The global economy
has outgrown the capacity of the Earth to support it. Ecosytem collapse is
"Can we just realize that there are limits to
growth? That "smart growth", at best, delays the moment when we must concede
the limitations of a finite world? After observing the mindless expansion of
the Los Angeles region, predicated on a future of cheap energy that will not be
realized, I have to ask, are we smarter than a colony of bacteria that
reproduces and proliferates until it suddenly dies off from an exhaustion of
resources?" - David M. Marquez
"Imagine what happens to a culture when it becomes
based on the idea of transcending limits. . . and
enshrines that as the purpose of its near-global civilization. Predictably it
will live in the grip of the technological imperative, devoted unceasingly to
providing machinery to attack the possible. . . . Imagine then what happens to
a culture when it actually develops the means to transcend limits, making it
possible and therefore right to destroy custom and community, to create new
rules of employment and obligation, to magnify production and consumption, to
impose new means and ways of work, and to control or ignore the central forces
of nature. It would no doubt exist for quite a long time, powerful and
expansionary and prideful, before it had to face up to the truths that it was
founded upon an illusion and that there are real limits in an ordered world,
social and economic as well as natural, that ought not be transgressed, limits
more important than their conquest." - Kirkpatrick Sale Global consumer culture is
consuming renewable resources faster than
they can regenerate.
culture consumes oil,
coal, natural gas and discharges
greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere faster than nature can recycle them.
The incapacity to
satisfy global consumer culture is apparent in:
shrinking forests and eroding soils;
crop-withering heat waves;
villages abandoned because of
invading sand dunes;
ocean dead zones;
dying coral reefs;
aquifers pumped dry and fracked into toxicity.
Harvests of less than
10 percent of historic highs is considered a collapse in the Fishing
In 1950, only six commercial seafood species worldwide
had collapsed. By 2003, more than 2,200 species - 29 percent of all
commercially fished species on Earth - had collapsed.
Resources accumulated over eons of geological
time are being consumed in a single
human lifespan. Global consumer culture notes problems only when commodity
prices go up, leaving little time
to adjust. Once a natural threshold is crossed there is no time left to
modify our resource explotation. We see this time and again as species go
Paul MacCready notes that when agriculture began, humans, their
livestock, and pets together accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the total
weight of all vertebrates on the land and in the air. In 2005 Paul MacCready
estimated that humans, their livestock, and pets accounted for 98 percent of
the Earth's total vertebrate biomass, leaving only 2 percent for the wild
portion, the latter including all the deer, wildebeests, elephants, great cats,
birds, small mammals, and so forth.
98 tons of prehistoric, buried plant
material is required to produce each gallon of gasoline we burn in our cars.
Fossil fuel consumption in 1997 equaled the energy in 7.1 trillion kilograms of
carbon in plant matter. Land plants today contain 31.6 trillion kilograms of
carbon above ground.
"The amount of plants that went into the fossil
fuels we burned since the global industrial Revolution began in 1751 is equal
to all the plants grown on Earth over 13,300 years. Fossil fuels developed from
ancient deposits of organic material, and thus can be thought of as a vast
store of solar energy. It took an incredible amount of plant matter to generate
the fossil fuels we are using today." - Jeff Dukes
civilizations found themselves in environmental trouble as Jared Diamond notes
in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
able to change course and avoid economic decline and some -
Sumerians, Mayans, Easter
Islanders - were not able to make the needed adjustments in time.
know from earlier civilizations that the lead indicators of economic decline
were environmental and not due to
the churning of
went first, then the soil, and finally
the civilization itself.
Nature has many thresholds that we discover only when it is too late.
To archeologists, the sequence is all too familiar.
The Earth is in what ecologists
call an "overshoot-and-collapse" mode.
Overshoot leads sometimes to
decline and sometimes to a complete collapse.
1944 US Coast Guard introduces 29 reindeer on remote St.
Matthew Island in the Bering Sea to serve as the backup food source for the 19
men operating a station there. World War II ends, the base is closed and the
men left the island.
1957 US Fish and
Wildlife Service biologist David Kline visits St. Matthew Island. He
discovers a thriving population of 1,350 reindeer feeding on the
four-inch-thick mat of lichen that covers the 332-square-kilometer
(128-square-mile) island. In the absence of any predators, the population
1963 A population of 6,000 reindeer on
1966 St. Matthew Island is strewn
with reindeer skeletons and not much lichen. 42 reindeer
survive: 41 females and 1 unhealthy male.
There are no fawns.
1980 The remaining reindeer
had died off and there is no lichen.
In decline, a remnant of the
population or economic activity survives in a resource-depleted
environment for a
period of time.
As the environmental resource base of Easter Island in
the South Pacific deteriorated its population declined from a peak of 20,000 to
fewer than 4,000.
In contrast, the 500-year-old Norse settlement in
Greenland collapsed during the 1400s, disappearing entirely in the face of
2005 42 countries have
population that are stable or declining slightly in size as a result of falling
birth rates. For the first time demographers are
declines in African countries because of
death rates, among them Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and
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industrial military entertainment complex and is responsible for the collapse
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