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Pippa Bartolotti

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Limits to Growth

Posted: 29/11/2012 22:16

Queen Elizabeth 1st took a bath once a year - whether she needed it or not.

Many people now take two showers - a day. This is very relevant to our current stage of consumption.

Consumption of our resources such as water, land, clean air and fossil fuels is now at an unsustainable level. At the time of Elizabeth 1st the world population was about half a billion. Today it is 10 billion. That is a lot of showers. Clearly there have been many improvements since the year 1500: we are now more hygienic, warmer, better fed and more healthy, but the way we have gone about improving our lifestyles has come at a price. And although we might think everything is quite expensive enough already, we are not actually paying the full price.

The full price would include the cost to the environment. Trees don't bill us for their loss of forests, endangered animals do not bill us for their loss of habitat. The oceans ask no price for the pollution humans pour into them, and the air will not send us an invoice for the extra greenhouse gasses it has to burden. If the fish and whales took us to court for murder of their family members we would at least have more life left in the sea.

In 1972 a group of eminent scholars, called the Club of Rome, published a book called Limits to Growth. They spent years pulling information together, then modelled it to create a future trend scenario. Their conclusions were that we were using up the natural resources of the planet too quickly, and if we did not change our ways, collapse was inevitable. Limits to Growth was an early warning siren. Sadly few people listened.

Please do look at this very good explanatory graph and updated info here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Looking-Back-on-the-Limits-of-Growth.html

In essence, they estimated that if human beings continued to consume more than nature was capable of providing, global economic collapse and abrupt population decline could occur at around 2030. In other words humans are taking too much, and not giving enough back, and sooner rather than later there is going to be a very big problem.

Governments baying for economic growth at all cost are digging us deeper into the quagmire. They pursue this because they measure success in money, not in wellbeing or protection of the ecosystems on which we all actually depend in order to stay alive.

Ever more dangerous and unwholesome methods are being used to extract fossil fuels. Tar sands are huge wasters of energy and put more CO2 into the atmosphere in their extraction than when they are burnt. Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - pumps toxic chemicals into the ground to release small pockets of gas, deep sea oil drilling has an abysmal record, but still they do it.

But there is another way of doing business. Growth is still possible, but only if we invest in technologies such as renewable energy supplies, allocate money for innovation and research so that we can overcome our dependence on dirty fuels and convert to clean energies such as wind, tide and sun. We need to stop wasting so much, and stop polluting the air with CO2 and poisons from incinerators and dirty industries. We need to reuse more of what we have, and recycle more of what we need such as metals and plastics. Recycling leaves more in the resource pot for the next generation.

If you had the choice between a car burning fossil fuels, and a long and healthy life for your children, which would you choose?

Limits to growth was updated in 2008, and the data was found to remain relevant. Update document can be read here http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf

 

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