Bill Britton – 1960
Freelance Writer – John Hopkins University
Background writer for a McKinsey partner who writes for Foreign Affairs
The twin drivers of economic growth are population increases and consumer spending, but economic growth for growth’s sake is unsustainable over the long term. By “long term,” I mean thousands of years (indeed, hundreds or thousands of years.) We live in a world of finite resources. Some claim that human ingenuity (technology) will solve any shortages that might loom on the horizon, ignoring the fact that that the usable environment consists of two narrow bands, a few miles of Earth that lie beneath our feet and a few miles of air: relatively speaking, two delicate onion skins that support life as we know it.
Although most of us choose to ignore it, or are simply uninformed, species losses are leading to a “sixth great extinction,” with some loss-rate estimates as high as 1,000 times the natural rate. Before the onset of human civilization, the natural rate of extinction saw new species evolve through natural selection. We now live in the “Anthropocene,” a new epoch of geological time defined and dominated by the actions of humans on climate, land, oceans and biosphere.
We humans are altering our home – our environment – at an accelerating rate, one that we barely acknowledge or understand. The nay-sayers claim that the environmental “system” is either self-correcting or under the protection of a god, or that the above-mentioned technology will save us, ignoring the fact that it is technology and unbridled growth that have led to the present dilemma.
Until we come to realize that only a fraction of the 7 billion humans now crammed between earth and sky is sustainable, there is little hope that the succeeding generations will enjoy the excesses that the present generation does. And they are excesses, born of individual rights supplanting the common good. Growth is not the panacea that Wall Street would like us to believe.