As we embark on the mysterious journey through 2012, many things remain uncertain in our lives, i.e. the economy, employment, our political future. But one thing is certain – our planet needs some TLC. Join Jason Hartman as he interviews Peter Sale, author of Our Dying Planet, concerning the fragile ecosystem we live in and how we can successfully change the future for our children and grandchildren with a change in attitude. Listen at: www.HolisticSurvival.com. Peter says our planet does not have to die. We can avert the looming disaster if we act soon. Peter talks about many of today’s pressing environmental issues, including biodiversity loss, population growth, deforestation, fossil fuels, and climate change. Peter discusses how some ecosystems, such as the coral reefs, are extremely close to extinction through human irresponsibility. He also talks about new diseases and new species of pests, unrest and strife throughout the world, and the growing economic problems surrounding the resources the world population depends upon for survival. He states that the solutions to all of these problems are economically feasible, but people must have a change of heart and take action now.
Peter Sale is a marine ecologist, with a Masters from the University of Toronto and also educated at the University of Hawaii. Peter has seen firsthand the destruction of the coral reefs. His work is focused primarily on reef fish ecology and on management of the coral reefs. He has conducted research in Hawaii, Australia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East, as well as many reefs in between. He has successfully developed and guided projects in international development and sustainable coastal marine management in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific. Peter has been a faculty member at University of Sydney, Australia, University of New Hampshire, and University of Windsor, Canada. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health at the United Nations University, based in Hamilton, Ontario. In Peter’s book, Our Dying Planet, he makes the argument that the complex and very serious problem of our global environmental crisis can be solved, has to be solved, and must be solved soon.
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Jason Hartman: Welcome to The Holistic Survival Show. This is your host, Jason Hartman, where we talk about protecting the people, places and profits you care about in these uncertain times. We have a great interview for you today and we will be back with that in less than 60 seconds on The Holistic Survival Show. And, by the way, be sure to visit our website at HolisticSurvival.com. You can subscribe to our blog which is totally free, has loads of great information, and there’s just a lot of good content for you on the site. So make sure you take advantage of that at HolisticSurvival.com. We’ll be back.
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Start of Interview with Peter Sale
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Peter Sale to the show. He is the author of The Dying Planet, assistant director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, and the University Professor of Emeritus at the University of Windsor. So I think you’ll find this to be very interesting as we talk about the dying planet. Peter, how are you?
Peter Sale: I’m fine. How are you?
Jason Hartman: Well, good. You’re coming to us from Ontario today and we appreciate you joining us. Tell us a little bit about the book and what prompted you to write it.
Peter Sale: Well, first of all, a lot of people have commented on the title. Our Dying Planet does sound like a death knell, but it’s not dead yet. And the purpose in writing the book is to alert people to just how serious the environmental crisis is and hopefully get people energized so that they might actually want to try and prevent us going down the path we’re going down because the path we’re going down is leading to some rather undesirable futures.
Jason Hartman: So tell us about that. I mean most environmental authors and such approach things from the point of overconsumption and just pillaging resources and so forth. And of course many are on the global warming side of the debate. Where do you set in all of this?
Peter Sale: Probably somewhere in the middle. I’ll tell you the reason I wrote the book was I realized that most people weren’t getting the seriousness of the situation and they weren’t getting the fact that we can do something about it. Many people were hearing about things like climate change and sort of putting it in a little corner of their brain and sealing it away and not thinking about it too much because it seemed a little bit unpleasant. And other people were refusing to believe it for various reasons. And I can understand why one might want to. But people were not putting the whole story together. And so what I set out to do in my book was to make the point that we didn’t have a lot of different environmental problems – pollution, deforestation, overfishing. We don’t have a lot of separate problems. We have one problem which is multifaceted and it is a very big problem. So that was one of the points I wanted to make.
