We have time to save the planet; let’s use it

Posted January 15th, 2007 in Blog 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope

Today from Margaret Swedish:

[This is a longish reflection today -- just a warning.  But I really wanted to share these thoughts with you on this important national holiday.]

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I think about the legacy of long political, principled, social, and cultural struggle, of dedicated and inspired leaders, flawed human beings at times, but with their ‘eyes on the prize.”  I think about King, and I think about the mountains that can be moved.

That is the dedication that we must bring to this movement to save our planet.

The past couple of days, I have been preparing a presentation for a group of university professors who are looking at how to bring the question of ‘sustainability across the curriculum.’  I have also been talking with and hearing from lots of folks about the need to talk and write not only about our dire situation, but also the reality that we can still save ourselves, there is still time.

The Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows) is a book first published in 1972 which has since had a couple of reincarnations.  It remains one of the most important publications on our crisis, looking way beyond climate change to the reality of ‘overshoot,’ something we have discussed other times on this blog – overshoot meaning that we are consuming way beyond the planet’s capacity to support us.  It already takes 1.3 planets to support our current levels of human consumption, and it will take two Earths by 2050.

So our situation is dire — we are, indeed, running out of time.  However, there still is time.

In the first update of “Limits,” a 20th anniversary review published in 1992 and entitled Beyond Limits to Growth, the writers said this in their introduction:

     The book was interpreted by many as a prediction of doom, but it was not a prediction at all. It was not about a preordained future. It was about a choice. It contained a warning, to be sure, but also a message of promise. Here are the three summary conclusions we wrote in 1972. The second of them is the promise, a very optimistic one, but our analysis justified it then and still justifies it now. Perhaps we should have listed it first.

     1. If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

     2. It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his or her individual human potential.

     3. If the world’s people decide to strive for this second outcome rather than the first, the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success. (Meadows et al., 1972)

     To us those conclusions spelled out not doom but challenge – how to bring about a society that is materially sufficient, socially equitable, and ecologically sustainable, and one that is more satisfying in human terms than the growth-obsessed society of today.

It is 14 years later; nearly a decade and a half have passed without the requisite action and commitment commensurate with the crisis.  This is more than merely changing some of our consumer choices.  It is also about changing a worldview, the whole way in which we conceive the meaning of the human journey, how we organize ourselves economically, how we experience the human relationship within the biosphere that contains all life, all organisms, all the living and non-living aspects of nature of which we are a part.

We have time, but not a lot of time.  This day, I think about the 1960s, the ferment in the streets, the impatience of those whose rights had been violated over generations, the millions of people of good will that joined them in the streets, the political work and leadership — resulting in the end of legal segregation, the recognition of the civil rights of people of color, the voting rights act.

We can do this.  There is still time.  Let’s use it.

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PS: The third incarnation of The Limits to Growth, the 30-year Update, is truly important and can be ordered here.

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One Response

  1. John Feeney

    Just wanted to underline that Limits to Growth: the 30-year Update is really a key book. I think it would be my recommendation to anyone looking for one book with which they could educate themselves on the ecological challenges we face today.

    In that introduction to the previous update to the book, you can see the authors are responding to critics who labeled them “doomsayers.” The critics continue that today, ignoring that they were actually outlining what we need to do to avert catastrophe.

    I tend to think this is just a debate tactic on the part of the critics, some of whom must be smart enough to know the Limits to Growth authors and others in the same vein have a solid argument. But those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo would like to discredit them. After all, many of them are making tremendous amounts of money doing business as usual. (think Exxon and their campaign to sew doubt about climate change)

    I think you’re quite right that it’s going to take a change in worldview. I think that can come. It seems there are gradually more people speaking up. The question is whether it can happen fast enough. No matter what, though, any increase in the collective discussion of these issues will have a positive effect in the long run.