and energy use that human beings face are involved in all sources and forms of energy that we use, whether from fossil fuels, oil, coal and natural gas, or the renewable, so-called 100% clean sources like solar, wind and waterpower. Anything that we human beings ever do in our activities within the world of nature or the universe involves energy, which scientists define as the ability to do work. And energy, in all its forms, is ruled by two fundamental laws, first, that it cannot be created or destroyed, and second, the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics can be stated in many different ways. The basic idea is that the useful work derived from the transformation of any form of energy into another can never be completely efficient, and some of the energy must be dissipated as useless heat energy that cannot be recovered for further work. These laws profoundly affect how humans will ever be able to solve the World Environmental Crisis. Given a sufficiently large number of human beings and a sufficiently large quantity of energy used, of whatever form or source, nature will be impacted accordingly.
Most of us are familiar with oil spills into oceans, lakes and rivers, and the contamination of groundwater by oil and natural gas and chemicals derived from these. We are also familiar with the pollution of our air and water by products derived from fossil fuels, such as air pollution from automobiles.
The mineral ores from which the key materials for the solar photovoltaic cells for solar panels are made are mined from the earth, just as natural gas is pumped from the ground. Although the suggestion has been made that we try to develop the use of more common materials than rare earths to make solar cells, no matter what materials we use, we will still be making huge impacts on the biosphere through our use of these so-called clean energy sources.
What I have said so far mostly involves the problems of energy supply. There is also the question of what kinds of things we have been doing with all this energy and what kinds of things we are going to do in the future. As I said, we have been making more and more things and more and more kinds of things. In the post-World War II period running from the end of the war in 1945 until the time of the Embargo in 1973 we became committed as a society to continuing economic growth, which is the steady increase in the total quantity of goods and services produced in our economy from one year to the next.
The oil embargo ended after a relatively brief period, in March of 1974. There were some policies adopted by our government because of the embargo. Efficiency standards for automobiles were put in place. They were required to get an increased number of miles per gallon from gasoline. In addition, a pipeline for the development of oil in Alaska was approved. However, there was no comprehensive policy developed to deal with all the different problems associated with energy supply and use in the 1970s and there has not been since. And our alleged leaders in both of our two major political parties continue to misconceive and misunderstand the problem of energy as almost exclusively a problem of supply. Prior to the oil embargo, in the 1960s and early 1970s a critically important social movement emerged in the United States and much of the world. This was the modern environmental movement. This was sparked at first by some rather obvious things, such as air and water pollution, and the impact of the use of chemical insecticides on wildlife. Some of these things were rather dramatic, such as a river in the eastern United States, the Cuyahoga, catching on fire.
However, the environmental movement quickly became much more theoretical and concerned with the foundations or causes of why there was an environmental crisis. For many years, scientists, scholars, activists in conservation and environmental organizations and ordinary citizens had been becoming steadily more and more concerned about the problem of human population growth and its possible impact on the future of the rest of life on Earth, or the biosphere, as scientists call it.
In 1968 a book written by a biologist named Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, called The Population Bomb was published. (She was not listed because of the publishing conventions of the time, but she was in fact a co-author.) In this book the Ehrlichs focused on one of the central parts of the problem of human population growth, the problem of keeping everyone adequately fed. They suggested that widespread, dramatic famines in many parts of the world were likely to happen in what was then the near future.
Fortunately, for the sake of the great many lives saved, with the help of improvements in agricultural technology and the development of dwarf varieties of wheat that together were called a “Green Revolution,” these dramatic famines did not happen. However, widespread hunger and malnutrition experienced by hundreds of millions have continued to be an ongoing problem and the future of agricultural productivity is still very much in question and a great many people have drawn the wrong conclusions from a temporary reprieve from a problem of fundamental importance for all of humankind and most of life on Earth. And the impacts of huge, dramatic increases in our human population on the rest of the biosphere continued in the 1970s despite the absence of dramatic, visible famines and they continue to this very day. (See the report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization called “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca9692en . See also below for references to descriptions of the impact of population growth on the rest of the biosphere.)
The Population Bomb was about more than predictions of famines. It was also about the basic logical structure of the problem of population growth for any human society or civilization at any time.
