Wednesday, October 27, 2004

How Much Time Do We Have?

A friend passes along an article by Paul Roberts in the current issue of Mother Jones which addresses what is perhaps the most urgent problem of our time, Islamic terrorism notwithstanding. Roberts sounds the tocsin alerting us to the impending oil crunch and warns that it may be closer than had previously been anticipated.

There are things not to like about Roberts' piece, but his larger message is one we can't afford to ignore. Here are a couple of excerpts:

The most alarming symptoms of an energy system on the verge of collapse are found in the oil markets. Today, even as global demand for oil, led by the economic boom in Asia, is rising far faster than anticipated, our ability to pump more oil is falling. Despite assurances from oil's two biggest players - the House of Bush and the House of Saud - that supplies are plentiful ... it's now clear that even the Saudis lack the physical capacity to bring enough oil to desperate consumers. As a result, oil markets are now so tight that even a minor disturbance - accelerated fighting in Iraq, another bomb in Riyadh, more unrest in Venezuela or Nigeria - could send prices soaring and crash the global economy into a recession.

Nor is it any longer a matter of simply drilling new wells or laying new pipe. Oil is finite, and eventually, global production must peak, much as happened to domestic supplies in the early 1970s. When it does, oil prices will leap, perhaps as high as $100 per barrel - a disaster if we don't have a cost-effective alternative fuel or technology in place. When the peak is coming is impossible to predict with precision. Estimates range from the ultra-optimistic, which foresee a peak no sooner than 2035, to the pessimistic, which hold that the peak may have already occurred.

Our current energy infrastructure - the pipelines and refineries, the power plants and grids, the gasoline stations, and, of course, the cars, trucks, planes, and ships - is a massive, sprawling asset that took more than a century to build and is worth some $1 trillion. Replacing that hydrocarbon monster with "clean" technologies and fuels before our current energy problems escalate into catastrophes will likely be the most complex and expensive challenge this country has ever faced.

If oil prices continue to rise there will not be a single aspect of our lives which will not be negatively affected. Even the best scenario only gives us thirty years to switch to some other energy source and to adopt measures for depleting the oil we have less rapidly. It's time to get serious.

The Essential Singer

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has put together a collection of quotes from Peter Singer which give the reader a good sense of why he has become the most controversial philosopher in the United States, if not the world. Carter cautions that the quotes are not placed in context and thus may be misleading, but with that caveat in mind here are a few of the dozen or so he lists:

On the Sanctity of Human Life:

I do not deny that if one accepts abortion on the grounds provided in Chapter 6, the case for killing other human beings, in certain circumstances, is strong. As I shall try to show in this chapter, however, this is not something to be regarded with horror, and the use of the Nazi analogy is utterly misleading. On the contrary, once we abandon those doctrines about the sanctity of human life that...collapse as soon as they are questioned, it is the refusal to accept killing that, in some cases, is horrific.

On The Acceptability of Killing Newborn Infants:

In Chapter 4 we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings. This conclusion is not limited to infants who, because of irreversible intellectual disabilities, will never be rational, self-conscious beings. We saw in our discussion of abortion that the potential of a fetus to become a rational, self-conscious being cannot count against killing it at a stage when it lacks these characteristics - not, that is, unless we are also prepared to count the value of rational self-conscious life as a reason against contraception and celibacy. No infant - disabled or not - has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing over time.

How Buying a New TV is Like Selling a Homeless Kid's Kidney:

In the end, what is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one - knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?

Why Killing Babies and Animals is Morally Equivalent:

The preference, in normal cases, for saving a human life over the life of an animal when a choice has to be made is a preference based on the characteristics that normal humans being have and not on the mere fact that they are members of our own species. This is why when we consider members of our own species who lack the characteristics of normal human beings we can no longer say that their lives are always to be preferred to those of other animals. In general, though, the question of when it is wrong to kill (painlessly) an animal is one to which we need give no precise answer. As long as we remember that we should give the same respect to the lives of animals as we give to the lives of those human beings at a similar mental level we shall not go far wrong.

There are more like these at the site. The reader might also check out our own critique of Singer's ethics with special attention to his lack of a basis for making any ethical pronouncements of any sort. It's titled Animals and Humanism.