Here in RAN’s office, Earth Day passes without too much fanfare. We’re usually busy with the shareholder meetings of corporate targets and with getting the message out about our campaigns. Even so, Earth Day is an invitation for the media and all of us to think about the planet as a whole. What’s significant about Earth Day is that thinking about the Earth holistically has some pretty serious implications for our future as a species.
As Joseph Romm points out over at Salon, the Earth itself would probably get along just fine without us. At a geological timescale, human effects on the planet’s homeostatic systems may well turn out to be just a small blip. But it’s in that blip that we and hundreds of future generations (might) live. We’re running up against the fact that we’re an ever-expanding, all-consuming colony of creatures that will, sooner or later, reach the limit of the Earth’s ability to support us. Actually, we’ve already passed it. We rely on non-renewable fossil-fuel energy to feed, move, and shelter pretty much everyone. And when you consume finite, non-renewable resources at an ever-increasing (or any) rate, eventually you run out. This simple fact is somehow ignored in mainstream discourse almost all of the time, with Earth Day being one of the exceptions.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman addressed this yesterday in his column: Running Out of Planet to Exploit:
It’s not just oil that has defied the complacency of a few years back. Food prices have also soared, as have the prices of basic metals. And the global surge in commodity prices is reviving a question we haven’t heard much since the 1970s: Will limited supplies of natural resources pose an obstacle to future world economic growth?
His answer is yes, with an explanation of some of the economic thinking about the current high price of oil / global food shortage.
Another interesting article appeared in the English-language Japan Times today: Is growth driving us to oblivion?
The answer here, unfortunately, is also yes. A sustainable economy means an economy that can survive without constant growth. The world may be wide, but it’s not wide enough for us to expand forever. That is the simple fact. But it is so far from how we currently think about economic policy that it’s practically unponderable. Except maybe on Earth Day.