Paul Ehrlich and a couple of other gentlemen founded a grassroots volunteer organization called Zero Population Growth in the wake of the publication of The Population Bomb. For many years this organization has worked to educate Americans about the problem of population growth and to advocate for voluntary, non-coercive measures by the US government to address it. They have emphasized the impact of population growth in many other areas besides just food, such as the impact on habitat for wildlife and endangered species, deforestation, desertification and urban sprawl. (Sadly, I have to report that approximately in 2002 the name of this organization was changed by the President and Board of Directors at the time, without consulting their 70, 000 plus members, but rather other organizations, to Population Connection. The need for a complete end to human population growth and a transition to a slowly declining population is even more urgent now than it was eighteen years ago.)
Clear and comprehensive statements in systematic general terms about why population growth is a problem for all of humankind now in our time have been slow in coming, and when they have come, they have not been as widely disseminated as they should have been. One particularly cogent statement that I am personally aware of was the first Scientists’ Warning to Humanity that appeared in 1992. In this warning an emphasis is placed on the finite nature of the biosphere and our position as human beings of absolute dependence on the well-being and healthy functioning of that biosphere and the negative impact of a very large number of human beings whose activities inevitably have an effect on the possibility of that healthy functioning (see https://www.ucssusa.org/resources/1992-world-scientists-warning-humanity .)
I was unaware of this document when I wrote my first post for this blog, https://www.arepublicfortheearth.org. The argument in this warning backs up what I said in my first post. I mention this just in case someone accuses me of plagiarism, and as an illustration of an important point. You do not need to be a professional scientist or have a Ph. D in something like Ecology to understand this problem and be able to reason and communicate about it in a way that is grounded in facts and logic.
After the end of the oil embargo in 1974, both Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter attempted to address what was perceived and understood as the “Energy Crisis.” They did so without success.
The Oil Embargo was not the only shock to the American people and the American economy by events abroad in the 1970s. Towards the end of the 1970s there was a political revolution in Iran, one of the major oil-producing and exporting countries in the Middle East. The flow of oil coming from Iran onto the world market was cut off for an extended period. Most of the staff at the American embassy in Tehran, the capital city of Iran, were taken hostage by Iranians and held for an extended period as well.
Partly because of this second major oil shock to the US economy, the US inflation rate went up to 18%. The inflation rate was brought down by a policy of high interest rates adopted by the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States. Unfortunately, this policy helped to send the US economy into a major recession.
The American people faced many economic, political, and cultural problems in the 1970s, as well as what they were only belatedly becoming aware of, threats to the environment. The post- World War II period from the end of the war in 1945 to approximately the time of the Oil Embargo in 1973 was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity for most Americans, especially most caucasian Americans. This prosperity was largely based on policies promoting economic growth. There was also a high rate of population growth from natural increase in the same period although this was not the result of an explicit government policy.
These policies promoting economic growth included a high level of spending by the federal government, both spending for the military and defense and for social welfare as well. These policies included strong labor unions and laws protecting them, and the willingness of the managers of large companies to accept labor peace by signing contracts with unions guaranteeing their members high rates of pay and benefits, including pensions. It did not, unfortunately, include allowing unions a voice in management decision making about the goals or future of the companies. These policies or circumstances that helped to promote economic growth also included cheap, widely available oil and oil-derived products and other cheap fossil fuels. They also included higher levels of spending by state and local governments. Many colleges and universities expanded to serve much larger student-bodies.
Businesses helped to promote this widespread prosperity by building inexpensive homes for a great expansion of the suburbs.
These policies and circumstances that helped to promote widespread prosperity lasted only a brief time. In 1956, a geologist named M. King Hubbert, working for the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company, predicted that the US would reach peak oil production in 1970. This meant that the maximum amount of oil that could be pumped out of known reserves in the US would be reached.
Peak oil was indeed reached in 1970, as Hubbert had predicted. This helped to set the stage for the Embargo of 1973.
