"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, April 30, 2007

My Little World (and Yours, Too)

I have an essay on sustainability aimed at a broad audience. It's now up on Grist.

I'm quite pleased with it, at least as a start. The analogy that the article builds on can be useful in many ways and I hope it catches on.


Dano said...

That's well done.

EO Wilson replied to a question of the Earth's carrying capacity thus: about 200M if they consume as much as the US or Japan.

One other aspect: Mark Hertsgaard found that people all over the planet wanted to conserve the environment, but day-to-day survival overwhelmed that conservation urge.

Nonetheless, keep up the good work.



Michael Tobis said...

As I hoped (and somewhat expected based on my wife Irene's reaction) a couple of very enthusiastic comments have appeared on the article.

From the point of view of a scientist, I have said absolutely nothing, beyond "it may be convenient to scale the problem by 1/(6e9)". Yet I took 1500 words to say it, and people seem to be taking something away from it.

I think this is what Nisbet and Mooney mean when they say that the public does not respond in the way scientists expect them to.

In a sense I have ponderously restated the problem, providing only trivial amounts of easily available information. About ten minutes of research went into the article.

Yet people's interest was captured.

It isn't what I said. In a scientific context, I said almost nothing. It was the fact that I said it in ways that draw upon everyday experience and imagination.

Anonymous said...

From the point of view of a scientist, you have achieved something remarkable: you have opened minds and sparked imaginations. As soon as people start thinking outside boxes, even if you virtually transport them to an imaginary asteroid to do so, you release the usual Earthly constraints and who knows what enthusiasm and useful ideas could come of that?

As for me, all I could think about after reading your article last night were the fox's words to the Little Prince:
" … what is essential is invisible to the eye."

The full context of that foxy quote from Antoine de saint-Exupéry is:

"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye."

And now I shall return to your imagination-sparking article to read the comments that appeared overnight >>>

Anonymous said...

This seems to have moved down out of mind, but I just wanted to add that I found it a fresh and striking way to look at the situation, and I'm going to borrow the concept myself, to try when communicating about sustainability issues.

Vive le petit prince!

Michael Tobis said...

jm, (and anyone else) please do use it. I don't especially need or expect credit for it (though I wouldn't especially object).

I'd like to see people using the asteroid as a matter of habit, as I think it is a useful analogy. It has already changed my own thinking about a couple of problems.

Heiko said...

Recently I've been looking at some related calculations.


Basically, I wanted to know whether we could all live like my parents who have got a very nice detached house on a 1000 square metre plot (quarter acre).

I did the calculation for the UK assuming 2 person households and came up with 13% of the UK being required to provide such large detached houses for all, over 4/5 of that would be for gardens. The world as a whole is much less densely settled, 500 square metres per capita is only a fiftieth of the world average of 25000 square metres of land per person.

What we can't do is live like Bush.

His ranch is 6.4 square kilometres:

That's 640 hectares. But per capita with 6 billion people we've only got 2.5!