Fritz Haber, the brilliant German chemist, associate of Albert Einstein – discovers Nitrogen fertilizer – it’s 1912. The world celebrates Haber’s genius and the miraculous end of hunger. Almost one hundred years later “dead zones” begin to appear in the world’s oceans. Deprived of oxygen, these waters are now incapable of supporting aquatic life. By 2006 a survey counted over 400 dead zones, world wide. Many are small, a kilometer in area, but many are larger, much larger and the largest, in the Gulf of Mexico, near the great Mississippi River delta, the dead zone grew to 22,000 square kilometers, almost 5,000 square miles. The investigators report the cause is runoff containing Nitrogen and Phosphorus fertilizers from farmlands, a thousand miles and more northward. Dead oceans, what a terrible fate for what must have seemed like a swell idea in Haber’s day.
Part One of the “How Do We Fix It?” Factoid, suggested a technological “fix” for climate change. The problems framed above, which are related to climate change since they all arise from the use of fossil fuels, will need two fixes. One, will be the technological fix. The practices and technology for growing food, getting around and keeping the lights on all depend upon fossil fuels which must be replaced with something environmentally benign. The other “fix” we must complete has to do with how we make our technological choices. Do we want the world changing decisions of the future to, once again, be made by small groups of people who gather in small rooms and who’s names no one knows without first assuring ourselves that there wont be unforeseen consequences down the road that cost the taxpayers billions to fix? The decisions to burn fossil fuels and to pour chemicals over the earth, were not decided by government (the usual heavy when something goes sour), these decisions were made by the private sector, by entrepreneurs and Boards of Directors.
Do you think the time has come to admit to ourselves that, all of the really bad decisions of the industrial era were made by the private sector and not the government? Their problem (the private sector) is, that notwithstanding their impressive number of failures, they still believe that humans can successfully compete with nature even though all the current evidence points the other way. If it was true, that man could defeat the intent of nature, then the natural world, an organized system where every move is dedicated to survival, would be so defective in its design that it would have the capacity to create a creature capable of defeating its own plan. If you think we can successfully compete with nature, you are obviously not paying attention to what’s been going on these days. We have lost every single contest.
I share the widespread appreciation for the benefits of free markets, competition and entrepreneurship. I do not share the belief that these activities can serve the public interest without regulation by the publics uncorrupted representatives. These days, all the big companies are trying to convince us they have “gone green.” The plain meaning of that term would make you think they had elected to abandon their competition with nature but, frankly I don’t believe the thirst to improve the “bottom line” has been abandoned. Still, it would be foolish to ignore the intense dislike of government regulation by the private sector. If we could resolve the desire of the public for vigilant oversight on the one hand, and the desire of the private sector for a free hand in selecting the types of products and services it wants to pursue on the other hand – there may be a way to do that. See Part Three, of this factoid (Factoid 15).
(Peer reviewed research, supporting the claims made in this factoid, can be found at the website)