Sunday, February 1, 2009

Escalator to the Abyss

My thesis is simple and unassailable: In the face of constant growth (population and economy combined) it is impossible to prevent environmental degradation and resource loss. We’re heading toward an abyss.

Consider the automobile. Over the past three decades some of the brightest minds in the world have worked to make cars cleaner and more efficient. Catalytic converters and positive crankcase ventilation have been introduced; lead has been removed, sulphur greatly reduced in fuel and vehicle fuel-efficiency has been improved.

In spite of all this, there has been no meaningful improvement in vehicle-created air pollution with all major cities still sitting under poisonous domes of smog, and more oil is being burned than ever before. Why? Because the number of cars and the distance travelled have increased faster than improvements. It’s simple: There’s more of us and we’re wealthier than in 1973.

Same thing for vehicle accidents. In spite of air bags, improved braking systems and better highways, the carnage on the roads gets bloodier each year. Today, about 3,000 people are killed worldwide in traffic accidents each day.

Ditto for waste. In spite of blue-box collection, in-vessel composting and phasing out of plastic bags in stores (finally!) and more, the amount of waste going to landfills increases each year.
And the list goes on and on.
That’s why I laugh when environmental organizations naively proclaim that if we all conserved 10% energy it would prevent dozens even hundreds of coal-fired power plants. No, no, no! It would take many years to make conservation changes. During this time the growth in population and economy would wipe out the gains made by conseration.
Yes, conservation is essential, but we’re running up a down escalator whose speed is constantly increasing. No matter how fast we run, use better running shoes and improve our running technique, the accelerating escalator soon outpaces us. There’s no escape. It’s simple, no-brainer, grade-one logic.
Wait! Here’s a revolutionary thought. Perhaps we should slow down the escalator. We need to slow population (and hence economic) growth before we reach the abyss.

1 comment:

richardglover said...

I couldn't agree more. please see my blog Less is more.
I like your blogs and we need more people plugging away at this fundamental issue. however I do stress that the turning point will come when we are made to feel good about saving our planet and of course brave leadership. all the best