INDEX - ECONOMYwww.islandbreath.org ID# 0806-05
SUBJECT: ECONOMIC TROUBLES
SOURCE: DAVID WARD firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 30 JANUARY 2008 - 9;00am HST
Perfect storm on the global horizon
image above: scene from the movie 'The Perfect Storm"
by Cameron Smith on 26 janaury 2008 in The Toronto Star
The boiling frog syndrome is a grisly metaphor, but it's apt. It refers to the failure to prevent catastrophes when the lead-up is slow and gradual.
You know the story: If you place a frog in boiling water, it would jump out. But if it were placed in cold water that was heated gradually, it would remain there until the water became so hot it died.
I'm skeptical about the story, but not about the metaphor. Ever since the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth 35 years ago, the path to global collapse has been mapped. But few paid attention: The threat was far off, the steps toward it seemed easy to accommodate, there was no sense of urgency.
Now, however, a perfect storm is on the not-too-distant horizon. Global warming and "peak everything" are meshing at every turn, and the list of possible consequences is fearsome.
The water in our global pot isn't boiling yet, but it's getting very warm. Luckily there's still time to turn down the burner and step out of the water.
Some options are forever gone. Yet change has to go to the heart of society. It has to result in a social transformation comparable to the industrial revolution that began in 1750, or the agricultural revolution that started about 9,500 years ago.
This sounds formidable, but it can be done. At present, however, signs of growing disorder abound. Climate stability has peaked and is becoming unstable, as global warming creates chaotic weather patterns. Humanity's ecological footprint now surpasses the carrying capacity of the globe by more than 20 per cent.
Global production of grain peaked around 1985. Natural gas production in North America peaked long ago. Global production of conventional oil has probably peaked, or is about to.
The Genuine Progress Indicator peaked around 1980 and has been declining slowly since then. Fresh water availability has probably peaked. By 2002, some 75 per cent of the world's oceans were fished out or were being exploited beyond capacity. In nature, populations of all species has dropped, on average, by a third since 1970.
Among the world's large water bodies, there are 61 major dead zones. And up to two-thirds of the world's forests are gone – half of that amount has disappeared since 1950. Concurrently, poverty has remained in epidemic proportions and the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically.
What's at the root of all this muddle? In Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Donella and Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers say there are two driving forces: population growth and the belief in exponential growth.
Exponential growth is the bedrock of our culture. Governments, central banks, and businesses maintain the economy must grow every year to remain healthy. But unending expansion goes against every law of nature. If an 18-year-old young man weighing 77.3 kilograms (170 pounds) were to increase his weight by only 2 per cent a year, by the time he reached age 53 he would weigh 154.6 kilograms (340 pounds), and be a ripe candidate for heart disease and diabetes.
Yet this is the kind of annual exponential growth that governments consider normal. Besides pushing our demands beyond the limits of the natural world, the authors say it widens the gap between rich and poor, because only the rich have pools of capital to invest. So their wealth grows exponentially and the poor lag increasingly behind.
What will bring society to collapse, the authors say, won't be exhaustion of the planet's stock of energy and raw materials. It will be the growing and insurmountable cost of exploiting them, plus the cost of dealing with the increasing waste and pollution it will cause.
The authors warn that unless the world changes the structure of its system, the causes of pressure will not be eliminated and society will collapse. Changing the structure, they say, means abandoning the myth that exponential growth is good. It means a revolutionary change that sees people not as consumers and producers but as citizens of invaluable worth in their own right.
The overall standard of living would have to be lower, but the quality of life could be immensely improved. In Canada, we've been discussing the beginnings of such a revolution on and off for 30 years. It's called the guaranteed annual income – and embedded within it is a sensitivity toward the welfare of the whole, which is what sustainability and the much-needed revolution are all about.