The problem with “going to the edge” in nature is she keeps moving the edge, back and forth.
It’s a trap. Having a practice of always maximizing your take and going to the limit leaves you vulnerable to natures perennial habit of leading you on when she moves it out, unaware that the natural next step is moving it back.
The things that are more of a problem are the ones your’e close enough to the edge of to make it impossible for you to respond to in time, when they move. The pattern of natural fluctuation is somewhat like an irregular pattern of breathing.
In a complexly eventful environment it often isn’t predictable beyond that. So only a plan to stay far enough back from the edge to respond in time as it moves, so you don’t fall prey to falling off the edge by standing still… is really sustainable.
This makes our world plan for economic growth the worst sort of very bad plan, essentially a commitment maximum failure in the end, that people have failed to study in the course of using our impressive talents for controlling things. There are very big things you can’t control, like the moving targets of nature that have their own animated behavior.
There was a flaw in our way of studying risks. We only studied the ones it seems we could control. The way people historically defined risk assessment was to measure risks and and define equations for them. With equations at least you can be certain of the limits of risk and plan accordingly.
The fatal choice was perhaps the equations for how to take ever multiplying risk… the growth equations for modern economics. The equations for ’steadily’ multiplying our take from nature, involved the risk of *pushing over the edge* by using credit and promising multiplying returns.
We had the assurance from our equations that new potentials would always emerge as if by magic, so commitments to endless doubling the scale of our take from nature, and pushing the edge of nature would… would just never reach the edge!! It’s an amazing way to rationalize our simultaneous deep concerns with risks and greed, using a “proof” that being ever more greedy is always worth the risks!
How in the world did we come to that? It seems it was hard to argue against in the years we seemed to keep getting away with it. So all the more realistic people and concerns were pushed out of influential positions in the academic, business, governmental, and cultural leadership worlds.
So, each time the nature presented limits to our demands auditions inventions that allowed our accelerating consumption of the earth, seemed to sweep away onrushing limits as if that could always be assured as a solution. Now we’re at the edge and finding nature contracting, and denying us what we thought were permanent gains.
Avoiding discussion of how natural limits keep changing, even as we confronted and had to develop new solutions for them over and over made our plan to grow forever faster seem safe and secure. As with developing automobiles and fossil fuel use, to replace wood and horses, it didn’t remove the problem of limits at all, but just made the limit the CO2 suffocation of whole of the planet’s ecologies with rising temperatures.
That avoidance of the discussion also left us completely ignorant of the subject, to the point of our language generally lacking terms and examples to use in discussion.
So, that way of “going to the edge” as a get rich ever quicker and quicker scheme, became a completely certain plan to fall of the edge, keeping us utterly ignorant of where it was moving, back and forth as nature always does.
The really embarrassing part is that it’s our social networks that tell our experts what to study and what problems we want solved and what problems get a cold shoulder and will get you shunned for raising too often. It’s not that numerous scientists like Malthus and others for hundreds of years didn’t bring up the ultimate problem, writing his treaties on population and food.
There was also Keynes who wrote Chapter 16 of his book “the General Theory” on the natural limits of money. There was also the enormous variety of people in the past 50 years to speak loudly on the subject of our erupting conflicts with natural limits.
That we have now clearly reached them, with resource prices now globally increasing rapidly in response increased demand rater than declining steadily on average, is the subject of my April 30 post “big news… from Henshaw, Grantham &… the earth”. Firm scientific conclusions are needed, but it only confirms the clear perceptions of lots of other people.
My approach to explaining and extending Keynes’ model of how free market economies could smoothly accommodate natural limits in a situation like ours, for reference, is also part of a general theory of how natural systems that behave by themselves work. They can be found on my site, Synapse9, elsewhere on my blog, or branching from mentions of Keynes on my blog
The problem is that those many efforts to bring up our need to deal with the hazards of living on a physical world, and being unable to predict natural systems that behave by themselves, were “unpopular”. They questioned the value of maximizing money as a rule so the money went to studying other stuff.
Even the environmental movement has strictly limited it’s own interest in the limits of money, for example, since what became popular was making money by “kinder and gentler” means, following the philosophy of ’sustainability’.
The intent is indeed to be kinder and gentler toward each other and the earth is very critical, and has to be carried further, but the enormous problem is we have only been applying it the effects of money we see, and the ones we don’t see are the great majority. Those got inadvertently “swept under the rug” because our social networks have not developed the ability to see where the bounds of nature’s systems lie.
The easiest one to start with, partly because it’s so easily confirmed, is that money is not wealth itself, but only a symbol of one equal share of the world economy’s goods and services. That makes it also, one equal share of the world economy’s impacts on the natural world, that we see multiplying all around us too!
Seeing money as “decoupled” from all its physical effects just because the connections are hidden from view, is just that easily corrected, by understanding that money also represents one equal share of all that the economy does that we don’t see too, just as much as it represents one equal share of all the economy does that we do.
My technical paper on it, a Power Point for popular audiences, discussion and links for how to use money as a measure of resource impacts are collected at my discussion page for Systems Energy Assessment. Having a rather easy to estimate complex things is often less accurate.
In this case it is a far more accurate way of estimating the true total impacts of our uses of money, because for such a large majority the means of causation are hidden from view. It won’t be useful, of course, if people don’t use it, and use it to help them understand all the other discussions of our collision with the limits of the natural world.
As a culture we need to take an interest in the subject, of wondering how we can understand our limits well enough to hold back from them. To survive we need to make a kind of leap, out of the culture of money worship that has blinded us from attending to the problem, without causing a total panic and disrupting how the economy works too.
Whether the discovery is that we are at an advanced stage of pursuing a fatal direction at present or not, the world economy is still our vehicle, and we need to steer it not abandon it.
It reminds us of the AIDS crisis, and how that was so rudely discovered and then faced by the gay community. As it emerged they discovered the kind of sexual promiscuity they had adopted as their main passion and political statement had become a mortal threat, and their immediate choice was to stop having sex or die.
That was quite a realization to stomach. The world as a whole now has much the same problem with the way we have taught ourselves to use money to endlessly multiply money.
When you count our impacts as equal shares of both the ones we do and don’t see connected with our money, as being equally caused by our money, it becomes clear that the way our economy depends on ever multiplying money has become disease at least as life threatening as AIDS was for the unaware gay community in the 80’s. For one, we are definitely still rapidly increasing our global rate of resource use as the resource markets are already panicking about their approaching limits of affordable resource depletion.
It would certainly take more than a week, and probably more that one or two decade long sharp global economic declines, but for such a large and interdependent world economy, requiring such diverse, unique and costly specializations to operate at all, we could turn it all into dust in relatively short order. All we’d need to do is just “stand in place” and let watch everything it needs to do become unprofitable.