Une inconscience qui nous mènera tous à l'abîme

Chronique de Jean-Jacques Nantel

Le texte qui suit est celui d'un courriel que j'ai fait parvenir à un ingénieur et écrivain américain qui prétend que le réchauffement planétaire est un mythe et que, conséquemment, les dépenses faites par nos gouvernements pour mettre au point la voiture électrique représentent un pur gaspillage de fonds publics.
J'ai pensé que ce texte pourrait intéresser les intellectuels de Vigile.
August 28, 2012
Hello George,
If, in my last e-mail, I spent so much time to explain that pollution is our most urgent problem, it is because it appeared to me that one of your basic assumptions was that the world environment was not in a very bad shape and that, essentially, time was still on our side.
I strongly believe it is not and that it can easily be proven. As I said in my last e-mail, the Chinese economy has been growing at about 10% a year for the last 33 years. (China gave up communism in 1979). At such a rate, China has doubled its consumption AND its pollution output every 7 years. (This is the mathematical consequence of such an exponential growth rate). That means that, in 2012, our global environment must absorb the pollution of almost twenty (20) Chinas of 1979. If China keeps growing at 10% a year, our planet will have to absorb the pollution of 40 Chinas of 1979 within the next seven years, and of 80 Chinas of 1979 within the next fourteen years. (N.B. : the real GDP data show that the 2012 Chinese GDP is already 80 times the GDP of 1979. However, inflation must be taken into account here.)
And don’t make any mistake : the Chinese will do everything they can to grow their economy until they enjoy (and surpass) the average American standard of living!!!
Worse : India (1.2 billion inhabitants), Indonesia (250 million), Brasil (195 million) and at least sixty (60) other emergent economies are following the Chinese example and are growing at a 5, 6 or 10% a year. More : USA and almost all the other developed economies are continuing to grow.
Since everybody is clearcutting forests, destroying agricultural lands and aquifers with pesticides or using the oceans and the atmosphere as if they were natural dumps, common sense says that our planet cannot sustain any longer our economic growth. Clearly, our economies and our populations will soon have to decrease… willingly or not.
Is is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of facts. It is not only a matter of costs, but a matter of survival.
You are right to point out that scientists haven’t been able to establish the current average temperature of the Earth atmosphere. However, when they can’t establish such a basis for calculation, they use statistics which give them clear indications of what is actually occuring. There is a consensus among them that, year after year and season after season, temperatures are rising all over the world and that there is such a thing as global warming. (N.B. Global warming didn’t disappear from their vocabulary; they simply realized that it was only one of the climate changes that mankind has initiated).
It is also true that scientists cannot make acurate forecasts for the next 100 years. Clearly, something will happen to this planet and to our economies much before China starts polluting like eighty (80) Chinas of 1979 (which means within fourteen years).
You are also right to say that CO2 is not a pollutant by itself. Chocolate or water are not either. However, if someone eats two kilos of chocolate or drinks two gallons of water within half an hour, that person will die. The problems with CO2 are the rates of production, consumption and absorption. ¨Too much¨ means something. We simply produce too much CO2 for the planet to absorb. She is choking.
I keep thinking that carbon credits are indeed a very good tool to reduce air pollution. The pollution is ALREADY there. We ALREADY produce it. By transforming it in a commodity that can be bought or sold on the market, we incite all consumers and all entrepreneurs to reduce it in order to save or make money.
It is an economic law that something cheap tends to be wasted. In regions where water is free (ex : Quebec), nobody cares and water is often wasted in the most stupid manner. In regions where consumers must pay for it (ex : Nevada), almost nobody waters its lawn during a hot and sunny day.
When you write in your fourth paragraph ¨As the needs of our countries grow, the price of fuel will NEEDLESSLY skyrocket¨, I disagree with both statements. First, our needs CANNOT keep growing. It is purely and simply impossible. Second, the best way to reduce our energy consumption is precisely by letting its price skyrocket. Consumers understand quickly the need to change their consumption pattern when prices go up.
This is so true that the most important economic law is not the law of supply and demand but the substitution law. Demand (and supply) rapidly dries out for a given product when a cheaper or more efficient substitute appears on the market.
Despite the strong American aversion to taxes, taxing remains an efficient way to increase the price of a product and to decrease its consumption. We experienced it in Quebec where petroleum taxes are high and where the average car is smaller than in the rest of North America.
In the case of petroleum, distributors don’t lower their prices for long when governments lower taxes for the simple reason that the market can take the former price. In that industry, companies executives conspire to push prices as high as possible. For them, competition doesn’t exist since they form a secret cartel.
In Quebec, for example, the gas price goes up immediately at the pump when the Arabs increase their selling price, but it takes two to three weeks to go down when the international price decreases… If our governments were to lower taxes, the petroleum companies would simply steal the money. Not only would those companies waste that money, but we would never see it again. At least, governements return part of the taxes they collect (and waste) to the population by providing services.
The electric car
Considering the rapidly declining capacity of support of our planet environment, the idea to develop the electric car appears to be a very tiny contribution to the project of reducing the gigantic quantity of rubbish our generation did and does reject in the environment. Much more would have to be done… and urgently.
Fundamentally, if so many people promote the electric car, it is because its concept is superior to the concept of the conventional car.
1.Electricity is much cheaper than petroleum. With an electric car, one can make 100 km for less than a dollar.
2.Electricity can be produced with coal, gas, petroleum or by hydro, geothermal, nuclear, wind or solar electric plants. On the other hand, petroleum is petroleum and specialists agree that, as a whole, the planet has probably reached the Hubbert peak. That means that the global petroleum production has reached its peak and will now start to decline while consumption will continue to grow at an exponential rate. (The developing world is buying cars like crazy, especially China).
3. The electric car is more energy-efficient than a gas powered car, especially in cities where drivers are constantly braking. In fact, the torque of an electric motor is infinite at zero km per hour. Also, a conventional car produces much more heat and noise than an electric car.
4. An electric car contains almost no moving parts, especially if the motors are located inside the wheels. As a result, electric cars would reduce significantly the maintenance costs of a car fleet while increasing its longevity. (I am not talking about the battery.)
5.Because of the limited range obtained with the present electric car technology and because of the recharging problem, the best solution is to equip them with small gas engines which work constantly at their optimal rate. Since most commuters travel less than 100 km a day, a battery charge would be sufficient in most cases. For longer distances, the small gas engines would be used to recharge the battery and would be refueled with petroleum, whenever necessary, at regular service stations.
6. In my opinion, the transition to the electric car wouldn’t have to be total in order to make a significant contribution to the reduction of air pollution.
7. The only real problem which has not yet been solved in a satisfactory manner by the electric car manufacturers is the battery. The high cost of those cars is mainly due to the battery cost. But progress are being made every day. This being said, you are right to say that, for the time being, electric cars are still not competitive.
I believe that our habits are so strong that manking will not be capable to react fast enough to the present environmental crisis. My argument about the pollution produced TODAY by twenty Chinas of 1979 is valid, real and clear. The planet simply cannot support 40 or 80 Chinas of 1979 in the coming fourteen years. As a consequence, something will have to give and things will change in a very fondamental way. And this will happen in the coming years, not in a distant future.
Because our populations and our economies have been growing for centuries – if not millennia - human beings don’t have the conceptual tools to face the present crisis. They don’t know better and, consequently, they refuse to believe that their very old way of living is about to end.
The financial meltdown of 2007-2008 was just the beginning of that global crisis. In 2008, our governments have spent trillions of dollars just to get us out of the ditch. (Did they succeed?) Nowadays, nobody on this planet has any ammunition left to solve our permanent and fundamental problems. Time and money have simply run out.
Once started, the next episode of the crisis will just go on out of control. It already began in the Great Lakes region of Africa where countries like Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and Somalia have sank into anarchy and where nearly ten (10) million persons have been slaughtered in the last twenty years or so. Northern Mali, Libya and Syria are now infected. In the Moslem world in general, pressure is mounting, especially around Israël (Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, etc). In Europe, most peripheral countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Iceland) are experiencing a structural and clearly uncontrollable crisis. Finally, is it necessary to mention that America itself has some problems of its own?
Will we all die? Of course not, especially not in North America where ressources are still RELATIVELY abundant. Our species has survived many crisis like that in the past. It is sufficient to say that my family (and yours) is four billion years old. (This is reality, not a metaphor.) We are simply too many, too widespread and too smart to disappear altogether. But the good old time is really something of the past.
Best regards,
Jean-Jacques Nantel, P.Eng.