And then I also wanted to make the point that we’re causing the problem. We understand how we’re causing the problem. We can fix the problem. And if we don’t fix the problem, there are some grim futures. But if we do fix the problem, I think there’s a very good future ahead of us. So that was the purpose in writing it. I had worked on coral reefs for virtually my entire career. I did my PhD at the University of Hawaii and then spent 20 years in Australia before coming back to North America. And in North America I worked in the Caribbean. So I’ve seen coral reefs close up for a long time and I’ve seen how they’re changing. And coral reefs are more sensitive than most parts of the planet and they’re changing very rapidly. And in my book I predict they’re not going to be around by 2050. And that’s only 39 years away.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. Tell us why coral reefs in particular are such an indicator, because they’re more sensitive?
Peter Sale: Yes. They’re quite a bit more sensitive. First of all, coral reefs are one of these amazing ecosystems. We call them biogenic in the sense that even the rock that all the organisms live on and around and in is built by the organisms. It’s calcium carbonate. And corals and a bunch of other organisms secrete calcium carbonate skeletons. But corals in particular have got some quite narrow requirements. They cannot tolerate cold water. They cannot tolerate water that’s much warmer than what they normally live in. They cannot tolerate brackish water or polluted water. They’ve got to live in shallow water because they carry symbiotic algal cells inside their tissues. And the algae have got to have light so they can do their photosynthesis, which the corals need so they can do their calcification.
So it’s a very intricate system that is quite delicate. And one of the consequences of that is it responds more severely and more quickly to the negative things we are doing.
Jason Hartman: So certainly I understand that everything is interconnected on our planet. But for the lay people, why are coral reefs so important? I mean what do they provide? Feeding places for fish or protection? What are the elements?
Peter Sale: There’s a bunch of ways when you start talking about how important is an ecosystem. There’s various things you can look at. I mean, as a biologist, I look at the fact that 25% of all the species of organism in the ocean live on coral reefs. Now, some of those species live off coral reefs as well, but a lot of them will disappear when the reefs disappear. So from that point of view, they’re important. They’re important because they are the most productive natural ecosystem in the world. There is more photosynthesis going on on a coral reef per square meter than anywhere else on the planet. They produce an abundance of biological life in what would otherwise be a desert because the tropical ocean is not nutrient rich. It is a desert. But coral reefs are able to capture what nutrients are there and keep them and use them and produce all the animals. So from a scientific point of view, we can talk about their importance. But we can also do it economically.
They’re immensely valuable to the nations that have them. They provide food and income for coastal populations. Countries throughout the Caribbean, over 50% of the GDP comes from the coastal zone and that GDP is partly fisheries and predominantly tourism. And that income is what drives their economy. And that income is there because there are coral reefs. And, sure, most of the tourists don’t go diving on a coral reef but many of them snorkel on a reef. Most of them sit on the beach and the beach is built by those same calcium carbonate creating organisms that are out on the reef.
So, in a very real sense, the reefs create the coasts which are attractive to the tourists. So their economies depend on them. If we didn’t have coral reefs, most of those coastlines would be poorly protected from oceanic storms. And, you know, hurricanes do enough damage as it is. Take the reefs away, the damage is more. You can go on and on looking at other ways of measuring their importance. I think one of the ways they’re really important is because they’re so sensitive, they are telling us loud and clear that we have a problem. And they’re telling us quite early. They’re immensely valuable to the nations that have them. They provide food and income for coastal populations. Countries throughout the Caribbean, over 50% of the GDP comes from the coastal zone. And that GDP is partly fisheries and predominantly tourism. And that income is what drives their economy. And that income is there because there are coral reefs. And, sure, most of the tourists don’t go diving on a coral reef, but many of them snorkel on a reef. And most of them sit on the beach and the beach is built by those same calcium carbonate creating organisms that are out on the reef. So in a very real sense, the reefs create the coasts which are attractive to the tourists. So the economies depend on them. If we didn’t have coral reefs, most of those coastlines would be poorly protected from oceanic storms. And, you know, hurricanes do enough damage as it is. Take the reefs away, the damage is more. You can go on and on looking at other ways of measuring their importance. I think one of the ways they’re really important is because they’re so sensitive, they are telling us loud and clear that we have a problem. And they’re telling us quite early. And that should be prompting us to get busy and solve that problem before we start seeing similarly dire things happening in other systems. I mean I think the arctic will probably be nixed. But we are creating serious impacts around the globe that are affecting the natural system that we depend on for our lives and our sustenance. And the coral reefs are saying to us “Look guys, you better wake up.”
