DENVER -- The human race has never before had to deal with issues such as climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases and expanding population vs. reasonably priced energy, according to professor Jim White. The big question, he asked, is “How do we manage it?”
White is a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is also the director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (IAAR). He said, “Calm, realistic conversations are essential. One of the things that’s really perplexed me and bothered me is the way the discussion has evolved on environmental change and climate change.
“Most of the world’s population growth has occurred over the past 100 to 200 years. The resources you need per person to live in an industrialized society can be measured by energy or water or nutrients or calories. The U.S. uses more calories than people do in Africa or Third World societies. About 2 billion of the Earth’s 7 billion people live like we do, another 5 billion want to and about 2 or 3 billion will actually get there,” he said during a recent speech in Denver.
For developing countries, such as China or India, the needs are growing, White said. “China has about 1.3 billion people, of which 300 million live like we do. In order for [China] to develop, it has to increase its [energy] use by more than a few percentage points. They have to increase their consumption by factors of three or five.”
White noted that all basic global needs–energy, water, food– have environmental impacts. “You can’t have a creature that occupies the planet to the extent that humans do and not have a footprint. It’s not about not having an impact. It’s about how we deal with that impact.”
He added, “It seems to me that there are two kinds of laws–physical laws and value laws. Physical laws are things like gravity, thermodynamics etc., and value laws are things like morals and values, things we say are good or bad, right or wrong.”
For the value laws, there is frequently reasonable disagreement on the application of some of those laws. For physical laws, there is generally universal agreement. White said the problem with hydraulic fracturing is that people “confuse the law types–the physical laws and the value laws. We think we have a choice on some things but we really don’t.