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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.

Featured Article

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