Jason Hartman: And so this is why you refer to the coral reef as the metaphorical canary and the ecological coal mine, right? Because it’s an early indicator. It’s earlier than other things?
Peter Sale: It’s an early indicator. I mean the story about the canary is true in the olden days. Not that long ago, in fact, the coal miners used to take canaries into the mine because canaries tended to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning quicker than minors did. And so when the canary fell off its cage, it was time to get out. Well, the coral reef is a canary which is falling off its perch.
Jason Hartman: When you talk about fixing the problem and saying that there is still time to do it if we change our ways, it seems to me that all of these problems just boil down to population. And with the population and ever increasing population, we just hit another milestone of adding another billion to the number on earth. I think we’re at, what, 7 billion now and it’s increasing rapidly obviously. How can it be fixed? I mean people have to consume resources and people have to make environmental impact. And is it possible with 7, 8, 12 billion people on the planet to have a sustainable planet?
Peter Sale: Probably not. But it is possible to look at our future and think about how many people the planet is able to support. And we should be talking about the human population and the growth in the human population. We should be a lot more concerned about it than we are. I put a chapter in my book about population. It was the last chapter I wrote. It wasn’t going to be in the book because it is politically risky to talk about population because you risk treading on so many sensitivities. But we have to face up to the fact that over the years, through our wonderful medical interventions, we have created a world in which many people can expect at birth to live into old age. The situation where children typically died is no longer with us in developed countries and in many of the developing countries. And as a consequence, our ability to produce people is producing way more people than the planet can support. And the fact that we are about to reach 7 billion, there was 2 billion when I was born. That’s an enormous increase in the number of people on the planet.
Jason Hartman: That is really amazing. May I ask your age?
Peter Sale: I’m 70.
Jason Hartman: So there were only 2 billion people 70 years ago? Wow. Wow, I just didn’t quite realize that.
Peter Sale: And we’re talking about 9.2 billion by 2050. That’s equivalent to adding twice the population of China to the Earth since 2000. And I don’t know how we’re going to feed and water those people. They’re going to need water to drink, they’re gonna need food to eat, they’re gonna need houses to live in. And to assume that somehow we will just find a bit more, we can’t do it. The world supply of fish has been falling since 1985. We take about 60% of our animal protein from fishing around the world. And the fishery yield has gone down since 1985. And that’s not because we’re not fishing just as hard. It’s because we have overfished the ocean, something 50 years ago we believed that was impossible. But it isn’t. We’ve done it. We’ve overfished in the ocean. We are pushing our agriculture as hard as we can.
You know all the grain surpluses that were created in the 60s, in the 70s, in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, Russia, vast supplies of wheat stored up for emergencies and the future. They’re all gone. They’re all gone because there were more people eating more food and we’ve had a few drug simulations used because there were more people eating more food and we’ve had a few droughts in recent years as your visitors may have noticed. Agriculture is not keeping up. I know there were people who were maintaining what we can see, 9.2 billion people, without any trouble. There’s a paper just out in Nature saying that. I’m sorry, we can’t.
And we have got to address the fact that we live on a finite planet, that the planet supplies a lot of stuff which we need. We can recognize that we can be a lot more efficient than we are in how we use things so that we fish sustainably so that we don’t pollute, so that we farm intensively. There’s lots of things we can do to make better use of the resources that are available. But even with the efficiencies, we’ve also got to recognize that we can’t simply expect more and more and more each year. It is a message that is fundamentally untrue. We cannot have perpetual growth in a finite world because we can’t bank on next door.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, right. And I hear what you’re saying. You said this was the last chapter in your book, the population chapter, because you’re treading on a very sensitive area and I understand that. I mean this is gonna sound crazy but what do we do? I mean are we supposed to suddenly view genocidal maniacs like Stalin and Mao as environmental heroes? I mean what do we do? I mean people just won’t stop having kids, especially in the poorer countries.
