Why “new rules” apply? – Nature changed them

Steve Salmony, 1/12/09 reply to post below

Very nice letter, clear and solid.   I think one more thing that people will need to understand in some way is “why the rules changed”, and then address what rules changed and what new rules apply.

The basic public support for “sustainability” has been achieved, we just seem clueless as to what it really means or what we’d need to do to achieve it.

The big dilemma is that everyone’s favorite solution, self-restraints and technology efficiencies, don’t have the intended effect on the whole system, *especially* if they work.    

In whole systems terms both actually raise total economic productivity and help expand the growth system we’re trying to restrain by them.     It invariably increases resource consumption to raise economic productivity, and that’s what all the data shows quite clearly.

So, the decision to  really make a difference runs into complicated issues.   I think at the bottom of it is a simple principle or two that needs to be part of beginning to unravel the whole mess.

“Why the rules changed” is that our previous solutions worked, and dramatically changed the environment we’re in.   That’s why the old rules no longer apply and the old solutions will no longer work.

Growth systems undo the conditions that allow them to multiply, every time, and it’s to be expected.

Then the question is, “What rules changed”.   The most general one I can think of is the core rule of the social contract we’ve prospered by for centuries.   That’s the rule that promoting individual wealth produces a rich society.

In the complex way nature works, during the growth period for a whole economy with good natured people, that rule is basically true.   There are harms that result, but so much more benefits that we see the whole experience as good.    It changes the world to use that rule though.

For a more ‘slapstick comedy’ way to illustrate it, you might think of the “old rule” as being that handing out more and more can openers always makes for a better party.   That is true, so long as there’s lots of beer and no one is getting too drunk.

I think we’re now all close to ‘dumb drunk’ on the consumption though, and running out of beer.    If that’s a correct model for the problem, and our “business as usual” has been to help individuals get can openers to consume resources as fast as possible.

Then continuing that is now a dumb drunk’s “expert error” in planning for sustainability. It’s not so complicated…. I think we just need to learn how to turn off the pump that has been the source of our growing prosperity, now impoverishing us.  Otherwise we won’t be able to sustain some it.


Embrace change for planet’s sake

In calling for change in our time, scientists are speaking about what could somehow be true, speaking out loudly and clearly to wealthy and powerful people who adamantly insist that the “business as usual” status quo be relentlessly promoted and ruthlessly maintained.

Industrial/big business powerbrokers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians want to keep over-consuming, overproducing and overpopulating in our planetary home as they are doing now, come what may for children, life as we know it, and the integrity of Earth and its environs. Many of our voices are needed to support these great “voices of science,” these exemplars who are courageously speaking truth to those leaders who possess the power to authorize change. The provision of a good enough future for our children is an achievable goal, but only if we elders choose requisite behavior change now.

If changes in behavior are not initiated in a timely fashion, then a sustainable world for our children may not be achievable. By doing precisely what we are doing now, the limited resources of Earth could be permanently dissipated, its biodiversity massively extirpated, its environment irreversibly degraded and life as we know it recklessly endangered. The current scale and anticipated growth of per-capita over-consumption, global production capabilities, and human population numbers worldwide could be simply, clearly and patently unsustainable, even to the year 2050. Given Earth’s limitations as a relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planet, the projected increases in unchecked consumption, unbridled production and unregulated propagation activities of the human species could soon lead the human family to come face to face with some sort of colossal ecological wreckage.

Now is the time to speak loudly, clearly and often about what is true for you. Forget about political correctness and convenience. Resist economic expediency and greediness. Embrace necessary change rather than waste another day perniciously defending an unsustainable, same old “business as usual” status quo.

Steven Earl Salmony
Chapel Hill


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