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4 commentaires

  • Francis Déry Répondre

    31 août 2012

    J'accepte que l'on dispute l'origine anthropogénique du réchauffement. Ou encore chercher si l'équilibre des tendances réchauffistes et refroidistes ne serait pas rompue vers l'autre côté.
    Mais c'est la limite de nos ressources qu'il faudrait tenir compte. Si nous nous enfonçons dans un nouvel âge glaciaire, aurons-nous assez de carburant ?
    Apprendre à réduire la consommation des ressources est essentiel. ce qui veut dire réduire volontairement la croissance mondiale.
    Faites-vous votre effort ?

  • Jean-François-le-Québécois Répondre

    31 août 2012

    «The problems with CO2 are the rates of production, consumption and absorption. ¨Too much¨ means something. We simply produce too much CO2 for the planet to absorb. She is choking.»
    Oui, ça se joue au niveau de ce qu'on appelle le cycle du carbone, entre la terre, l'eau et l'air; et au niveau des couches de l'atmosphère où la présence trop grande de CO2 rompt un équilibre critique, faisant que l'effet de serre est dangereusement augmenté.
    Ingénieur et écrivain, votre correspondant?
    Peu importe; aux États-Unis, les fanatiques religieux et les néoconservateurs mélangent Dieu et la science; Dieu et l'économie, etc.
    Le manque de rigueur intellectuelle et scientifique en est rendu à un tel point, que les départements de biologie de certaines universités américaines enseignent le récit biblique de la Création, en 7 jours, comme étant une théorie valable en rapport avec l'apparition et l'évolution de la vie sur notre planète.
    L'Amérique est devenue anti-intellectuelle, à une certaine échelle. Et les compagnies pollueuses veulent continuer à engramger des profits grâce à leur activités polluantes, sans égard au sort de notre planète et à celui des générations futures.
    Triste (et bête) époque!

  • Archives de Vigile Répondre

    31 août 2012

    Pour pousser plus loin votre réflexion :
    Il n'a pas de solution écologique sans démocratie et pas de démocratie sans tirage au sort.
    Voir ici : http://etienne.chouard.free.fr/Europe/forum/index.php?2012/08/31/251-colibris-12-juillet-2012-pas-de-solution-ecologique-sans-democratie-et-pas-de-democratie-sans-tirage-au-sort
    Pierre Cloutier

  • Serge Jean Répondre

    31 août 2012

    Une traduction en français aurait été utile il me semble puisque manifestement ce message origine d'un intellect francophone en l'occurence le vôtre et s'adresse à un anglophone. Par ailleurs vous vous adressez ici je présume à un lectorat francophone. Sans malice, mais il est tout de même curieux que parfois certains publieurs écrivent ici leurs messages en anglais, comme s'il était acquis d'avance que tous maîtrisent cette langue, ce qui n'est certainement pas mon cas.