Humankind is bumping up against the natural limitations of our one and only home. Our response has been: denial; more of the same things that caused the problem; various everything-except-what-must-be-done schemes designed to preserve the wealth of the very wealthy.
I see three things as the natural limitations that matter the most: (1) overpopulation; (2) global climate change; (3) exhaustion of natural resources. Of course, as organizations like Zero Population Growth have been pointing out for decades, control of our population is the kingpin element. With fewer people, the other two would subside into manageable catastrophes. How many fewer?
Limitations that matter the most:
global climate change;
exhaustion of natural resources.
World population is showing a leveling-off trend. We now number over seven billion people, with the population expected to rise to ten billion well before the end of the century. But can the planet support ten billion people? Many say it can’t support eight billion. One estimate is that the planet can support 1.5-billion people without difficulty, and any more is unsustainable over the long term.
Present world population growth is just over 1%, and falling, fortunately. If that 1% rate continued, world population would double by 2085. There is no doubt that the planet could not support 14-billion people, even without global warming and exhaustion of natural resources. Clearly, world population will be controlled one way or another, either by us or by natural disaster that kills hundreds of millions.
One estimate says the planet
can support a population of 1.5 billion.
Our population now is over 7 billion.
The most vociferous of those denying the reality of global climate change are rich capitalists who want to continue the practices that created the problem in the first place, because that’s what made them rich. True Believers have bought into their pseudoscientific “proofs” that there is no warming, although many thousands of climate scientists worldwide have shown conclusively that the planet is warming, that we are the cause, and the result in due time cannot be anything but catastrophic.
Meantime, every new scientific report tells us it’s likely to be worse than we had thought. For example, instead of just six or seven inches, a sea level rise of about one meter can be expected this century. Besides drowning coastal areas where hundreds of millions live, this will mean that the expected more frequent and more severe hurricanes will generate storm surges a yard deeper, a depth that would pretty much have destroyed New Orleans and whole boroughs of New York outright, and would have simply swept away everything in the recent Philippines cyclone.
It’s safe to say that most people, politicians in particular, Republican politicians in the extreme, are utterly clueless about the severity of the catastrophe bearing down on us like a huge space rock.
Most of the voices pooh-poohing the fact that natural resources will in time be depleted are the same ones denying climate change, that is, wealthy capitalists whose party will be spoiled by the inevitable.
All natural resources are finite
People who deny that depletion will happen point to the uncertainty that accompanies all estimates of natural resource reserves. It is difficult to obtain an accurate reading of the volume of oil in any given reserve, for example. This is compounded by the fact that new deposits are occasionally found. But the plain and simple fact is that petroleum and all other natural deposits simply are not infinite, and when they are gone, they are gone. In the case of oil, we are burning some thirty billion barrels per year, and only a fool would believe that this could continue indefinitely.
More than a few scientists believe we have already passed “peak oil”, and reached a point of diminishing returns that will become more obvious as time passes. Extraction of oil and other natural resources can only become increasingly expensive as the remaining reserve diminishes. That may take more than a few decades, but unless we make significant changes in the way we do things, coming shortages and very high costs will have a radically negative effect on our lives. Natural resources do not replenish themselves over short periods such as a mere two hundred thousand years, which is how long we have been a species. Yet certain people object strongly to all attempts to prevent pollution and promote sustainability.
The denial of the facts
of natural limitations
is a hallmark of rich conservatives
All this denial and embrace of ideas that don’t stand up under simple scrutiny, or in fact are contradicted by primary science, have become hallmarks of the Republican party, particularly the Tea Party lunatics among them. If Republicans are to restore any sense of reality to their party, they must speak now, and denounce far-right stupidity. That’s exactly what John G. Taft, a proud fifth generation Taft Republican, has done with this piece in the NYT.
Denialist Republicans are fooling only themselves. Mother Nature will not be fooled. Finite means finite, and it’s more than clear that we do not live in an infinite world. To continue as if limits did not exist makes us increasingly vulnerable to crisis, always in the service of accumulation of more completely useless wealth for very few people.
That’s a very stupid way to go down.