I am pleased to welcome Lee Norton, a new Blogger on BoomerWarrior. Lee is a presenter for The Climate Project – Canada. He has given over 75 presentations to more than 8,000 people (Editor of BoomerWarrior).
Years ago (1971) Paul Ehrlich worked out the formula I = P x A x T to represent the relationship between population, consumption and environmental impact (in approximate terms). I is the impact on the earth resulting from consumption, P is the world population, A is the average affluence of this population, and T is the technical achievement of the population.
The Global Footprint Network defines our world footprint as the area required for all biological resources and waste absorption over the area available. Back in 1986 this footprint equaled 1.0, or exactly one earth-planet. In 2009 we grew to 1.4, or required 1.4 earth-planets to maintain sustainability. To this we can add that climate change’s droughts, floods, wildfires, and ocean acidification are reducing the area available to us in the equation. World efforts to control climate change through global warming have been less than stellar to date.
We must continue to grow is the World’s Theme Song
Lets look at future predictions for 2050. A 20-year old person will be 58 then, likely still alive and working. An article in Scientific American reported that there would be a collapse of all people-consumed fish by 2050 through a combination of over-fishing and ocean acidification. Let’s look at some broader details.
The U.N. expects a median population of 9 billion by 2050 – growth rate of 0.7% on average. Goldman Sachs, Price Waterhouse Cooper and others estimate an economic growth of 2.5-3.2% per year, a much greater effect than our population growth. Ignoring efficiencies in the technical sector, this would require us to have 5-7 planet-earths to remain sustainable.
Over the last 30 years or so, our efficiency gains have been about 1.2%/yr. Assuming this continues, our growth is reduced to 3-4 planet-earths for sustainability. This is an improvement, but very likely not good enough. It’s not likely to materialize.
The numbers used above are derived from Paul Gilding’s book, The Great Disruption. “The moment when Mother Nature and Father Greed hit the wall at once is the Great Disruption”, says Gilding. He goes on to say:
“It’s time to stop just worrying about climate change… We need instead to brace for impact because global crisis is no longer avoidable. This Great Disruption started in 2008, with spiking food and oil prices and dramatic ecological changes, such as the melting ice caps. It is not simply about fossil fuels and carbon footprints. We have come to the end of Economic Growth, Version 1.0, a world economy based on consumption and waste, where we lived beyond the means of our planet’s ecosystems and resources.”
So we must stop growing. However, all the world governments preach economic growth. That’s our model. When the economy stalled in 2008, our government gave us incredible monetary incentives to grow and it sort of worked. We have not tackled or even voiced the main issue. You’d have to be a raving lunatic madman to think we can continue to grow in a finite world, but that’s what (almost) every economist says and it’s what every politician works for. It’s our model for success. When we stop growing, plants shut down, workers lose their jobs and tax revenues suffer. In some cases, governments are overthrown. ‘We must continue to grow’ is the world theme song.
So what’s going to happen?
To start with, the world’s poor are not going to be brought out of poverty. We are delusional to think that the world is going to continue in a stable peaceful fashion. When people are starving and have no means to live, they have only three choices:
As everyone is going to feel the effects of resource depletion, the wealthier countries are not likely to allow more immigration from poor countries. People usually don’t decide to die without a fight. If you’re not worried about a disorganized and untrained army from a developing country, consider what the Somali Pirates have done. They were just poor fishermen who lost their fishing grounds to others from more developed countries.
The trip to 2050, with the requirement of 3-4 earths to maintain our standard of living, won’t be straightforward and even. There are doubts we will even make that level of growth. Like the stock market, there will be ups and downs. We will have numerous crises which we will respond to, thereby resuming stable growth (for a short while until the next crash or crisis). The laws of physics, biology, or just nature are not negotiable. We can’t live above our means for an indeterminate length of time. There must be a Great Disruption, because it’s doubtful we will willingly go where we must.
If the above sounds like Doom & Gloom, consider just the facts, just the science and please educate me as to how we will tackle the uncertain future we face. More importantly, help me improve on the legacy we will leave our children, our grandchildren and future generations.
The covenant has always been that we leave the planet in no worse shape than when we arrived.