global industrial economy has
the capacity of the Earth to support it.
No culture, however
can survive the collapse of environmental
Limits to Growth
"Can we just realize that there are limits to
growth?" - David Marquez
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:
forests and eroding soils;
villages abandoned because of invading sand dunes;
dry and fracked into toxicity.
Harvests of less than 10 percent
of historic highs is considered a collapse in the Fishing industry.
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.
is in what ecologists call an
Overshoot leads sometimes to decline
and sometimes to a complete collapse.
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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