Might this be the time to forever do away with the idea that the only way to measure our progress, cultural, social, spiritual, economic, is purely by how much bigger our economy is than it was last year?
Deforestation is one of the most intractable and yet most potent drivers of environmental crisis. It is also among the four out of nine planetary boundaries that civilisation was already at high risk of crossing five years ago according to research published in the journal Science.
Vaclav Smil’s latest book explores growth in nature and society. It examines the rules and patterns of growth in four key domains, those of the living world; human energy consumption; human artifacts; and human populations, societies and economies.
Many people, including myself, fear that the great acceleration (1, 2) of our consumption and destruction of resources such as land, biodiversity, soil, minerals, and fossil energy sources, could lead us into a catastrophe.
Science studies scholar Bruno Latour is fond of the film “Life of Pi” for the metaphor it provides for our current predicament. The main character of the film, Pi, ends up in a lifeboat with a tiger, and not a friendly one. Though Pi builds a raft to give himself distance from the tiger, he must still tie the raft to the lifeboat which holds all the supplies–food, fresh water, and, as we see later, flares. Ultimately, the destruction of his raft forces him to return to the lifeboat and find a way to live with the tiger.
Of course we all know at some level what a “healthy shopping season” is really healthy for: the economy–that thing, that thing which giveth, it is true, but also taketh away, and is still the only game in town.
There is another obvious and plausible explanation for the flat carbon emissions, namely, that the global economy did not grow by the stated percentage, that it may have grown only a fraction of that amount or not at all.
Economist Paul Krugman evidently feels irked and irritated by the notion that there might be limits to economic expansion: he has followed up his New York Times op-ed with a new piece. It reveals a great deal about how economists think, and why they tend to disregard physical science when it comes to questions about finite resources and the possibility of infinite economic growth on a small planet.
Diminishing returns from oil limits are already beginning to hit, but the impacts and the expected shape of the down slope are quite different from those forecast by most Peak Oilers.
Tea Partiers railing against raising the debt ceiling have a valid point. Operating on perpetual deficits and debt is unsustainable. In fact, a perpetually growing government would be impossible under any circumstances. That’s pursuant to the dictum that nothing grows forever.