Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The “Limits to Growth” (Gloom & Doom Dept.)

In preparation for the March installment of Sue Blom’s salon topic on whether or not a sustainable economy could be achieved, I found myself looking in the Library system for a copy of the 1972 Club of Rome report “The Limits to Growth,” which I read shortly after its issuance and tended to disagree with. I was intrigued to find that the authors had done two follow-up books, “Beyond the Limits” in 1992, and “Limits to Growth, the 30-Year Update.” I got and read the 30-year update book.

While the book is very well written, I found it both horrifying and depressing. Although the authors do their best to take an upbeat view and point out technically feasible means of averting the worst possible outcomes, what I get out of it, given the general stupidity, short-sightedness and self-centeredness of humanity, is that we are screwed.

While the authors take care to point out that the computer models they base projections on cannot be considered to be reliably predictive, the fact remains that certain of their past models have matched reality very closely and projections have by and large been matched by real-life economic, industrial, and environmental events. Given that, I’m inclined to take their most recent sets of projections seriously.

In particular, there is NO projection in which we can continue on as we are. Even if it is proposed as a given that there can be continuous growth with unlimited increases in production of energy and food (two major limiters) there is still the issue of what to do with a likewise increasing amount of waste product.

There are a number of terms that should be understood in this context. “Environmental Footprint” refers to that amount of land, water, and air that is required both to produce enough food and other products including energy to sustain the present human race, and to absorb the concomitant waste products, including carbon dioxide, in a sustainable fashion. “Overshoot” is the term describing the condition in which our environmental footprint exceeds that which the Earth can provide. “Collapse” refers to a marked decline in life-expectancy, population, and overall standard of living that is projected to occur if the ‘overshoot’ condition is not corrected.

Now, consider that, based on statistics collected by governments and other organizations not the Club of Rome, we have been overshooting the Earth’s carrying capacity since the 1980’s; that the present overshoot is calculated at TWENTY PER CENT (i.e., planet is presently at 120% of capacity); that, since the 1970’s essentially NONE of the necessary corrective measures have been implemented; that, given politics as usual and the competing aspirations of nations, none are likely to be implemented in the foreseeable future and it’s pretty clear collapse is inevitable. (Update from the Club of Rome’s website: “In 2008 the human demand on the biosphere exceeded the global biocapacity by some 30 %. Global greenhouse gas emissions were some eight times above sustainable levels. Most global fisheries were overfished. The world of 2010 is “in overshoot”.) My only hope is that the projections putting the beginning of collapse 20+ years out are more correct than those guessing more like, oh, 2015. That way, I can get old(er) and hopefully die peacefully before it all goes to smash—which is selfish of me, too. My heart breaks for our young friends and relations who will inherit the disaster, but there’s damn-all I can do about it. Words like this are sand thrown against the overwhelming wind of ignorance and greed. I am so, so, sorry.

When I first read the “Limits to Growth” in 1975 or so, I also read G. Harry Stine’s book, “The Third Industrial Revolution,” and said, oh, but the Club of Rome does not take into account the possibility of extending our environmental foot print off the Earth, and expanding the planet’s carrying capacity into space. Well, here we are almost forty years after that, and, just as we don’t have any remedial economic or environmental policies in place, we don’t have any orbiting industries, habitats, or solar power stations, either. Nor are we likely to in the future. Providing for even a significant amount of humankind’s need from space would require a massive mobilization of capital, materiel, and willpower. While we might conceivably muster the money and the materials, the willpower is totally lacking, especially given the stranglehold the greedy are seeking to put on government spending all across the globe (see, “The Big Con” in this journal), again despite the well-documented HARM “austerity measures” do to economic growth and prosperity. This I largely blame on lack of decision on the part of NASA in failing to come up with an immediate successor to the Space Shuttle, and the lack of vision in our government for failing to push the issue. Unless China has the will to really put a push on, it’s my prediction that the age of human space exploration has essentially ended. Oh, well—if the Chinese get their act together, maybe at least one science-fiction future will come true. Anyone for "Armageddon 2419, A.D."?

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Tags: politics
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