Every Earth Day, and to a lesser extent every other day, we hear about lots of “
Green” products, activities, habits, etc. And most days – recessions sometimes slow us down a bit temporarily and provide the few exceptions – we use more power than the day before, raise carbon dioxide levels in our air, and use more of basically every natural resource, all despite countless efforts to the contrary, and countless technologic efficiency improvements.
We keep making progress, we keep making more efforts to do right by the environment, and in important ways we continue to make no progress. In terms of global warming – our output of gases like carbon dioxide, methane, etc., we continue to do WORSE each day, despite all our talk and goals in the other direction. We have yet to break even, let alone improve, and there is no evidence (outside of press conferences) that this will change any time soon. Why?
I see three reasons. First, we have emerging economies that are both ready and able to start enjoying things like cars, air conditioners, manufactured goods – the whole modern package – and they’re going for it. Fair enough, we did the same and continue to do so. While no nation has yet rivaled Americans at consumption, this growth occurring over such a large population (many Americas and Europes worth of people) means that to break even environmentally, some nations – America especially – would have to pollute and consume a good deal less to make up for the growth, just to break even. As we’ve discussed, we’re not even plateaued on these measures, and we show precious little interest in doing so. This is our second reason.
Do the math: until we see a major change not shown in any way at this time, both resource consumption and pollution will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. This brings us to the third reason both consumption and pollution growth have been unstoppable: population. If we were to cut our resource consumption and pollution per person in half – far better progress than seems likely any time soon – and the population doubles, we break even.
There were about a billion humans on earth in 1900, now we’re at about SEVEN billion now, and we can only speculate how many more we’ll have soon. Every extra person needs food, shelter, heat, clothing, space – resources. Out of simple arithmetic, it becomes clear that we cannot begin to address our environmental issues without addressing population growth.
Industrialized nations are arranged for the opposite: population growth, a lack of which presents an economic crisis: too many retired people for the working folks to support. We see such concerns in Japan, and Italy, and elsewhere: the basic social and economic model depends on growth – more and more people – to persist and thrive.
Until we learn to limit population growth and live with the results, all other efforts to limit our burden on our resources and air and land and water will likely fail. All evidence to date supports this position, however unpleasant and unwanted it may be. We need to start facing reality, and well-intended efforts like electric cars or recycling serve us poorly if they let us to ignore the fact that they are woefully insufficient, all such efforts put to together, to accomplish more than a very slight delay in current trends.
I make no claim to be an expert in these matters, much the contrary.
I ask for your thoughts and ideas.