Is Sustainability Foolish?

I believe that modern post-industrial societies will run out of the natural resources that they depend on – especially fossil fuels – unless some drastic changes are made. In short, I feel that we are on an unsustainable trajectory.

Apparently I'm in a minority in the United States, where many of my friends feel that we can find a way (e.g., technology, invasions, government intervention, self-medication) to overcome the shortfalls caused our ever-growing consumption. Of course, many folks are oblivious to such concerns and are content as long as cheap fast food and cheap gasoline can be purchased close to home. I have some foolish beliefs is the eyes of these people.

John Micheal Greer communicates his views in essays that combine an understanding of ecology and a knowledge of history.  His grasp of the rise and fall of civilizations provides an objectivity and humility rarely found in the debates in the media today. His blog that has become essential reading for me when I want some insight into the cloudy future that is rapidly unfolding before us. Below is an excerpt from an essay on his blog addressing sustainability.

As a student of ecology, I’ve learned that environmental limits play a dominant role in shaping the destiny of every species, ours included; as a student of history, I’ve reviewed the fate of any number of civilizations that believed themselves to be destiny’s darlings, and proceeded to pave the road to collapse with their own ecological mistakes. From my perspective, the insistence that limits don’t apply to us is as good a case study as one might wish of that useful Greek word hubris, otherwise defined as the overweening pride of the doomed. Still, the fact that these things seem so self-evident to me makes it all the more intriguing that they are anything but self-evident to most people in the industrial world today.(John Michael Greer: A Struggle of Paradigms)

If Mr. Greer had been my history teacher, I would have learned a lot more in school!

Did Cheap, Abundant Energy Encourage Overpopulation?

Richard Heinberg presents an ecological view of energy and popluation at Global Public Media. Most of us don’t want to acknowledge this view of reality, so denial will be a common response.

The key question is: What is the human population carrying capacity of the earth without cheap, abundant energy?

Link: How Do You Like the Collapse So Far? | Global Public Media.

Everyone knows things are going wrong. But if you understand ecology, you know this in a way that others don’t. It’s not just that the current crop of world leaders is idiotic. It’s not just a matter of a few policies having gone awry. We’ve been on a perilous track since the dawn of agriculture, capturing more and more biosphere services for the benefit of just one species. Fossil fuels recently gave our kind an enormous economic and technological boost—but at the same time enabled us to go much further out on an ecological limb. No one knows the long-term carrying capacity of planet Earth for humans, absent cheap fossil fuels, but it’s likely a lot fewer than seven billion.

To be sure, some of us are better able to handle the information than others. Many fragile psyches come unhinged without constant doses of hope and assurance. And so for their sake we need continuing positive messages—about a project to make a village sustainable, or about a new coal power plant halted by protest. Some will cling to these encouraging news bits, believing that the tide has turned and we’ll be fine after all. But as time goes on, collapse becomes undeniable. Limits to growth cease to be forecasts; instead, we see daily proof that we’re hitting the wall. As this happens, those who can handle the information spend more of their time managing the fraying emotions of those around them who can’t.

As the Great Unraveling proceeds, there may in fact be only one occupation worthy of our attention: that of identifying the qualities that make our species worth saving, and then celebrating and exemplifying those qualities. If we concentrate on doing that, perhaps we win no matter what. Outwardly, it will probably look a lot like what many of us are already doing: working to save a species, an ecosystem, a human community; to make a village sustainable, or to halt a new coal power plant.

Taking in traumatic information and transmuting it into life-affirming action may turn out to be the most advanced and meaningful spiritual practice of our time.