Only just learned of a New Scientist Special report: How our economy is killing the Earth. Introductory article notes:
Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency.
But are these efforts to save the planet doomed? A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.
One of the articles is by Herman Daly, "one of the founders of the field of ecological economics, which argues that the scale of the economy must be kept within sustainable limits." He concludes:
After 200 years in a growth economy, it is hard to imagine what a steady-state economy might look like, but it does not have to mean freezing in the dark under a communist tyranny (see "Life in a land without growth"). Most of the changes could be applied gradually, in mid-air.
The idea of moving to a steady-state economy will appear radical to many, perhaps politically impossible. But the alternative, a macro-economy that is structurally required to grow in scale beyond the biophysical limits of the Earth, is an absurdity, and heading for the ultimate crash. Before we reach that radical physical limit, we are already encountering the economic limit at which benefits of extra growth are increasingly outweighed by the costs.
There's also an interview with James Gustave Speth, dean of the school of forestry and environmental studies at Yale University; he co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, advised Jimmy Carter, and headed the UN Development Programme. His latest book is The Bridge At The Edge of the World: Capitalism, the environment, and crossing from crisis to sustainability.
the environmental community is stronger, better funded and more sophisticated than ever, so why is the environment going downhill so far that we face the prospect of a ruined planet?
My conclusion is that we're trying to do environmental policy and activism within a system that is simply too powerful. It's today's capitalism, with its overwhelming commitment to growth at all costs, its devolution of tremendous power into the corporate sector, and its blind faith in a market riddled with externalities. And it is also our own pathetic capitulation to consumerism. Even as the environmental community swims more strongly against the current, the current gets ever stronger and more treacherous, so environmentalism slips under. The only solution is to get out of the water, take a hard look at what's going on and figure what needs to be done to change today's capitalism.