Peter Sale: I think one of the things we have failed to do is because we don’t talk about the problem, because we avoid discussing the problem…
Jason Hartman: But the problem has been discussed. It seems like in the 70s – and I was just a kid and not really old enough to even know – but there was a lot of this sort of Malthusian thinking that resources are limited and scarce and so forth, but it seems like man always comes up with a new way to exploit them more efficiently and we don’t know what the future will hold. Maybe there will be synthetic foods and new growing methods and we just don’t know.
Peter Sale: These things are possible. There are likely to be some technological fixes for some of our problems, but if we use the technological fix as a way of delaying the problem into the future, we suddenly make it possible to support 9 billion people. Then we discover a way to support 12 billion people. Ultimately, we have to run out of fixes because there’s only a certain amount of resources on the planet. And we can’t use more than there is. You’re already overusing and we’re using up stores of resources that have been accumulated over thousands of millions of years, not particularly in the fossil fuels. We cannot continue to use at this rate and assume it will go on forever. It won’t. And the sooner we recognize that we will all be a lot better off with much better standards of living if we work towards a smaller population that is living in harmony with its environment. And I don’t mean homicidal maniacs being let loose to reduced population. We don’t need that. Let’s be civilized about it.
We’ve learned how to control our death rate. We can learn how to control our birth rate. And one of the things we can do, and we don’t have to use coercive methods, we need to engage the advertising industry which knows how to convince people to do the most amazing things and I’m quite sure it could convince people that small families are better than big families. And I don’t see anything wrong with doing that.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so it seems as though certainly this message has reached the more educated and advanced parts of our civilization, but it has not reached the less educated and more poverty stricken parts of the globe. That’s where the problem really lies. You look at Latin America and Africa and the countries that are struggling and the cultures that are struggling more and advertising isn’t reaching a lot of those groups. I mean they’re just not in the sort of modern media culture as much. You look at Europe and I mean Europe is a dying continent as far as population goes. If it wasn’t for Muslim immigration from Africa, that population is certainly expanding in size dramatically. You can do it by religion, Muslim, Catholic certainly. But you look at the native European populations, they’re going extinct. You look at the US populations on the European side and they’re going largely extinct. If it wasn’t for immigration to the US, the population would probably be declining here.
Peter Sale: In both Canada and the US, if we didn’t have the immigration we have, our populations would be declining. I don’t think we’re at any risk of extinction, however even the European group among us is not in any danger of extinction any time soon.
Jason Hartman: Well, what I mean though is its birth rate is not replacing. It’s like 1.2…The fertility’s about 1.2 for every couple and you put some mortality in there and it’s going at about a half pace. So in 1 generation, that population is cut in half. That’s pretty significant.
Peter Sale: I think the question to ask, though, is what do we want for a future world. Do we want a world in which most people live in abject poverty or do we want a world in which people have a quality of life? And what I’m saying is I don’t think we can have a quality of life if we do not address our own bridal population growth. One of the problems that impacts the governments of many developing countries is their struggling to provide basic services like portable water and a food supply to their cities, electricity into their cities, roads, simple things that we in North America take for granted. And the harder they work to create those services, the further behind they fall because their population is simply consuming everything at a rate faster than they can produce it. And I don’t see a point in having a plan for the world which goes in that direction. And that, unfortunately, is the direction I fear we’re going in unless we wake up.
Another part of the problem is those of us in the developed world who have the luxury of being able to sit and think about these problems, we are protected from these problems by our wealth and those civilizations. We’re insulated from the damage that we’re doing to the environment. We don’t have thousands and thousands of people dying in droughts and floods in The United States. We do have droughts and floods. But we don’t have the impact on people’s lives to nearly the same extent. And for that reason I think we’re a lot less concerned about the problems we’re creating than we should be. And we can’t roll ourselves off from the world and assume that everything will be okay inside our boundaries. That’s not a solution either. I know there’s a lot of people who think that’s a solution, but it isn’t because ultimately the people protected behind the boundaries will be overcome by the rampaging hordes of starving masses trying to get a decent living.