Another important development was the undermining of the US labor movement by American leaders of manufacturing companies throughout the 1970s and later. These leaders were unsatisfied with their rates of profit for their companies for various reasons. Beginning earlier, but really picking up speed in the 1970s they began the deindustrialization of large areas in the Northeast and the upper Midwest. They began moving their manufacturing facilities from states in the Northeast where labor unions had good contracts providing high wages and benefits to other parts of the country, such as the South, where laws protecting unions were weak or nonexistent. Later they moved their manufacturing facilities out of the country altogether to countries such as Mexico, or elsewhere in Latin America, or Asia. (see The Deindustrializaion of America by Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, Copyright 1982 by Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, Basic Books, Inc.)
Other important developments occurred in the 1960s that helped to undermine the economic prosperity of the post-World War II period and the confidence of Americans in their government and its ability to help them with their problems. After the death of President Kennedy, President Johnson pushed a tax cut through Congress. The tax cut did stimulate the economy and help people at the lower end of the economic ladder of employment and income. However, it also helped to stimulate inflation in combination with other things such as a high level of spending on the military because of US involvement in the Vietnam War.
In addition, President Johnson declared a War on Poverty. This was an attempt to help poor people, including many African – Americans, who had been subjected to much discrimination, overcome their disparate circumstances. Unfortunately, the way this attempt to eradicate poverty was developed was not well thought out and brought about much opposition by local politicians and elected officials. So, this attempt to end poverty failed to help poor people in a lasting way (see The Unfinished Journey – Americans since World War II by William H. Chafe Copyright 1986, 1991 by Oxford University Press.)
In addition, US involvement in the Vietnam War, which was opposed by many in the Democratic Party, was identified with the Democratic Party, and helped to weaken it politically.
The Bretton Woods monetary system that was the result of an agreement among the Allied nations towards the end of the World War II, in 1944, at a city of the same name in the United States and had been the system used for world trade by the nations of the word throughout the post-World War II period, had seriously unraveled by the end of the 1960s because of inherent flaws in the system. Under this agreement, the US dollar was the reserve currency for world trade. The US dollar was backed up by gold. Other nations could exchange dollars for gold from the US Treasury which they accumulated from trade and spending by US companies and individuals in their countries. However, the US Treasury did not have an unlimited supply of gold. President Nixon closed the gold window for the exchange of US dollars for gold by central banks of other nations and allowed the US dollar to float on the world market for the exchange of currencies. This also helped to produce inflation.
These various events and developments helped to produce a shift in public opinion toward conservative political opinions and support for more conservative policies.
Among the intellectual leaders of the US environmental movement an important conceptual discovery was made in the early 1970s. This was the recognition of economic growth as the other major causative factor underlying the world environmental crisis of an endangered biosphere and the distorted unsustainable relationship between humankind and that biosphere. An economist named Herman E. Daly and other scholars began developing something called Steady-State economics. Later this was changed to Ecological Economics. (See Steady-State Economics by Herman E. Daly. Also, see Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications by Herman E. Daly. Also see my blog post “Economic Growth and the Type of Society that the United States Is” on this website: https://www.arepublicfortheearth.org .)
Economic growth is the steady increase in the total quantity of goods and services produced in an economy in a given unit of time, usually a year. Since this cannot happen without an increase in the quantity of matter and energy that are essential inputs into the economic process no matter how efficient the productive process may become and regardless of whether the energy involved comes from fossil fuel sources or some other source, the impact of economic growth on the biosphere or regions of it can be very profound. This is especially true in the context of our contemporary human civilization with our heart-breaking degree of human overpopulation and our huge national and world economies that have altered the climate and that are driving a Sixth Mass extinction of other species of life.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected to the Presidency of the United States. There are many things that can be noted about President Reagan. Two are especially important.
First, he believed very strongly in political and economic conservatism. He believed that government was the cause of the problems that Americans faced. However, he was willing to accept and support compromises with his political opponents to get part of what he wanted.
Second, he was completely hostile even to the recognition of environmental problems, not to mention government intervention in the economy to protect the environment.
Democratic members of Congress and many Republican members of Congress were not hostile to the protection of the environment. However, they did not really understand the substantive nature of the world environmental crisis and how the underlying causes of environmental problems, human population growth and economic growth inevitably create this crisis through their operation on a finite planet with a finite biosphere of life, and so they had no real concept of how to fight someone like Ronald Reagan most effectively.
