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Articles by John Ryan

John C. Ryan is research director of Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle and author of Seven Wonders.

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When the Dalai Lama of Tibet met with economist John Kenneth Galbraith, he asked the Harvard professor a simple but penetrating question: “What would the world be like if everyone drove a motor car?” The Tibetan leader probably did not intend it, but his question constitutes a koan, a paradoxical riddle of Zen Buddhist tradition. A koan has no logical answer — “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” — but the search for a solution may lead to a flash of enlightenment.

Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planetby John C. RyanSierra Club Books, 1999, 128 pages

The Dalai Lama’s question is a koan because it depends on an impossibility. If all the world drove like we do in North America — the only continent with nearly as many motor vehicles as people of driving age — global petroleum consumption would quadruple. Yet petroleum production will never quadruple: Many petroleum geologists predict that world oil production is nearing its peak and will begin a permanent decline within 10 to 25 years.

A planet of North American-style drivers would also cause the world’s ... Read more