Overshoot and Collapse or Constraints and Sustainability

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Perjantai 21.6.2019 klo 13:59 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Although many different signals such as climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and decrease in land fertility, as indicated in the scientists’ warning (http://www.scientistswarning.org), show that we utilize the planet more than its resources allow, a surprisingly large percentage of mankind thinks that nothing needs to be done. One reason for this could be lack of information and schooling, but the attitude is quite common even among people, who could easily assimilate the available information. One reason for thinking that no actions are needed is denying that anything happens, the second is relying on that market forces and technological advancements will solve any problems. Coupled with denying is often spreading false information, and quite often the nationalistic populistic agenda is associated with denying that there are limits to the earth. With nationalistic agenda one may think that the following actions help one’s own nation: building high chimneys so that any air pollution goes further away, shipping toxic wastes to faraway places, as from Europe to India, overfishing claiming that the overuse of the resource is needed for keeping jobs, compensating for failing land productivity by using more fertilizers, subsidizing production so that rising prices do not indicate increasing scarcity of resources, using or threating to use military force to keep one’s own resources secure including means to keep unwanted foreigners out etc. The production by one’s own industry is invariably considered to be environmentally friendlier than that by industry of other nations.

A form of denying that nothing needs to be done is blind faith to technological solutions. For example, with regard to climate change, the newscasts are almost daily reporting different ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, although the technological advancements will be important for sustainable future, they cannot do anything but postpone the collapse if our ways do not chaPohjois-Wales.jpgnge. The same is true for recycling, reducing the amount of pollution per produced unit and improving water purification etc. If the growth ideology is continued, the reduced burden to environment at present will be eaten up by the economic and population growth so that the collapse will occur later than without technological advances. Consequently, we need an ideological change to achieve sustainability.  

The growth ideology is based on thinking that no limits exist. Since the limits have clearly been reached, there is a grave need to change to thinking that we have enough. However, although stationary state is necessary for sustainability, it is very hard to achieve, because it places great demands to our morality. One can see this in the way that any attempts to built societies based on equality have failed. But to achieve sustainability both population growth and the concept of economic growth need to be stopped and changed. Doing one is not enough. Stopping population growth will not generate new resources; as technological advancements and recycling, it only postpones the collapse if we do not accept that the concept of economic growth has to be replaced with no-growth ideology. In the scenario requiring economic growth, even if population growth stops, the stable population will use more and more resources yearly with collapse as the end result.

Thus, we need to replace economic growth with economic stationarity. This makes it possible, together with stationary population and technological advances, to decrease the ecological footprint of the human population to sustainable level. I cannot understand why it is all the time said by the people denying the need to do anything that the environmental movement and climate change activists only generate fear without giving solutions, when virtually all the comments with environmental concern give them. The only thing is that the solutions given require a drastic change in economic thinking. But that is what is needed. And let’s face it, the GNPs of 1960’s were quite adequate for decent life. In fact, the nationalistic populists often think of that time as the golden age in all other aspects. If one did not require growth, the investments needed for it could be used, e.g., for taking care of elderly, children and sick. In many ways a stationary, sustainable society could be more humane than the present growth-based society. And since it would also be sustainable, why cannot political and economic leaders accept that this kind of structural change, revolution, would be needed to secure the well-being of mankind.    


Avainsanat: climate change, economic growth, sustainability

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