We are exploiters. Hunter-gatherers use an area and, if it loses potential, simply move on. Builders exploit regulations, cut down forests, pave farms, sell houses, and move on.
Politicians make promises, campaign, get elected, and move on – by listening to lobbyists and special interest groups.
So it should come as no surprise that nobody often looks at any ‘activity’ as being part of a system. We think we understand ecosystems, but then move to exploit them – by tourism, logging, fishing, mining, whatever.
A simple example is the use of nuclear power to generate electricity. It works. It is clean in the global-warming sense. It is reasonably reliable. It is Not throttle-able: you are either running a nuclear pile, or you aren’t.
And then you need to deal with the nuclear waste. There’s a lot of it, and at a wide range of difficulty when you need to handle it. Brooms and protective clothing at one end; irradiated metals from reactor and generator parts in the middle, and spent nuclear fuel being (I think) the most treacherous.
I submit that the long-term real cost of nuclear electricity is not yet known. Nobody has looked at the entire system over its entire lifetime – which will be longer than the lifetime of anyone reading this post. (Toronto will be underwater due to global warming before some of the radioisotopes are safe to eat.)
Another example is burning fossil fuel, of any kind. Peat, coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands tar – all are sequestering carbon buried long ago when the world was warmer and had a lot of carbon sinks and few carbon sources.
Now we’re going to reverse this process, and be amazed when the predictions turn out to be correct. Ice shelves in the Antarctic melting. Greenland glaciers melting. More power, and more sudden variation, in the weather system.
There is fallout. Britain is monitoring bird species, with more entering the endangered list ever year. It turns out some birds migrate using day length, while some use temperature as a clue. The former are now arriving later than the latter, and losing a nesting advantage they had only due to timing to arrive before their larger competitors. This is one example; there are others. In the north of Canada there are shore birds whose migration and breeding patterns indicate stress, with clear population losses as a result.
Polar bears will either greatly reduce in numbers, or stop eating from sea ice that is no longer there. Changes, changes: in the seal population, and in the safety of large shore mammals, including people.
And then we have transit in Toronto. Our mayor and city council steadfastly refuse to look at basic numbers: expected ridership, expected value.
These are the people who brought us the Sheppard Stubway. Who proudly opened the Union-Pearson Express (UPX) in time for the Pan-Am games, and then found it could not support itself. So they chopped the fare, guaranteeing that every ride will cost the taxpayer about fifteen bucks.
And now the same geniuses are designing a one-stop subway to Scarborough. I think this secures maybe one seat in provincial politics. Let me dwell on this fiasco for a few more words here.
It will cost, maybe, $28 in subsidies for every rider.
It will provide far worse service than the rejected LRT solution.
It will cost far more, and the final numbers aren’t in the ‘system’ yet.
It is not paid for by other governments, as the LRT was.
John Tory, our mayor, thinks he can fund it with magical thinking. Future development along the route will create tax revenue that will miraculously be identified and used to pay down the debt from subway creation.
There is no reason to conclude that this ‘system’ will work. I am not aware of any instances where it has.
Nobody has asked any of the hard questions about safety. This will be the longest tunnel in Toronto. What if there’s a crash like the one on the Spadina line? A couple of red lights were ignored by the driver. A fail-safe device which stops a subway passing a red light, well, it failed. Several people were killed. Many people had to creep out of the tunnel.
How will escape from such an event work, if it occurs in the middle of a very long tunnel? There won’t be any stations nearby, for sure.
From the above examples I have a sad conclusion.
Democracy is a bad system.
- we vote with our dollars to pave farms, drive wildlife to extinction, ruin the climate.
- we vote for politicians, whose mere ability to run, guarantees special interests are behind them.
- we vote for politicians who sound good. They don’t think soundly, they just sound good.
- we vote with our dollars to send jobs to Mexico, Bangladesh, China.
I have a stupid solution.
- Bribe or coerce IBM or Google to lease one of their supercomputers to the government. (I’m thinking of the computer that can win at Jeopardy and identify skin cancers from black and white digital images.)
- Install a benevolent dictator with a small cadre of advisors in all key areas of science, economics, health, and social concerns (inequality comes to mind.)
- Let the cadre teach the supercomputer everything about their goals.
- Let the supercomputer suggest actions and predict their outcomes.
- Do the right thing.
The last part is why we need a dictator.
Now for the dumb questions:
- Do politicians, especially elected ones, do the right thing?
- Often enough to warrant electing them?
Have a nice day. As always, garbage responses will be trashed, as will responses with invalid eMails. (I won’t show your eMail, ever.)