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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Perhaps this will help: For those unable to comprehend the idea of natural resource limits

A schematic showing the spreading of humans in...Image via Wikipedia

A huge problem -- perhaps THE problem of our time -- is that humans are continuing to use carelessly a powerful technology (capitalism) that we developed in an essentially empty world of abundant natural resources. We are continuing to use empty-world logic long past the time when the world could be described as empty or resources could be described as abundant.

One of the first cases a law student encounters is the case of Ghen v. Rich, which is used to illustrate concepts of ownership under the common law -- in that case, of a finback whale carcass. The basis for the decision was the court's concern to find a rule that would promote whaling: "Unless it is sustained . . . industry must necessarily cease, for no person would engage in it if the fruits of his labor could be appropriated by a chance finder."

This 1881 case perfectly illustrates the trend that has continued ever since, and at a global scale: the purpose of the law is to facilitate conversion of natural resources, the uncountable wealth of nature that makes human life and civilization possible, into countable wealth in someone's pocket.

Humanity is like an alpine climber suspended over a deep chasm by a hugely thick manila rope -- only we are ceaselessly cutting the tiny threads that make up the rope, one after another after another, year after year, decade after decade. So far the rope hasn't parted and we haven't fallen -- so we keep plucking at the threads, snipping them off one by one wherever it's profitable to do so.
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Take a U. Chicago course for free


If only those who most need this would bother watching it. Here's a review of the book used in the course, which you can take in, for free, at the links above.
5.0 out of 5 stars The next best thing to enrolling at U. of Chicago, February 24, 2007
By raypierre (Chicago, IL) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast (Paperback)
I wish to commend this wonderful book written by my colleague, David Archer. The class upon which this book is based is a runaway success, and each year it seems they need to find a bigger lecture hall. When you have read the books like "The Weather Makers," and "Field Notes from a Catastrophe," and are ready for something more quantitative but still fairly gentle on the math, this is the one for you. I think it's the best source around for people who want to get a true scientific understanding of the physics and chemistry of climate change.