Time for Some Tough Decisions

Dr. Albert Bartlett has brilliantly noted: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

We are the first generation who inhabits a world in the near vertical stretch of exponential growth in every sector of human society. No (previous) generation in the history of our species has ever experienced this reality. We are currently living through a historically brief phenomenon, which is wholly unsustainable, and which in all probability, has only one outcome.

No one in their right mind wants to believe any of this to be true.
– Daniel Drumright

Nevertheless, it is true.

It is time to face the reality of our situation, and make the tough choices. The first choice is: are we willing to recognize that there are physical realities that are not subject to manipulation by science, technology, faith or hope?

If not, then we need do nothing, and “what will be, will be.”

If so, then there are some other things we need to acknowledge:

– We are at an unavoidable turning point in human history, and our actions now will determine whether or not human civilization, and even the human race, will last past the current generation.

– Human civilization worldwide is based on the exploitation of non-renewable resources. Many of these resources are now running out.

– Anyone who consumes more than they produce is being subsidized, usually by a combination of other people’s efforts and cheap energy.

– We are running out of cheap energy. At the levels we currently use energy, there is no functional replacement for our major source of cheap energy (petroleum) available. There is no prospect of a replacement for petroleum in the foreseeable future – not solar, not wind, not nuclear fission or fusion, not coal, not tidal – no source at all.

– Based on what we know of the natural dynamic balance of the natural world, in any sound vision of sustainability there will be only a fraction of the current human population.

So, what can we do?

We can change the way we live. Starting today.

We all live in a web of possibility. There are things we can do and things we cannot do. Every time we make a decision we change the web.

If we all decided tomorrow that we should park our cars and walk to work we could not do it. Most of us live too far a distance from work to walk there daily. What we can do is look for work (or create a new job) that we can walk to.

If we all decided tomorrow that we would stop funding military activities throughout the world we could not do it, because we no longer have the ability to control the parts of our governments that makes those decisions. What we can do is elect different people to office, or better yet, rebuild community from the local level so that we take back control of our lives and our governments.

If we all decided tomorrow that we would have no more than one child, those of us with more than one child would be making the decision too late. And while it is conceivable that we could kill all those “extra” children, I think most of us would find that unacceptable. What we can do is change the social contract so that having only one child per couple is the norm. (If, for four generations, each couple had only one child, the human population would drop to one sixteenth, or 6.25% of its current size. That population may well be sustainable.)

If we all decided tomorrow that we would not buy anything made from plastic, nor use any containers made with plastic, we probably could not do it. What we can do is pay attention to what we buy and what we use, avoid plastic whenever possible, and let our preferences and buying decisions be known.

If we all decided tomorrow that we would repair things rather than replace them we could not always do it. What we can do is, when we buy new (or better yet, used) things, select those that will last for a long time, and can be repaired if and when they need it.

Each action we take influences the web of possibility. When we take responsibility for our decisions we make better decisions. When we avoid using plastic we make it more possible for others to make things that do not contain plastic, supporting the use of renewable, rather than non-renewable resources. When we walk to work instead of drive we make it more possible for others to walk also, and we encourage allocation of resources to support walkers in preference to drivers. We also cut down on air pollution, which helps restore clean air, and hence, supports better health for all. When we prefer locally made products we help create local jobs.

If we focus on living satisfying lives, based on real wealth* instead of consumption and distraction, we may find that we are happier, healthier, and no longer facing the imminent destruction of our own lives as well as that of the planet.

The biosphere which supports all life, and the only life we’ve ever discovered to exist in the known universe, is in an acute and exponential stage of collapse. This is empirically irrefutable. If humanity continues to function under the same economic, political and social ethos it does today, we will simply drive ourselves into extinction, along with most of life on the planet, and in all probability, within our current lifespan.
–    Daniel Drumright

What do you think?

*clean air, clean water, healthful food, clothing, shelter, good health, companionship and meaningful occupation.


“Sustainability” is very popular at the moment.

We talk about living sustainably. Advertisers tell us that products and companies are focusing on sustainability. Our leaders tell us that, as a nation and a people, we need to be sustainable.

What does it all mean.

Well, first, let’s try to find common ground on the meaning of the word.

As I remember it, I first heard the term “sustainable” in conversations with organic growers about 30 years ago. Heated discussions took place over the various shadings of the word – sustainable for who, when, where?

Out of those discussions, in many places over many years, a consensus was reached in the community of growers and other environmentalists that there were three “legs” to the sustainability “stool”: Sustainable practices must be ecologically sound, economically practical and socially equitable.

Ecologically sound means that whatever we do must not degrade the environment – our actions must not damage the natural dynamic balance that is the foundation of our planet and thus all life, including ours.

Economically practical means that whatever we do, it has to work economically. The classic example in farming is that it does not matter if the grower is restoring soils with the growing practices used if the mortgage payments can’t be made.

Socially equitable means that practices must not be based on the exploitation of people. For example, under-compensating workers here, or exporting jobs to foreign countries where workers are exploited.

These precepts are widely accepted as standards for sustainability, and rightly so.

But we still don’t deal with an underlying principle: To the extent that we consume more than we create, we are living unsustainable lives. In the United States, as in most Western countries, almost universally, we are living our lives by exploiting others.

What do you think?

Creating Wealth

As I said in the last post, wealth is created through a combination of natural resources and human effort.

For instance, when a person makes a chair using wood and physical effort, wealth is created. That’s a simple example.

On the next level, a person can make a tool that enable the chair maker to make more chairs in less time with the same amount of effort and materials. Making the tool creates wealth indirectly because it increases the creation of items that are valuable in themselves.

In theory, management creates wealth (indirectly) because it enables others to create more wealth directly by improved organization, coordination, preparation or some other support service that allows those in production to create more with less.

The key in evaluating management’s creative efforts is the extent to which those efforts increase the creation of wealth. This does not always mean “more stuff” – it can mean a better work environment, better compensation (hours worked, health care, disability benefits, etc.), or higher quality products, for example. In any case, the key is what is actually produced that is valued – how much wealth is created.

In the West, we have created an upper management class (the very wealthy) that is compensated not based on how much they increase the creation of wealth, but by how much influence they have, and how well they manipulate money.

The major effect of this trend over the last few decades is that we create little wealth in this country. Instead we export raw materials and import finished goods*, borrowing to make up the difference between what we produce and what we consume.

As a consequence, wealth creation has been reduced severely, and values have been wildly inflated. The recent economic collapse is merely the unavoidable adjustment that takes place when the reality of the amount of wealth overcomes the inflated values assigned to it.

We need to return to the creation of wealth, not the illusion of money “making” money.

What do you think?

(*I’m old enough to remember that this is the definition of a colony)