Some of This News Is Related (and We’re All Another Day Older)

The Wayne County (Michigan) prosecutor has charged 54-year old Theodore Wafer of Dearborn Heights with second-degree murder, manslaughter and illegal possession of a firearm. He shot Renisha McBride in the face after she crashed her car on his street at 2 a.m. and came to his house, apparently looking for help.

At least one semi-facetious observer recently suggested a link between this kind of thing and the end of the world as we know it. On a related topic – what we’re doing to the planet – a leaked report from a U.N. commission predicts that climate change will reduce the global food supply in coming years, while the world’s population grows (albeit at a declining rate) and the demand for food increases.

An ex-soldier writing in the New York Times accepts the idea that we’ve entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, a concept some scientists have adopted in order to reflect the massive effects we’re having on the planet. The ex-soldier argues that we should think of our civilization as already being dead, just like he used to think of himself as already dead when he was stationed in Iraq. Maybe he’s right and a more fatalistic attitude toward the effects of climate change would make us behave differently. We might go calmly about our business and make lots of necessary changes. On the other hand, we might do even less than we’re doing now.

There is also quite a big difference between one particular soldier dealing with the next few hours of his life and 200 nations composed of 7 billion people doing something about the next 100 years. Global climate change is, after all, a perfect example of the problem of the commons”, i.e. “the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests” (Wikipedia)An economist writing in the American Economic Review admits that:

as the US and other economies have grown, the carrying capacity of the planet—in regard to both natural resources and environmental quality—has become a greater concern….While small communities frequently provide modes of oversight and methods for policing their citizens…, commons problems have spread across communities and even across nations. In some of these cases, no overarching authority can offer complete control, rendering common problems more severe.

Yet he concludes that “economics is well-positioned to offer better understanding and better policies to address these ongoing challenges” (maybe he felt the need for an upbeat ending).

Still, the U.N. Climate Change Conference is underway in Warsaw. There are people advocating for a steady-state economy in which population growth and the use of natural resources are limited. A group of eminent scientists recently said that the “evidence indicating that our civilisation has already caused significant global warming is overwhelming”, but it’s still possible to limit the increase to a sustainable 2 degrees Centigrade if we act quickly. 

Meanwhile, China has just decided to remove its restriction on city-dwellers having more than one child, which will mean another million or two young Chinese every year, and Japan is substantially cutting its greenhouse gas reduction target in order to compensate for shutting down its nuclear power plants.

In other news, Andy Kaufman is, unfortunately, still dead.

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