In the absence of effective leadership and engagement with the world environmental crisis from the federal government in the 1970s and the 1980s, the political fight to protect the environment in the United States mostly took place at the local and state levels. An important focus was trying to prevent or minimize the covering over of land for new residential and commercial buildings. This mostly has not worked, although there have been many temporary victories.
Some environmentalists have said that there can be no permanent victories in the struggle to conserve the environment because the victory you win today may become a defeat tomorrow. However, what we need to realize is that without systemic long-term change, we face the certainty of ultimate complete systemic defeat.
President Reagan failed to deliver on his promises to his working-class supporters. The big tax cuts that he pushed through Congress failed to save US manufacturing jobs. They also, most importantly, failed to protect unionized manufacturing employment. In addition to the deindustrialization that had been occurring in the US in the 1970s and the ongoing process of globalization of the US and world economies union members in manufacturing industries did not do well during Reagan’s presidency partly because he was hostile to the very idea of labor unions. And his supply side economic polices of big tax cuts for the rich and upper income earners and cuts in government spending and regulation of business could not possibly have helped them. They were based on a flawed analysis of what had been going wrong in the American economy and in American life and government in the 1970s and what needed to be done at that point in the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of economic and political conservatism was a pile of nonsense from the very beginning. It was a pile of nonsense when it first took form in American intellectual and political life in the late nineteenth century and it was then in the 1980s and it still is today. However, the liberalism that the leaders of the Democratic Party in the 1970s and 1980s and the American people had inherited from the post-World War II period did not provide much of a foundation for an effective engagement with the World Environmental Crisis either. The beliefs of the so-called progressives of today also do not provide this foundation.
In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected President. Clinton pushed the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements through the Congress. Clinton promised that NAFTA, a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada would lead to hundreds of thousands of new good paying jobs for Americans. The reality has been quite different. Many new US jobs have come since the passage of NAFTA. However, for the most part these have not been the high paying unionized jobs in manufacturing that existed before the passage of NAFTA. The passage of NAFTA led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the US. It also led to the loss of the service jobs that depended on US based manufacturing.
It’s true that the spread of the personal computer and the computerization of the US economy and the rise of the internet and later the cell phone and the smartphone have led to many jobs in fields such as computer programming or software engineering. However, these are mostly not union jobs. And these jobs are also subject to the uncertainties and the lack of security of the globalized US and world economy.
Some economists have pointed to automation in manufacturing as a reason why US based manufacturing jobs have been lost. However, most of this automation has come years after the fact of NAFTA. The impact of NAFTA and the globalization of the US economy have contributed to the political weakness of the Democratic Party as the party of the post-World War II liberal welfare state in its contest with the rigidly ideological Republican Party and the failure of our American civilization to engage with the complex, dangerous reality of the World Environmental Crisis that has been facing us for more than fifty years (see https://www.epi.org/publication/briefingpapers_bp147/ and https://www.computerworld.com/article/3175715/laid-off-it-workers-worry-us-is-losing-tech-jobs-to-outsourcing.html .)
One critically important impact of the globalization of the US and global economies has largely been overlooked in the discussions of the impact on US jobs and our economy and society. This has been the spread of the resource intensive, energy intensive US way of life around the world. This has greatly amplified the impact of human activities on the non-human part of the biosphere and contributed to a massive loss of habitat for wildlife and greatly contributed to climate change. This process has taken place in at least two major ways. The first is through the shift of manufacturing facilities from economically well-developed countries like the United States to less developed countries where the workers can be exploited and paid much less than their unionized counterparts and where laws protecting the environment are weak or non-existent. The second is through the growth of consumption of goods and services produced through this same resource-intensive, energy-intensive way of life in these same countries. I do not mean to suggest that there should not have been some increase in the use of resources so that there could be some measure of justice and fairness and a decent way of life for the people living in the less developed world.
Not only is it the case that there had to be some increase in the use of resources and some extensions of the benefits of the industrial mode of production to the less economically developed countries, it also needs to be said that for Americans to just try to ignore the less developed world and let the people living there fend for themselves within the so-called “Free Market” would not have been good for the biosphere either, including both its human and non-human parts.