And this has happened all through history. People fight over resources when the resources are really, really in short supply. So we can go down that path and say oh well somehow we will solve the problem in the future. We’ll find a technological fix and suddenly find that we can grow many more tons of grain per acre than we currently do now. I think that’s a very foolish strategy. We’d be much better off to say let’s look at what we’re doing. Let’s look at how we can do it better. Let’s look at how we can use resources in ways that don’t cause the environment to cease to be able to provide those resources because that’s what we’re doing.
Jason Hartman: Let me take a brief pause. We’ll be back in just a minute.
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Jason Hartman: So Peter, the other question that a lot of this discussion raises is where is the tipping point and who makes that determination? I mean, just for the sake of argument although it’s very extreme, when the population of Earth was 100 people way back when, right, those people were using resources and damaging the environment, and then when it was 100,000, then when it was 1 million, then when it was 1 billion, and of course population increase is kind of like multi-level marketing. They told two friends and they told two friends and we’ve all seen that chart, right.
Peter Sale: Suddenly it just goes up and up and up.
Jason Hartman: It’s an exponential curve for sure. But who’s to decide when is enough, when the tipping point is there? I mean certainly I see everything they’re saying and I see damage to the environment and we all do and we all are concerned about it, rightfully so. But that tipping point, did it happen at 6 billion or will it happen at 15 billion people? How do we know when that tipping point has been reached.
Peter Sale: I think that’s a really good question but I would answer it with another question. Why do we need to wait for the tipping point? Why don’t we act ahead of the tipping point? What I can do as an ecologist is talk about what we are doing to the world and what the consequences for us could be if we continue doing things the way we are. And I can suggest that there are ways we could change what we’re doing so that we don’t have those bad consequences because they are bad and they’re coming soon. The idea that we have to know precisely when things are gonna get bad, it goes back to the arguments about peak oil. When are we going to reach peak oil? Have we reached it already?
Jason Hartman: And a lot of people don’t even believe in peak oil even now even though that started in the 70s.
Peter Sale: I know. But how can you not believe in it given that there is this ball floating through the universe. It’s fairly large. It’s blatantly blue. It looks beautiful compared to most of the other things up there and it’s all the loan, and it has a certain amount of oil in it – and maybe it’s even creating oil as we speak. I don’t know about that, but to believe that we can keep extracting oil without ever worrying about it running out, do you go to your bank account and keep taking money out assuming it will always be full? There are reasons in the real world for recognizing that there are limits.
Jason Hartman: Then definitely you would not be a believer in like the abiotic theory, right, that oil is constantly being produced by the earth.
Peter Sale: No. But I can do what I can do. I can discuss the science, explain the science and I can express my opinions about what the science is telling us. What I’m hoping is that someday soon someone – it’d be wonderful if it was me but it probably won’t be – someone is going to discover the hook that is going to catch people and make people aware that this is a bigger problem than any of the other problems we were facing. Right now the financial crisis around the world looks pretty serious and it is pretty serious, but it’s not as serious as the environmental crisis. And I’ve started saying – I didn’t use the phrase in the book – I wish I had – but I started saying that the environmental crisis that we are in is the worst crisis we have experienced since the Pleistocene.
Jason Hartman: Because everything depends on it.
Peter Sale: Yeah, everything, exactly.
Jason Hartman: But I mean certainly there is a huge environmental movement around the globe. I mean are we making progress, are we going in the right direction or not?
Peter Sale: We’re not making the progress we need to make. I have been very disappointed as I watched the results of the large international meetings on climate for example, the Copenhagen meeting and the Cancun meeting and the others that have occurred. It’s been depressing to see the very, very limited action by countries with experts who are advising them of what is going on, but they still are not prepared to move, partly because in most cases most leaders are going to be up for election before the really bad stuff happens. So let’s focus on doing things so we can get elected.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, that’s always the problem with kick the can down the road. It’s a terrible, terrible thing. It’s from Wall Street to The White House and all over the planet. It’s a terrible problem.
Peter Sale: Right. I mean one of the things you know that we might be going through right now that will be very interesting if it’s true, we might be going through an economic revolution right now with this Occupy Wall Street movement around the world, a recognition that the economics that we have used to drive the world economy for a number of years needs to be fixed. That’ll be a profound change in thinking and I think personally it’s high time. There were too many economists who still maintain that you’ve got to have perpetual growth in order to have wealth. And while that might be true under certain economic assumptions, you can’t have perpetual growth in a finite universe. That’s not possible. So they might have a very coherent body of theory but it doesn’t relate to reality.
