Thursday, September 15, 2016

We Can't Go On Like This...

How in hell did our society morph into Larry the Cable Guy? Who ignored all the rules and hit the "Moron" button?

Let's let Ensia's Mary Hoff have the floor:

"How much raw material does it take to support you? If you’re an average African, about 3 metric tons (3.3 tons)—the equivalent of an elephant’s worth of biomass, fossil fuels, metal ores and nonmetallic minerals—per year. But if you’re an average North American, make that a whopping eight elephants.

"And those elephants are getting heftier. Even as a growing population puts more pressure on earth’s resources, we’re becoming less efficient in our use of raw materials—essentially using more than ever to generate a specific amount of economic activity. That’s according to “Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity,” a report released recently by the United Nations Environment Programme that summarizes trends in material use worldwide.

"The report reveals some startling patterns in the use of materials around the world. Total materials use tripled between 1970 and 2010, from 22 billion metric tons (24 billion tons) to more than 70 billion metric tons (77 billion tons). Even more unsettling, per capita materials use grew from 7 metric tons (7.7 tons) to 10 (11) in 2010."

"If we continue on the current trajectory, the report predicts, we’ll be using nine times as much material in 2050 as we are today — and with that, similarly multiplying the production of environmental-harming by-products such as waste, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gases."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this has to stop. We have grown entirely beyond the carrying capacity of our planet's ecosystem, our one and only biosphere, Spaceship Earth. Our global economy is now 1.7 times larger than the planet's resource carrying capacity.

The evidence of our excess is palpable, tangible. It's even visible to the naked eye from the viewing cupola of the International Space Station. Dust storms that rise over China and cross the Pacific to the west coast of North America. The stunning deforestation of the Amazon. Forest fires that run from one end of Indonesia to the other as forests are cleared to make way for palm tree plantations, exposing the ancient peat underneath to catastrophic wildfires. The collapse of global fisheries, one species after another, as our industrial fleets rapaciously "fish down the food chain." Rivers that no longer run to the sea. Oceanic dead zones. Algae blooms that poison our lakes and rivers. Aquifers being drained and collapsing, triggering surface subsidence.  The massive decline, in overall numbers, of our flora and fauna, marine and terrestrial.

Here's the thing. This isn't going to stop - not voluntarily. To admit that we are irresponsibly, dangerously depleting Earth's natural resources it to ask just who is this "we" of which we speak? Who is the culprit, who is to blame?

The answer is easy. Go back to the elephant metaphor. The guy in Africa uses one elephant of resources. We North Americans use eight elephants of resources. We, therefore, would be the most affluent, most privileged humans of the lot - North Americans.

Here's the other thing. Once you concede that you're the real sinner, people are going to expect you to repent and, worse, atone. We can tell that "one elephant" African guy that we're sorry but - but, we're not going to stop, not yet anyway.

Imagine this. What if we Norte Americanos had to put ourselves on a one elephant diet? What the hell would that be like? Let's say we got a lot smarter in our consumption of resources very quickly it wouldn't be nearly enough to avoid a sharp reduction in our standard of living, something easily on the order of 40% or more, possibly a lot more.  

No more vacations to distant lands. No more McMansions. No more luxuries of any description. No more exotic foods. Something, a lot of somethings, much more akin to what our ancestors enjoyed in the 1930s.

Now, do you see yourself or your neighbours welcoming that sort of transition to a markedly lower standard of living?

You see there is a bag of problems in play here that extend to our other existential threats such as climate change. There are solutions, imperfect to be sure, but they require more than tweaks to this and adjustments to that. The solutions, if they're going to do the slightest good, have to incorporate justice, fairness and equality. That's the part that we in the advantaged, affluent world get hung up on - justice, fairness and equality. That's what we have little stomach for and that's why we won't act while there's still time to make a difference.


Anonymous said...

No comments.
Looks like that nobody owns a mirror...

P.S. I own one, but I am not planning to change my pattern of (modest by North American standards)consumption.

Lorne said...

Until our political 'leaders' convey an appropriate sense of peril, and our corporate masters consent to reduced profits, Mound, I doubt that things will change. I would suspect, as well, that the kind of obscene consumption that we are guilty of is something that is rarely, if ever, discussed in the mainstream media.

The Mound of Sound said...

While I like to imagine that Canadians would rise to the challenge reality keeps setting in.

All things considered, we're nearly on par with our southern cousins when it comes to sacrifice for the common good when that good for which we're asked to sacrifice is in some distant corner of the planet.

We cannot easily reset our consumption habits. It would take many years to ratchet it back and we'd be bitching all the way.

What then are we to become when the plight of the have nots turns desperate on a massive scale triggering mass migrations?

Anonymous said...

Anyong: To put a positive stance upon your blog, there are people who are doing their best to use less. All summer I have heard "buy local" which many are doing while preserving this food by canning. My car is used twice a week while walking suffices for the rest of the week. I totally agree "no more McMansions". However, all while people are recognized as being better people by the sort of house they live in and worthy of our attention, this will continue until there is mass advertising to curb this attitude. We are in desperate need of recognizing "over population" as the problem and not the solution to growth.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, friend Salamander tipped me to Thomas Homer-Dixon's 2006 book, "The Upside of Down." It's quite a worthwhile read if you can find it at your library. The good professor Dixon argues that we're probably heading to some form of collapse but, while the aftermath could be horrific, it also affords an opportunity to implement wholesale change in all our modes of organization - societal, political, economic, industrial and so on.

As always I have your point on overpopulation just as you have mine that this is indeed a major problem but it remains one of an interconnected set of problems all of which must be solved if we're to solve any of them.

Anonymous said...