It is a tragic and terrible truth that racism has been a part of American life since our beginnings. It is also a tragic and terrible truth that racism has been a part of our discussion of immigrants and immigration and the making of our immigration policies throughout our history as well. However, in order to evaluate what our immigration policies should or should not be and consider the interests of all concerned, whether citizen or immigrant, and also the interests that are almost always forgotten and neglected in any such discussion, specifically the interests of the non-human life, the animals and plants that will lose habitat inevitably from continuing population growth, including that coming from a large volume of immigration, we need to develop the ability to make fine logical and moral distinctions. It is entirely possible for some people to have racist opinions about immigrants and at the very same time to have legitimate grievances about the impact of a large volume of immigration and specific immigration policies on their lives.
Many members of the economics profession and many other Americans as well may make the argument that a large volume of immigration has had no significant negative impact on American workers. These arguments are simply not credible. Just taking classical economic theory into account, if you dramatically expand the supply of labor, and a large portion of the labor pool is made up of people who are willing to work for a lot less money because they are here illegally, it is inevitable that that will affect the labor market, including the prevailing wage.
However, putting aside the economic impact on jobs, and that is not the only economic impact of immigration, the impact of a large volume of immigration on the environment, on the non-human part of the biosphere, is the most important short-term and long-term impact of immigration on the United States.
There is something called biodiversity, which is the diversity of other species of life in a region or environment. Continuing population growth, including population growth from a large volume of immigration, both legal as well as undocumented, inevitably reduces habitat for other species. There is a risk that a continuing large volume of immigration will greatly diminish the remaining biodiversity within the United States. And let us be clear. It will do this essentially forever, for the rest of time as it may unfold on this planet. It took nature billions of years to create this life. It is hard to see how this will not happen. Even with a low fertility rate, with a large volume of immigration year after year, we will have a significant amount of continuing population growth.
Some people may not see the importance of this potentially devastating loss of biodiversity here in the U.S. I refer you to the reference above, the first Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. All of humankind is dependent on a finite biosphere of life, and the healthy functioning of that biosphere. The more biodiversity there continues to be, including here within the United States, the more likely the functioning of the global biosphere will continue to be sufficiently healthy for humankind to be able to continue to live on this planet. With the climate change that has already taken place, the climate change to come, and with this ongoing loss of biodiversity here in the United States and global biodiversity, this healthy functioning is in jeopardy. It also must be said that other species of life have a right to be on this planet that is apart from any consideration of what is in humanity’s interest.
If we are to evaluate thoughtfully what our immigration policies should be in a way that is dispassionate, we need to consider the large numbers that have been involved in immigration into the United States for quite some time. According to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, we have had over one million legal immigrants per year for almost every year for the last twenty years and levels approaching one million a year for the last thirty years and in one of those years almost two million. We have also had a growing volume of legal immigration approaching these levels going back to the mid-1970s. This has been a significant component of our population growth. (See https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2019 for statistics on US legal immigration and https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/population-estimates/unauthorized-resident for estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US.)
Many arguments are advanced by advocates of a continuing large volume of immigration that fail to see the big picture. Consider the argument that we need more immigrants to care for our aging population, and to shore up our Social Security system. These arguments fail to see that the environment has to be considered as more important than any economic problem. We can care for our elderly and finance the Social Security system and arrange our economy with a stable population. We must do this, although it needs to be said that we can reach a stable population without coercion. Without an environment there will be no economy.
Our two major political parties, the Democratic and Republican Parties, did respond with a reasonable degree of effectiveness to some of the more obvious environmental problems of the 1960s and 1970s. Under President Nixon, an Environmental Protection Agency was established. A clean water law was passed. A clean air act was passed. A National Environmental Policy Act was passed. An Endangered Species law was passed. However, our two major political parties have been completely oblivious to the underlying causes of the world environmental crisis, human population growth and economic growth.
Two of the major, most widely reported on environmental problems of the early twenty-first century, Climate Change, and the ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction of other species of life are directly related to these two major underlying causes of the World Environmental Crisis, population growth and economic growth.
