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Ehrlichs: Too many people, too much consumption
Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Yale Environment 360
Four decades after his controversial book, The Population Bomb, scientist Paul Ehrlich still believes that overpopulation – now along with overconsumption – is the central environmental crisis facing the world. And, he insists, technological fixes will not save the day.
Over some 60 million years, Homo sapiens has evolved into the dominant animal on the planet, acquiring binocular vision, upright posture, large brains, and – most importantly – language with syntax and that complex store of non-genetic information we call culture. However, in the last several centuries we’ve increasingly been using our relatively newly acquired power, especially our culturally evolved technologies, to deplete the natural capital of Earth – in particular its deep, rich agricultural soils, its groundwater stored during ice ages, and its biodiversity – as if there were no tomorrow.
The point, all too often ignored, is that this trend is being driven in large part by a combination of population growth and increasing per capita consumption, and it cannot be long continued without risking a collapse of our now-global civilization. Too many people – and especially too many politicians and business executives – are under the delusion that such a disastrous end to the modern human enterprise can be avoided by technological fixes that will allow the population and the economy to grow forever. But if we fail to bring population growth and over-consumption under control – the number of people on Earth is expected to grow from 6.5 billion today to 9 billion by the second half of the 21st century – then we will inhabit a planet where life becomes increasingly untenable because of two looming crises: global heating, and the degradation of the natural systems on which we all depend.
Our species’ negative impact on our own life-support systems can be approximated by the equation I=PAT. In that equation, the size of the population (P) is multiplied by the average affluence or consumption per individual (A), and that in turn is multiplied by some measure of the technology (T) that services and drives the consumption.
Paul and Anne Ehrlich are in the Department of Biology and the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, where he is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences and she is Senior Research Associate. Their latest book, The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment (Island Press), focuses on the issues cited in this article and includes references.
(4 August 2008)
We must green the market
Thomas Homer-Dixon and Stewart Elgie, Globe and Mail
Everywhere we look, the prices of goods don’t reflect the true environmental costs of their production
Modern capitalist markets are among the most amazing institutions humankind has ever created. They are mighty engines of innovation and wealth. They allow societies to quickly adapt to a world full of disruptions and surprises. And by linking billions of producers and consumers every day, they generate price signals that help people around the world decide what to make and what to buy.
But when it comes to conserving Earth’s natural environment, our markets are badly broken. For our planet’s future – and for our future prosperity – we must fix them.
The underlying problem is that we don’t pay the true environmental costs of making, using and getting rid of the products we buy.
… So, while most of us want to protect the environment, we operate in an economic system that encourages us to harm it. Our moral and economic motivations point in opposite directions. It’s time we got them pointing in the same direction.
Economists say we can do this in two ways: We can apply green fees or taxes to reflect a product’s environmental harm, or we can create a market for nature’s environmental services that we now treat as free.
Thomas Homer-Dixon holds the CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont. Stewart Elgie is a professor at the University of Ottawa, specializing in environmental law and economics.
(6 August 2008)
No longer a lunatic
Carolyn Baker, Truth to Power
It’s the same with everyone I speak to who’s been watching the downward spiral of empire for any length of time: “I can’t believe how fast things are unraveling”, we all say to each other. The incessant mantra these days from people who haven’t been paying attention is that “things are going to get better”, but almost no one is denying that we are in uncharted waters beyond anything we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. The uninformed are traumatized, and traumatized people almost always revert to “it’s going to get better” thinking in order to cope with their current plight.
I continue receiving emails from former students and former readers of Truth To Power which essentially state, “We thought you were a raving lunatic when you were telling us this stuff five years ago, but everything you said would happen is happening.” Included in these comments are reports of foreclosures, bankruptcies, lost jobs, loss of student loan funding, medical bills that can never be paid off, applying for food stamps, regular trips to food banks, illnesses that cannot be treated because of lack of insurance or funds, depression, rage, profound ennui, and a sense of meaninglessness.
My reaction to this feedback is not “See, I told you so, stupid!” but rather deep feelings of compassion and sorrow. I’ve been a fringe person for most of my adult life, thinking outside the box, and generally living ahead of the curve. I don’t say that arrogantly because there’s always been a price to pay for living on the edge.
(31 July 2008)
The perpetual assault on ecological and economic reason…
Christopher Ryan, The Localizer
The glaring headline reads: “Suddenly being green is not cool any more” and you should most definitely read this disturbing piece in the London Times. This is another example of flawed or absent thinking about ecological issues and economic reality….mostly the latter.
Ignorance in regard to the economics of organics and other ecologically preferable alternatives is based on a successful information vacuum in the mainstream media on the subsidization of industrial agriculture and other products where petroleum is a major input (e.g. highways, suburban real estate development, etc). Most citizens are unaware of the fact that much of the food produced by agribusiness is so dependent on petroleum inputs at all points of production and distribution and would not be viable in its absence.
… Fighting back with real data and rational arguments is crucial but also is passion and constant vigilance. Part of this could include posting a comment on the Times website in response to this article. Are you with me?
Referenced article: Suddenly being green is not cool any more
(7 August 2008)