Jason Hartman: So give us a little primer just quickly, if you would, on climate change. I mean some people criticized the climate…I don’t know what to call it – the climate change people – because it seems like they changed the name. They used to really be calling it global warming. And now, since there is debate, now they change the semantics and call it climate change. Maybe you could address that, but I’ve got a question for you after that.
Peter Sale: Okay. One of the reasons for that change of name I think was recognition, but global warming was trivializing the problem and it was leading other people to trivialize it. Oh well, it’s gonna be a couple of degrees warmer, so what? In fact, that warming is going to have, and is already having, profound effects on the water cycle which means the patterns of rainfall and where the water comes from and how much falls and whether it falls in gentle rain and whether it comes pouring down in thunderstorms or worse, the climate change descriptor is a much better one. And I think even if one wants to say well maybe there are some underlying trends that cause climate to fluctuate, because we know it’s fluctuated in the past, the evidence that links our production of CO2 and pumping into the atmosphere and the changes in climate which were occurring is so comprehensive, it’s so complete, it’s from so many different sources, it’s difficult to pretend that this is all being imagined or that tomorrow morning someone will come up and publish a paper which will prove that it’s all not correct. That is so unlikely. And the risk of assuming that this side is too long is an enormous one. There’s a way in which climate is changing as such if you are managing forests in North America, you should be recognizing that the trees that grow in a particular location are not going to be there in the next generation of trees. They’re gonna be further north. And the speed at which this is happening is so fast that the trees may not be very good at getting themselves further north. They may need to be helped.
Jason Hartman: But if the trees are further north and say the climate’s warming, for example, wouldn’t that open up new farming possibilities in climates that were once too cold to farm?
Peter Sale: Well, except for the Pleistocene and being one of the thing that happened – and Canadians have often said it – most of the Canadian topsoil is in the United States. And that’s why you have such good farmland. It’s all ours really. It all got pushed down by the glaciers. Most of the soils of Northern Canada are not going to make good farming country. Even where I live, which is only two hours north of Toronto, they tried to farm it. They don’t farm it anymore to very much extent because most of it is not farmable. The idea that there is a lot of land out there waiting to be farmed, I mean, if there was we would have found it already. The changing is climate is not…
Jason Hartman: But maybe the weather conditions don’t support it.
Peter Sale: Well, yes. But it’s sort of like swings and roundabouts. You’re going to gain improved farming conditions in one area while you’re losing good farming conditions in another area because you’re going to have drought as well as good rainfall. I mean one of the serious problems I think people are beginning to think about now is many of the great rivers of the world are likely to dwindle quite significantly because of the lack of snow melt and glacier melt on the mountain ranges that supply them. I’m talking about rivers like the Yellow River, the Ganges, the Nile, some of the rivers in North America – I’m trying to think which one – the Colorado certainly comes out of the mountains. So farmland which is dependent on the supply of water from rivers that have been flowing for thousands of years is going to discover those rivers aren’t there anymore.
Jason Hartman: A couple of questions for you on climate change. So CO2 is the problem, right?
Peter Sale: Right. Well, the primary problem, yes.
Jason Hartman: The primary problem. Okay, and that is creating what you call the greenhouse effect, correct?
Peter Sale: Yeah.
Jason Hartman: Okay. And so the greenhouse effect traps heat in and it doesn’t leave the atmosphere as easily, right?
Peter Sale: That’s right.
Jason Hartman: Okay. So CO2 is what people exhale and it’s what plants inhale. See, at first, when I first became familiar with the global warming debate, I thought – and pardon my ignorance – but I thought they were talking about carbon monoxide, not carbon dioxide, which is of course carbon monoxide is deadly poisonous. And that’s what industry creates. That’s what comes out of car tailpipe. And that’s obviously very dangerous. We don’t want too much of that in the atmosphere.
Peter Sale: We don’t want too much of that in the air, yeah.
