New Paper on the Worsening Human Predicament

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Brown, James H.,  Joseph R. Burger, William R. Burnside, Michael Chang, Ana D. Davidson, Trevor S. Fristoe, Marcus J. Hamilton, Sean T. Hammond, Astrid Kodric-Brown, Norman Mercado-Silva, Jeffrey C. Nekola, Jordan G. Okie. 2014.
‘Macroecology meets macroeconomics: Resource scarcity and global Sustainability.’  Ecological Engineering 65 (2014) 24–32

Abstract:
The current economic paradigm, which is based on increasing human population, economic development, and standard of living, is no longer compatible with the biophysical limits of the finite Earth. Failure to recover from the economic crash of 2008 is not due just to inadequate fiscal and monetary policies. The continuing global crisis is also due to scarcity of critical resources. Our macroecological studies highlight the role in the economy of energy and natural resources: oil, gas, water, arable land, metals, rare earths, fertilizers, fisheries, and wood. As the modern industrial-technological-informational economy expanded in recent decades, it grew by consuming the Earth’s natural resources at unsustainable rates.

Correlations between per capita GDP and per capita consumption of energy and other resources across nations and over time demonstrate how economic growth and development depend on “nature’s capital”. Decades-long trends of decreasing per capita consumption of multiple important commodities indicate that overexploitation has created an unsustainable bubble of population and economy.
© 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

 

Comment by William Rees
This is a good summary paper drawing together previous analyses and new data on humanity’s determined march to the brink of the abyss. That said, there is little new in the document in terms of trends, interpretation or prognosis.  Indeed, the basic story has been retold many times in the past several decades each time with the same effect on subsequent societal directions or prospects for global civilization—namely, none of any consequence. Continue reading

Climate change: The Universities’ and Canada’s roles

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In November I delivered an address on “The Ecological Debt” to the annual GreenAccord conference for environmental journalists in Naples, Italy. One of the attendees subsequently wrote me for more detail on some of the issues this talk raised about climate change. Here are my responses to her questions:

1) As an academic and an ecologist, what do you expect from this latest round of talks? [The COP19 Climate Change Meetings in Warsaw]

As an academic (human) ecologist, I expect nothing concrete from this meeting. (By ‘concrete’, I mean a binding plan which would require, for example, wealthy countries to begin carbon emissions reductions at the rate of 6%-10% per year, as necessary to avoid catastrophic warming.) Despite the best efforts of committed individuals and those nations suffering the brunt of climate change impacts, the COP sessions do not deal seriously with either the social justice or ecological implications of climate change. Vested interests ensure that they really emphasize short-term economics and politics and thus grossly discount the increasing probability of truly horrendous future costs. In effect, the meetings are really about ways to maintain (un)economic growth in the face of contrary evidence and finding ways to delay the hard decisions until the next round of talks. Continue reading

Canada’s stance on climate change and our economic development plan

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Do Canada’s stance on climate change and our current economic development plan constitute moral negligence? (A brief to the CBC and select Members of Parliament by William E. Rees)

Media reports and commentary on the havoc caused by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines have finally begun to acknowledge the possible connection to anthropogenic climate change. While no single storm can be positively attributed to human disruption of the global climate system, climate models predict that extreme weather events will increase in frequency and violence. Unprecedented natural maelstroms like Haiyan provide empirical evidence that the models are likely correct.

What continues to be almost entirely missing from media analysis is Canada’s role in all this, particularly the moral dimensions of the nation’s current economic development policies and those of several provinces (e.g., BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland).

Continue reading

People, not markets, drive sustainability

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The world faces increasingly urgent, entwined, ecological, social and economic problems. Most people would agree that at least the following five human qualities are essential for solving these problems: high intelligence (e.g. the ability to reason logically), the capacity to plan ahead (e.g. to design policies that will shape a desirable future), the ability to cooperate in the achievement of common goals, the ability to make moral judgements and the capacity for compassion and empathy.

Which of the following is better able to exercise these abilities in the interests of society:

  1. well-educated, socially-committed human beings, or
  2. global markets as currently organized?

I vote for ‘well-educated, socially-committed human beings.’ Humans are uniquely capable of high intelligence and foresight and have the other key qualities as well. So: Why have Canada and other nations instead staked the future on the simplistic mechanics of economic models? Why have humans allowed the mindless marketplace to become the basis of economic policy and wellspring of social values? Continue reading