Let’s consider the first one, climate change. Although it is widely known at this point in history, let’s review what this is: the increase in the global average temperature of the atmosphere and consequent changes in climate because of the pervasive burning and other uses of fossil fuels, coal, oil, and natural gas, by human beings. The problem is not simply the greenhouse gases that get into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, but the greatly increased number of people here in the United States and around the world who are using these fuels and products from these fuels.
The problem was also created in part by the massive assault on the biosphere engaged in by human beings over the past several centuries that greatly reduced the ability of the biosphere to take some of these greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and recycle them into organic material. This process involved the conversion of forests into farmland, and then the conversion of farmland into urban environments, covered over by residential and commercial buildings.
The problem has also been the massive expansion of the number of products and services using oil, and other fossil fuels to further the process of economic growth.
The other major environmental problem that has been somewhat widely reported on in the last twenty years, although not nearly as widely reported on as climate change, is the Sixth Mass Extinction of other species of life that is now occurring. Here again, the two underlying causes of this problem are population growth and economic growth. The expansion of the human population directly competes with the use and availability of habitat for other species. The conversion of forests into farmland reduces habitat for wildlife and the conversion of farmland into urban uses such as housing for humans and commercial buildings and for other business activities also reduces habitat for wildlife. ( see the following article for a discussion of rates of extinction linked to human activities and the background rate of extinction from evolution and the impact of human activities on small-ranged species and a statement of the impact of population growth on biodiversity https://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6187/1246752 and the following article for a discussion of biological annihilation of populations of other vertebrate species by the impact of population growth and other human activities and how this pushes these other species towards endangered status https://www.pnas.org/content/114/30/E6089 ).
I want to be clear. I am not denying the importance of climate change as a threat to human life and most of life on Earth. Nor am I denying the central importance of the burning of fossil fuels and their use as the immediate cause of climate change. I am simply saying that the ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction of other species of life should be considered as of at least equal moral and political gravity as a threat to human life and life on Earth that simply must be addressed. I am also pointing out how these two underlying causes of the world environmental crisis, population growth and economic growth, have contributed indirectly to the genesis of the problem over the relative long-term of the past several centuries. I do believe that we need to get as close as we can get to a fossil fuel free economy and world civilization as soon as we possibly can. However, simply to think and act as if a mere substitution of renewable energy for fossil fuel derived energy will allow us to continue to have the same kind of society based on endless population and economic growth is false.
I also want to make clear, since I have indicated in what I have said here that there are reasons for thinking that a continuing large volume of immigration, both legal and undocumented into the United States is probably not a good thing, that I do not support former President of the United States Donald Trump and his racist, hateful approach to immigration, and I never did. In fact, I regard the rise of this kind of man to the Presidency of the United States as one of the great catastrophes of American and world history, the full consequences of which may unfold throughout the rest of this century and beyond, unless we act. And the way to act effectively is to go beyond Trump the man to the underlying problems that contributed to his rise.
Even on their own terms, with their ad hoc definition of the World Environmental Crisis as solely about the need to stop using fossil fuels, our two major parties have not been doing very well at all in claiming to be offering leadership or governance to the American people. One party, the Republican Party, is in complete denial about the reality of the problem of climate change and how it is caused by using fossil fuels. The other major party, the Democratic Party, has offered completely inadequate measures for minimizing the global warming and climate change that is happening and securing the human future and the future of the biosphere. (For a partial glimpse of just how inadequate, consider the following article on a UN report on the kind of measures necessary to keep the degree of global warming below 1.5 degrees Centigrade rather than 2 degrees Centigrade, which was the earlier goal at https://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/10/08/37-things-need-know-1-5c-global-warming/. Also consider the failure of elected officials who are members of the Democratic Party or candidates for the Democratic nominations for various offices including the Presidency to do much more to stand up for the environment in their communications with the public than say they are for more renewable or so-called 100% clean energy. Consider the failure to call for adequate restrictions on fossil fuel use or any kind of energy use period which would start to become feasible once we effectively engage with the problems of population and economic growth.)
In addition, our two major parties have not just accepted but actively promoted the globalization of the US and world economies while ignoring the impact of this globalization on the functioning of American democracy, on American lives, and the world environmental crisis and the future of the planet.