Jason Hartman: So I don’t understand why CO2 is overall so bad. I mean wouldn’t that be good for plant life? And more plant life, wouldn’t that be good because they’d create more oxygen and the earth would be more fertile, no?
Peter Sale: Those are all good points. The fact is that CO2 goes into the atmosphere when animals exhale and it goes out of the atmosphere when plants take it up in photosynthesis. One of the reasons we can talk about forest sequestering carbon is because forests take CO2 out of the atmosphere, they turn it into wood, and the wood stands there or it can be used in products or it can be buried in the ground. That CO2 is out of the atmosphere.
The CO2 in the atmosphere is a very delicate balance. In fact, if you look at the graph that shows the CO2 in the atmosphere, this is a graph that Noah has on the web. It is a continuous record from 1958 from instruments that were put at the top of Mauna Loa at that time. It’s not the only instrument measuring CO2 in the atmosphere, but it’s the one I’m familiar with. That graph, if you look at it expanded so you’re looking year after year, it goes up and down a little bit every year. It has a very steep upward trend from 1958 until now. But within that trend, it goes up a little bit and down a little bit every year. And the reason it does that is because of the photosynthesis by trees. The northern hemisphere has more land with trees on it and the trees on the northern hemisphere predominantly lose their leaves in the winter. The trees in the southern hemisphere tend to keep their leaves all year around and there’s less land in the southern hemisphere. So in the northern hemisphere, in the summertime, there are lots of trees photosynthesizing, sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. And in the winter in the northern hemisphere there were fewer trees photosynthesizing, so there’s less CO2 going out of the atmosphere and are pumping it in, which is happening all year around, moves it back up again. So it goes up in the northern winter, down in the northern summer.
That shows you how delicate that balance is and how dependent on life it is. What we’re doing, it’s not so much that we’re doing a lot of respiring – that’s not the problem. What we’re doing is we were using CO2, which is being sequestered away from the atmosphere, and releasing it into the atmosphere mostly through our use of fossil fuels which are predominantly plant derived from millions and millions of years of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. We’re putting it back into the atmosphere at a very rapid pace and such that the atmosphere is becoming a more effective thermal blanket and preventing the heat generated on the surface of the earth from escaping rapidly into space. So our temperatures are going up and along with that. The change is in weather.
Jason Hartman: You know, there’s a guy out here and I want him to get on the show – and, forgive me, I don’t remember his name but maybe you’ve heard of the book – it’s called Not By Fire, But By Ice I believe. And he says we’re on the verge of an ice age. How does one reconcile this stuff without being a scientist and without being really in the field as you are?
Peter Sale: That’s a good question. I mean that is one of the problems.
Jason Hartman: How do we know who to believe? That’s so hard to know.
Peter Sale: Science goes forward by proving that things are incorrect. That’s how we advance. We discover something and that discovery proves that other things we thought were true were incorrect. The idea that we were going into another ice age was quite prevalent in the 1970s and we probably would’ve been going back into an ice age were it not for the fact that we’ve got an industry which is alive and well and growing and producing more and more greenhouse gases.
Jason Hartman: So are you really almost saying thank god for the industrial revolution and the pollution?
Peter Sale: No, no, I’m not. But one could because…
Jason Hartman: If it wasn’t for all those landfills and all that trash.
Peter Sale: I mean, the fact of the matter is – let’s be frank about it – we are liberal sentient beings living on a rock which is racing through space. We are trying our best to understand it, what this world is like. We learned a lot over the years. We’re far better at understanding it than any of the other creatures which live on it. But do we understand it totally? Of course not. And yet we understand enough that it can be very frightening. And I think we understand enough to see that there are things we can do that will change our behavior in ways that will make the future much better than it would otherwise be. And that’s what I’m trying to get across to people, not how bad it’s gonna be if we sit and do nothing. That’s just depressing. It’s how it can be good if we do something and it’s getting people to want to do that something. And it doesn’t mean going back to the stone age in terms of our way of life.
