Whether the disciples of perpetual exponential growth like it or not, we're fast heading for a day of reckoning on the global economy.
In theory, at least, mankind should be able to maintain an economy provided it is well within the finite limits of the environment. We've already overgrown the global economy beyond the maximum carrying capacity of the environment by a factor of 1.7 times. We've gotten by through sleight-of-hand measures. We substitute a new resource when an existing resource is exhausted. If there's not enough of what we require, we're very adept at raiding nature's reserves. The one thing these techniques are not is sustainable. You will, eventually, come up empty. We are doing that already.
This all came to mind today thanks to a story in The New York Times warning that climate change will shrink the US economy.
A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.
...in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including recordwildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds.The survival of our species, perhaps even most life on Earth, depends on how we, as a global civilization, respond to three, tightly interwoven, existential threats: climate change, overpopulation and our rapacious over-consumption of the planet's resources. Those are the Big Three and you can't solve any of them without solving all of them. So far the community of nations is making a farcical effort on the first and failing. We're not even getting into the other two.
Trump, of course, sees efforts to address climate change as some mortal threat to America's economy. Trudeau says the right things but he too places the economy in clear priority to the environment.
Nobody would dare entertain the heresy of actually bringing the global economy back within the safety limits of the environment. The hard truth is that the economy has been rigged so powerfully that we are mortally dependent on a growing supply of resources the Earth simply does not have. We're already deeply in Overshoot (think of it as environmental overdraft) and we're showing no signs of changing course. The resource path we're following is plainly nihilistic, eventually, but we seem to have a tolerance for nihilistic practices these days.
It's a simple predicament that we avoid acknowledging. Either mankind learns to live in harmony with the Earth or the mechanisms of the Earth will destroy us. Some choice, eh?