Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time

I've been reading all the way back through this blog, Some Assembly Required. It's basically one post every day with a series of links with brief commentary. The themes and point of view are pretty similar to my own - we need to put the financial system on more stable footing, and not through government bailouts of wealthy corporations and shareholders - we need to start taking peak oil seriously - we need to start taking global warming seriously. But reading all the posts, and a number of the links, going back through the site day after day after day, it gave me a feeling of being almost overwhelmed by how fast (in historical terms) our society is heading towards a wall.

With a world population above 6.5 billion and climbing, almost every last one aspiring to a life with more material wealth, the analogy it brings to my mind is of the most popular bloggers, who find that as their site grows in readership, they have to be careful who they link to, lest they overwhelm somebody's server by directing a heavy flow of traffic there. As a site grows in readership (as humanity grows in population and power) it gets easier and easier to overwhelm the other parts of the ecosystem. Want to build electric cars or solar cells for 1 million people and there are plenty of resources - try to do it for 6.5 billion and everywhere you turn you wind up running into constraints. Try to feed 1 million people with fish and there's no problem. Try to feed billions and you find yourself eating your way down the food chain, depleting one formerly rich feeding ground after another. Can 7,8,9+ billion people live on this planet in affluence? I guess we, or the next generation will find out.

But on the plus side, life is looking up on a more personal level, so I can extend a little optimism that we'll be able to deal with enough of our problems well enough to avoid bringing the whole thing down, at least not until after I've passed on.

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3 Comments:

  • I tend to agree, though I perhaps try not to think about it. Our record is not particularly good, as regards past civilizations which have failed to adapt to their material limits.

    Have you read or head this, the 2004 Massey Lecture? Quite interesting, particularly the account of what happened to the inhabitants of Easter Island.

    By Blogger Josh G, at 8:52 PM  

  • I have the book version, which I've read.

    I do think that some people tend to underestimate how adaptable we are, and just how wasteful (and therefore can easily be cut back if need be) our consumption is, but at the same time, I'm not sure that's going to be enough - we may just be moving too fast to avoid all of the obstacles coming up in the road.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:56 PM  

  • I'm in general agreement with your assessment of unsustainability. But, when you ask " Can 7,8,9+ billion people live on this planet in affluence?" I think there is an underlying assumption the the resources will be apportioned equally. I think the more likely outcome is the 2 or 3 billion live affluent lifestyles and the balance will live like much of Africa does now.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 7:52 AM  

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