Jason Hartman: Just in wrapping up here, I want you to give out your website and tell people where they can get the book and learn more of course. I think one of the big challenges the environmental movement has is that people don’t want to be controlled. They don’t want authoritarian dictatorships running their lives, and there’s a saying that I heard became rather popular as the soviet union was collapsing and it may have been long before that – I don’t know. And it goes like this – and I think this is one of the big challenges your movement has and I’d like you to respond to it if you would – and the saying is green trees have red roots. In other words, the environmental movement is a way to control people and to limit their worth and control them another way, except not the way that historically it’s been done through dictatorships and big brother. Well, this is sort of a big brother thing if someone’s looking through your trash and monitoring your consumption, then adjusting your thermostat for you by remote control, but what do you say to that green trees have red roots concept? Have you heard that before?
Peter Sale: I have not heard that expression before, I must confess. Yes, I know the sentiment. There is a very strong streak of individualism in the United States in particular. And I’ve got to be careful as a Canadian what I say about you guys because you’re big and strong. But this streak of individualism has been fantastic for the creativity, the entrepreneurship on all of those things, but it also has a very selfish side to it.
Jason Hartman: The sort of rugged independence, the rugged individualism I mean.
Peter Sale: And the fact is that they’re not going to be able to have a decent standard of living for people if everybody is out for themselves. It won’t work. There will be some people who will do very well for a period of time, maybe a few generations even. But the bulk of people will not do well. And I think that there are ways of having a much better environment for people and it still provides opportunity for individualism and for freedom to become wealthy and to be creative and do things and invent things.
I’m not part of a movement, but I’m certainly not talking about trying to constrain people’s entrepreneurship, but I am suggesting that we could be directing our creativity into ways that would be sustainable. One of the big things that we could do that would make an immense difference is if we thought carefully about our relationship to the natural world. We, in western countries, have a European tradition that developed back before the industrial revolution, sometime in the Renaissance I think it develop, but a philosophy that says the world and humanity are two separate things.
The natural world is out there and it’s available for us to use. We’re not part of it. We can use it. Some people even believed it was created for us to use. That is a perspective that drives a lot of western civilization thinking. And it is not the perspective that you find in lots of other societies where people recognize that they are part of the natural world. They still use it, they still treat it as providing resources that are there for them to use but they had an appreciation where they are a part of it and they need to use it in ways that will sustain it into the future because their lives depend on it. That is a much more accurate understanding of how we relate to the natural world than the traditional western view. And I think that the western view has unfortunately led us down some paths which have proved not to be the right way to go.
Jason Hartman: Very interesting. Please tell people where they can learn more and get a copy of your book.
Peter Sale: Yes, because I’ve probably said some things that makes some of your listeners angry.
Jason Hartman: Well, that’s what gets people to take action, so that’s okay. My listeners are worried about the end of the world, so this is fine.
Peter Sale: I would love to have people read the book. That’s why I wrote it. I tried to write a book that is accessible to people. I don’t expect people to believe everything I say, but I hope they will understand the science that I’m talking about. You can find the book at www.petersalebooks.com. And on that website there are links to chapters in Canada to Amazon in the states and to UC Press, so if you want to buy a copy, it’s two clicks away.
Jason Hartman: And I hope you have it on Kindle so we can save some paper, right?
Peter Sale: Yes. It is on Kindle and it seems to be selling on Kindle.
Jason Hartman: Excellent. Well, Peter Sale, thank you so much for joining us today and thank you for this perspective. It’s always great to hear and very interesting. I certainly did not know about the coral reefs being the canary and the proverbial coal mine, so that was really interesting to hear that initially as well. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.
Peter Sale: Well, I’ve enjoyed it.
Narrator: Thank you for joining us today for the Holistic Survival Show, protecting the people, places, and profits you care about in uncertain times. Be sure to listen to our Creating Wealth Show which focuses on exploiting the financial and wealth creation opportunities in today’s economy. Learn more at www.jasonhartman.com or search “Jason Hartman” on iTunes. This show is produced by The Hartman Media Company, offering very general guidelines and information. Opinions of guests are their own and none of the content should be considered individual advice. If you require personalized advice, please consult an appropriate professional. Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed. (Image: Flickr | James Cridland)
Transcribed by Ralph