On an Environmentally Collapsing, Poverty Racked Planet, the Disease that is Economic Growth

Earth Meanders,
By Dr. Glen Barry
February 8, 2007

Environmental sustainability and abject poverty are the issues of our and all time, the resolution of which will either save the Earth and relatively civilized society, or continued neglect lead to global ecological and social collapse. The big lies underlying ecological crises and wealth inequities are that economic growth will solve these problems, is endless, and is always desirable. Corporation's and government's emphasis upon exponential economic growth in a finite biosphere is the disease destroying the Earth.

In a growth driven capitalist market economy, there can never be such a thing as "Sustainable Growth". It is time to dust off the Club of Rome's findings in the 1970s, and acknowledge that limits to growth have been put off by technology, not eliminated. How can we speak of sustainable growth when the economic system is not even sustaining large portions of the world's population that now lives in utterly miserable poverty?

We are well into the disintegration of the biosphere and human habitat as a result of policies promoting unfettered economic growth at the exclusion of virtually all other values.

How grotesque that some shall live the life of opulent splendor gluttonously consuming while most wither in abject hunger and despair. I am stunned at humanity's - and particularly the rich, powerful and celebrity types' - inability to see the big picture. Nearly half of the world is living in grinding poverty polluting little while about 20% consume exorbitantly destroying the Planet's biosphere. It is like a disturbing Alice in wonderland world - Africa starves, suffers wars, murder and rape; while we in the North overfeed and entertain ourselves while shitting our pollution on the poor.

Global inequities are obscene. How much longer will the have- nots sit passively by watching the good life of democratic consumption from which they are excluded? Why can't anyone tell the Americans and Europeans they must have less? The greatest threat to the American way of life is that it is not able to be universalized. Rich North and poor South conflict is inevitable.

Have you ever spent time with a family living on $1 a day? About a billion people find themselves in this situation. Where subsistence is still possible people are fed and housed, but there is no room for error. Finding potable water and firewood are a constant struggle. No fancy health care, leisure, travel or electronic toys. Just a grinding struggle to survive as the population grows and the environment continues to deteriorate. Soon this will be the human norm.

The global food supply is near the breaking point. The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years. Oceans are overfished. Hunger is already a stark and painful reality for more than 850 million people, including 300 million children. In a world of starvation, the rich are starting to drive themselves around powered by food (biofuels) that could have gone to the poor.

Capitalism will evolve to emphasize a steady state economy and protection and renewal of natural capital - limiting production and consumption to natural systems' constraints - or it will continue ecocidal eating of life giving ecological systems to power a growing wasteful throw away society. The cycle of ever more energy needed to support growing populations all aspiring to consume like a fat ass America must be broken.

Market fundamentalism must be challenged. The failure of markets to place a price upon carbon causes climate change. Widening gaps in income threaten social harmony. The inequalities are grotesque, and the degree of blame for climate change, deforestation and other environmental crises skewed towards the rich. I am stunned. Sickened. We gotta rise up, rise up.

Stabilization of climate change and global ecological sustainability will never be achieved without sharp reductions in economic disparities between the Earth's peoples. Strictly speaking it is too late to achieve global ecological sustainability - where natural ecosystems operate as they have.

Yet we must work to bring human populations and aspirations back into a reasonable balance with ecological systems in order that humanity and the Earth have any future at all. In order that all have enough to meet basic needs, and a biosphere to house themselves and others, there needs to be less of us and less disparity. This will require massively reducing carbon emissions now, cutting population by three quarters, and by necessity bringing the Earthly garden into our care with massive protected areas and widespread regional scale ecological restoration.

There are different ways of showing love, and love is more than between two people or a family. Do you love your Earthly home habitat and the human and other species' families with which we share it? I suggest more love of being and less of you. I am opinionated as hell, but even I do not fully know how we are going to feed, house and clothe the world while shrinking its population, repairing planetary ecosystems and learning to live sustainably. But I do know that we must try.


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