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Lightness of touch delivers severe message: We're headed for disaster

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/6/2011 (2746 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Our Way Out

First Principles for a Post-Apocalyptic World

By Marq de Villiers

McClelland & Stewart, 405 pages, $33

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/6/2011 (2746 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Our Way Out

First Principles for a Post-Apocalyptic World

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By Marq de Villiers

McClelland & Stewart, 405 pages, $33

THIS Canadian entry into the environmental-catastrophe sweepstakes has a lightness of touch while delivering a rather severe message.

Our world is headed for disaster and our pointy-headed experts, especially economists, are blithely ignoring the reality.

Author Marq De Villiers, born in South Africa but now of Eagle Head, N.S., levels with the reader about the reality of climate change. As he points out, the planet has always been a closed ecology, subjected for eons to volcanoes, greenhouse gases, asteroids and other assaults. Nature seems to have found ways to maintain a kind of uneasy balance.

The difference nowadays is that humans add an imbalance with our dramatically increasing numbers and technological outputs. Where we should be focusing on development, various forms of cultural improvement, we are hung up on growth — two very different phenomena.

De Villiers superbly concretizes the grim reality with anecdotes and numbers that would be fun to read about if they weren't so extraordinarily scary.

supplied photo
The Burpo family, with Colton at left.

supplied photo The Burpo family, with Colton at left.

He notes that it took all of human history until 1830 for world population to reach one billion. Then it took only 12 years to increase from four billion to five billion. At the present rate of increase we are expected to add more than two billion by 2050.

To maintain mankind's current consumption of oil would require the discovery of half a dozen Saudi Arabias — assuming the existence of present-day deposits.

De Villiers leaves no doubt what the numbers dictate. Furthermore he cites a host of scientists and other shrewd witnesses to prove his point that "we need to get off fossil fuels, soon, because the optimists believe oil is fast running out, with coal and gas to follow, but even more importantly because of what they are doing to us and our planet."

De Villiers has no illusions about the obstacles in the way of an epidemic of sensible action at any level, let alone a global one. With clarity and conviction he defines agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as major players in leading us down the garden path.

It's worth mentioning that he does not point fingers (well, not all of them anyway) at only the U.S. and the U.K. The culprits are global, capitalists all. Their goals are wrapped up almost entirely with making profits, not necessarily producing goods.

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Sharing with the poor, which includes a considerable part of the globe, is not a factor in such minds.

According to de Villiers, capitalism as it is practised nowadays would horrify Adam Smith, whose name is often used to justify exploitation by the wealthy and powerful. Smith had no expectation that capital would be used to oppress people.

It's important to note is that de Villiers is no anarchist, no opponent of familiar institutions. In the company of E.F. Schumacher, Garrett Hardin, Joseph Stiglitz and the like, he argues that reform in the direction of balance could bring about a more stable world, including climate.

As a writer, de Villiers is as deliberate as he is insightful. The ideas he includes cover the conceptual waterfront. Think of a topic that is crucial to the well-being of our hurting globe — environment, investment bankers, international trade, class conflict — and issues, such as how does Canada justify forbidding asbestos at home while exporting it to Third World countries. You can count on his having observations and possible solutions.

Ron Kirbyson is a Winnipeg writer

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