Tuesday, August 15, 2017
The Great Acceleration
Hardly a day passes when I don't ask if our leaders are crazy, out of their minds. I keep coming back with the same answer - it's either that or something far worse.
There's been a discernible - and welcome - shift in climate science lately. Instead of the constant focus on anthropogenic global warming, many of the leading science types are beginning to recognize that the problems confronting the world include associated issues such as overpopulation and over-consumption. They're all connected, inter-related and each compounds the others.
For example, we know we must sharply slash greenhouse gas emissions starting now, right now. However, when it comes to population and consumption, we're heading in the opposite direction just as far and fast as we can possibly manage. Listen to our prime minister. He almost never passes up an opportunity to champion growth, GDP growth. We must grow the economy, must expand trade. Real, perpetual, exponential growth. And, while we do that, we're going to save the world and slash our greenhouse gas emissions. Only we're not.
This brings us to the theory/reality of the Great Acceleration. This neat video gives you the idea:
For all the challenges that will face the world, including Canada, over the balance of this century, the pursuit of perpetual, exponential growth is akin to a lung cancer patient choosing to go from a two pack a day habit to three packs a day. You would think that person crazy. Why do you think better of your political leadership?
The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme tracks the Great Acceleration. It's all laid out in handy charts at their home page. Here are a few that demonstrate what is underway today.
Here are a few charts illustrating mankind's global footprint.
Isn't it curious how all these graphs seem so similar. They all start out low on the left and high on the right, some very high. At the risk of boring you all I'll repeat that at my birth the global population was in the vicinity of 2.5 billion. Today we're past 7.5 billion heading to 9 billion, perhaps 10 billion. At today's 7.5 billion we're gobbling up the Earth's resources beyond the planet's carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7 and that's a deficit that grows with each year. We would need almost another entire Earth to meet our resource consumption levels. Only we're stuck with just this one.
We're facing a perilous problem at every level - globally, regionally and nationally. Some now predict we'll be all but wiped out by 2030. Others are more optimistic and forecast our numbers will be in a sustainable range of between 500 million and one billion by 2100. Do the math - 9 billion minus X equals one billion. X represents how many people will have to be eliminated over the next 70 years or so to get us back to what might represent a sustainable population in the degraded world we'll inhabit by 2100. The Great Acceleration seems to be taking us to a Great Die-Off in the magnitude of 8 billion people.
Despite all this data, all the science, we have a "business as usual" government that pays it not the slightest heed. Our planet is already grossly overstressed yet our government believes a rosy future awaits us in the pursuit of perpetual exponential growth. Does that strike you as sane? Do you think they're crazy, out of their minds? Or do you think there's something far worse in play?
One of the most elusive statistics to hunt down is per capita GDP growth. It is a measure of output but it also reflects energy and resources consumed, production of goods, services and waste. Record keeping in Britain has allowed per capita GDP to be charted from today back to 1270. The results are impressive. Per capita GDP first reached 2,000 pounds (adjusted to 2013 sterling) in 1832. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had swelled that to 4,800 pounds per capita. The 12,000 pound mark fell in 1970. That doubled again to 24,000 pounds per capita GDP in the year 2000, increasing to 28,000 just before the crash of 2008. To make sense of this, the average Briton's production increased from 4,800 pounds in 1900 to close out that century at 24,000 pounds per capital GDP. In the course of one century, the 20th, that's a five fold increase in per capita GDP. In 1900 the global population stood at 1.6 billion. We closed out that century at just over 6 billion and now stand at 7.5 billion. Taking total per capita GDP in 1900 and total population in 1900 we have now grown humanity's ecological footprint by something in the order of 30 to 40 times. And we're still trapped in perpetual, exponential growth. It's still going on. We can't stop it. We won't stop it. No, it will stop us.