I’ve been reading about the world’s economic woes quite a bit recently and the arguments between between those who support austerity to fight some looming “deficit crisis” and those who support deficit spending to stimulate the economy. In these arguments I am starting to believe that those who argue for austerity cuts to reduced the deficit because of some impending “deficit crisis” are analogous to those who lied about WMD’s in Iraq to fool the American people into supporting that Gawd awful fiasco of a war for oil. However, I rarely see the economists, who I generally agree with, like Paul Krugman talk about the ability of our environment to sustain our insatiable need to “grow” and build more.
I’m no economist, but I do see what is happening to my part of the world and I read about environmental catastrophes in other parts of the world and even our country. I read about how China is on a massive growing streak which is adding many more people to its middle class who want more stuff just like the rest of the world. That stuff ultimately takes up more land, results in greater pollution, and leads to more greenhouse gas emissions. How will this planet sustain itself with a population of 7 plus billion people, and growing, when our planet can realistically support only the demands of a small fraction of this population?
I don’t think it can, at least not without a catastrophic decline in population due to famine or disease or a combination of the two and other causes. Even our military predicts that global climate change is going to ultimately cause our world great instability and pain.
Our world food supply is teetering on collapse and food reserves are as low as a 30-day supply. One report even says that if humans don’t switch to a largely vegetarian diet there simply won’t be enough water to grow enough food to support the 2 billion people that are likely to be added to the world population in the foreseeable future.
We already see the rapid acceleration towards extinction for species like the rhino because of trivial and absurd desires for alleged aphrodisiacs. What will happen when we face the same choices for species when it comes to a less trivial demand for food? In my part of the world we are seeing once common species like sage grouse rapidly disappearing because of livestock grazing and energy production. Whole landscapes are being converted to cheatgrass and forests are burning at an accelerated rate. Species like wolves and bison are being put at risk due to over hunting or lack of habitat. Simply put, the status quo sucks.
Back to the economists. So many economists are saying that we either need more stimulative deficit spending for large infrastructure projects to make our economy efficient and able to grow again. More or less a Keynesian model for recovery. Other economists are saying that we need to reduce deficit spending so that the rich will create more jobs and the lower classes will be forced back to work at lower wages. More or less the Milton Friedman line of thought. I agree with the Keynesian line of thought but neither of these models factors in the environmental equation.
The common wisdom nowadays, for those who try to factor in environmental sustainability, says that more money and resources need to go into developing so-called “green energy” like wind and solar. Much of that development is being proposed in areas that are undeveloped like public lands in the southwest United States for solar and sensitive bird areas for wind. It’s the fallacy of “sustainable growth”. By definition, in the context of the environment, growth is not sustainable. Every population of animal that outgrows its resources collapses. Still, the “Big Green” groups say we have to trade irreplaceable habitat for more energy. It won’t work. Primarily it won’t work because there is no corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emitting energy and it converts undisturbed land into industrialized landscapes. It just means more unsustainable development without any reduction in demand.
So far conventional wisdom hasn’t offered a sustainable way to navigate through the rough seas ahead. Ideas like those promoted by groups like Population Connection, formerly Zero Population Growth, are considered radical and even dangerous conspiracies by many. There seems no desire to truly confront the harsh realities that are likely in store for future generations. Until the chatter class starts to honestly face these issues we are flirting with irreparable harm to our planet and future generations. To repeat a famous refrain, contrary to conventional wisdom, we can’t have it all.