Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
Henry David Thoreau
I was parusing the British Medical Journal yesterday and I ran into an article that you should read. Don't worry, it's short. Check it out. I know, I come across links all the time and the author suggests that I go there. I never do. This one is really worth it, so I suggest that you head that way. It's the one entitled, 'climate change only a symptom'.
It's a brief by Dominic C. Horne. I don't know anything about him, but based on his comment and the fact that he reads BMJ, so he's likely a physician. So this guy calls global warming a symptom. A symptom of what? Oh, don't worry, we'll get there, but I want to look at other symptoms. Dr. Horne suggests that depression is another major symptom that comes on as a result of global climate change. Interesting. OK, I want to expand the list of symptoms: Laziness, sedentary living, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, social anxieties, and the list could go on for quite some time.
In order to emphasize my point, I want take a moment to discuss a symptom. If you have the flu or a cold, you can't see the flu or the cold. It's a microscopic organism attacking your immune system. What you see is excess mucous, coughing, diarhea, vomiting, etc. You know what I'm talking about, we've all been there. So what do you do to make the virus go away? Nothing. You can take vitamin C to boost your immune system, you can take echinacea, but there is no evidence that it does anything. You can get a vaccine early in the season to give your body a preview of what it will be facing later in the year, but that's not 100% and in our little analogy, we obviously haven't vaccinated the earth. So what do we do? We take a cough syrup to alleviate the cough, Pepto Bismal to take care of the gastro-intestinal distress, and an antihistamine to alleviate the mucous problem. Does it work? It may alleviate the symptoms, but the flu or cold is still there and until your body has combatted the virus, you will have to continue to treat the symptoms.
So have you gone back and read the article yet in hopes of finding out what global warming is a symptom of? Here it is, global warming is a symptom of global capitalism. So the demand for stuff is the underlying cause of many of the world's ills. So what would happen if everyone stopped buying stuff? Well, there wouldn't be a demand to make cheap stuff in China, so they would be putting out a lot less polution. If we could decrease our demand for leather, meat and junk food we could decrease methane production (a greenhouse gas) significanly and we could also decrease our corn production so that we could grow something else, like trees or vegetables. If we as humankind drastically decreased consumption it would dramatically change things.
I'm not so naive as to think that all of the changes would be easy or even desirable. The economy would tank, leaving some major issues to be resolved. I'm not an economist, I should stop there, but I do recognize that it would drastically upset our current economy. But that brings me to question what would happen if we continue to consume at our current rates. I don't think the economy will be able to handle that. $100/barrel oil? I'm thinking that something is going to snap. Our current consumeristic ways are not sustainable, we're going to run out of the stuff we need to make cheap goods or we're going to cause other problems that are even more difficult to solve.
As an aside, Heather and Earl, this is my problem with investing. My perception of a solution would devastate many stocks. Alternatively, I believe that continuing as we are now will also result in devastated stock values. I do own stocks. I know that historically stocks have been good investments. I like the way they work, it makes sense. Boy, can I foresee them coming down in a blaze of glory in several different scenarios.
I'm not going to propose any solutions today, I feel that is what I try to do every day. I really like the idea of many of the ills of the world being considered symptoms to one great underlying cause. I think we see where the problem lies and it is time to start working to heal the world.


Earl said...

Thanks for another thoughtful post.

I think that your frustration is misplaced. When you blame "capitalism" for our ills, I think you should say "industrialization."

Capitalism is an economic system where decisions are made based on the aggregate desires of the masses. I believe that it is independent of what the economy is producing.

Industrialization leads to mass production and the temptation to over-exploit natural resources.

An industrialized country under a different economic system can cause the same damage to the environment. Take for example, the Soviet Union. This was an industrialized, communist country. In the Soviet Union people didn't own as many consumer goods as we do, but many of their natural resources were wasted to produce tanks, submarines, guns, etc. The Soviet leaders felt that these were necessary to protect their position and expand their power. They wasted natural resources just to preserve their political party.

In the United States, we also spend a lot of resources on arms, but it is a smaller percentage of our economy.

With capitalism, economic decisions are taken away from political leaders and given to the people. If Americans think that a company is wasteful, we stop buying their goods and services, and they go out of business. The system isn't 100% efficient, but I think it works pretty well.

So, industrialization causes environmental problems. Capitalism has its many faults, but I don't believe it contributes to global warming.

davekion said...


Dave Kion