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‘Throw In The Towel?’

November 28, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 48

I agree with Rudy Baum’s proposal to throw in the towel on certain climate-change topics (C&EN, Oct. 17, page 5). The fact remains from antiquity that economics is the real driver of human activity. Government’s only real possible value is in funding those activities that are for the commonwealth and outside of normal economic incentives, and then only with sufficient support from a majority of the population.

Pollution reduction, efficiency improvements, and alternatives to traditional energy sources are always good business possibilities. But arbitrary limits on secondary products only shift the economics of the primary process. When society will not support the economic price, the economic realities of life will drive the real actions.

Surprisingly, despite decades and more of “concern” over sustainability issues, and the willingness of government and NGOs to pontificate on what the people of the world should limit, few have stated the one obvious and controllable factor: world population. It is the continuing growth of human population along with people’s innate desire for “better lives”—whatever their current situation—that drives the consumption of resources. We may need a minimum mass for continuing innovation and development of ideas, as well as maintenance of our infrastructure and technology. But it may be more reasonable to suggest a scale-back to pre-1950 population levels than scaling back carbon dioxide levels. Why do we insist on arguing about the symptoms instead of the problem? It is time to throw in the towel when the debate is not based on a sustainable solution.

By Steven J. Cooke
DasIsland, Abu Dhabi


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