Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tying a few pieces together

I just stumbled across a New York Times science & environment blog called Dot Earth, and read this passage in their "About Us" section:
By 2050 or so, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where, scientists say, humans are already shaping climate and the web of life.

Coincidentally, I recently reread Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress, which I wrote about a while back in my tough lessons from Easter Island post.
In "A Short History", Wright has two passages which came back to me as soon as I read the above Dot Earth passage:

a) On page 124 he quotes British scientist Martin Rees as saying "The odds are no better than 50 / 50 that our present civilization... will survive to the end of the present century... unless all nations adopt low-risk and sustainable policies based on present technology."

b) On page 129 If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature. Ecological markers suggest that in the early 1960s, humans were using about 70% of nature's yearly output; by the early 1980s, we'd reached 100%, and in 1999, we were at 125%. Such numbers may be imprecise, but their trend is clear - they mark the road to bankruptcy.

So - here are the two pieces that I immediately drew together: if 6 billion of us are using 125 percent of the earth's output, which is already unsustainable, what the hell are 9 billion of us going to do to this place?

Sometimes I wish I didn't read so much. Nearly all of it turns out to be negative. I do find some good stuff sometimes, like the Earth Charter, endorsed by UNESCO, but still, the good news is invariably overshadowed by the sheer weight of the bad.

I hope the Amish and the Mennonites feel like saving our sorry butts when civilization crumbles.

Incidentally, it was Can People Have Meat and a Planet Too? that led me to that Dot Earth blog. Does anybody else find the idea of breeding meat protein in petrie dishes, in order to avoid factory farming's massive problems, an unbelievably scary, sci-fi solution to a problem that could be fixed by just reducing how much meat we eat?

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