They have also failed to deal adequately with the problems of economic inequality, racism, sexism, healthcare, education, and the ability of Americans to understand their world, make informed choices, and live reasonably free and happy lives.
Both parties are steeped in the past, and the institutions and established ways of thinking of the past and show no sign whatever of the ability or the willingness on the part of their leaders, the elected officials who are members of them, their candidates, or their most active members to confront reality as whole in an open-minded and open-hearted way.
I am not saying that their leaders are bad people. However, power only respects other organized power. The leaders of the two major parties have good intentions, and the two major parties, over the course of the whole of American history, have done much good. However, we simply must have a political party in the United States that will not blink in the face of reality as a whole in a mind-bendingly complex world and put the preservation and protection of life on Earth, including the millions of other species, and the ecosystems of the Earth first as a necessary pre-condition for even the partial achievement of any broad social goal of a good society, such as justice, or ending racism and sexism.
At this point I have only made a brief introduction to a description of some of the most important reasons why we need a new political party here in the United States to protect and preserve the entire biosphere of life on Earth. I have not even touched upon yet a description of what a new type of society should be like. I do not mean something other than a democracy. On the contrary, I mean a more truly democratic society and government. Also, most importantly, this should be a society that is solidly grounded in reality, in an understanding of the nature of life on Earth and how it functions, that is what we need.
In posts to come I hope to describe what the new political party and the new type of society should be like, and what some of the goals of the new political party should be. I will also provide further details about why we need a new political party. I also want to say here that we should not seek to change everything. We should approach the business of political and cultural change with great care and a profound sense of responsibility to everyone in our society and all of humankind and all of life in the present and in the future. There is a great deal about the present and that we have inherited from the past that is worth keeping. We must however make some very fundamental changes in the ways we think and act as they are established in our political order if there is to be any kind of decent future for all Americans, all of humankind, and most of the rest of life on Earth.
On a personal note, I want to say a little about what happened with my Dad and his TV repair shop at the end of the Oil Embargo of 1973-1974. What happened to him was that he solved the financial difficulties that he got into because of the embargo by getting a job as an instructor in electronics repair with a private trade school. Many other Americans were not so fortunate. And you could say that our entire society has not been so fortunate in the way we have come to grips with the larger problems that were behind the embargo and the “Energy Crisis,” We have essentially fled from reality as a whole ever since then.
As I continue to develop and post additional articles on this blog, I hope at some point to have action items on issues at stake here in the U.S. in our society and before our government that I will invite readers to participate in as we continue to discuss the need for a new political party to effectively address the world environmental crisis.
I mentioned earlier that world population crossed the four billion mark about 1974. We are now closing in on having over eight billion people in the world. The U.S. Census Bureau says that world population is now about 7.744 billion. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division says that world population is now over 7.7 billion and projects that world population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050 and almost 11 billion by 2100. Here in the U. S. our population is now a little over 330 million. This is an increase of over 60 per cent from about 203 million since about 1970. (See the Population Clock at https://www.census.gov. Also see https://populaton.un.org/wpp/Publications/ . The first PDF, the Highlights, has these figures. See also the reference given above for the Statistical Abstract for 1980 published by the US. Census Bureau for figures on American population size and growth.) We Americans, as individual citizens and as a country, need to get moving. The systematic evasion of the issues of population growth and population size over the last fifty years has already had profound consequences for Americans, all humankind, and most of life on Earth. The phenomena of population growth and economic growth and their inevitable consequences need to be brought fully into the open in our democratic discourse without further delay.
I hope I have at least attracted your interest and even more hopefully, that you will support me. Please comment and provide as much detail about what you think as possible while at the same time being brief. Donations of even modest amounts would be helpful. Even if you do not completely agree with me, if you think that I provide an important point of view, please consider supporting me.
I will be moderating (screening, not editing) all comments. If you choose to comment, please do so without attacking either me or anyone else in a personal way.
You can go to my Go Fund Me page at
https://www.gofundme.com/for-an-environmental-republic to make a donation.
Thank you for visiting and I hope you will come back. Also, if you like what you read here, please tell other people about this blog at https://www.arepublicfortheearth.org.
Copyright 2021 by Richard E. Garner, Jr