Friday, June 10, 2011

No, We Won't

Tom Friedman, having noted that the world's population is consuming resources at a faster rate than the world can replenish them, closes his column by quoting Paul Gilding,
“We are heading for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”
Is there anything in human history that would suggest that, when faced wit economic or environmental catastrophe, a major nation will reverse course and avoid that catastrophe? Is there anything in present economic or environmental policy that would suggest a present willingness to reverse course - to consume less, pollute less, limit population growth in cities and countries with inadequate supplies of food and water.... Seriously, I understand wanting to close on an optimistic note, but what I tend to see is complacency (it won't be so bad), denial (the problem doesn't exist), selfishness (it may be bad for others, but it won't be bad for me - and I may even turn a profit), wishful thinking (we'll produce a magic new technology that will fix everything), laziness (it's too hard).... Where does Gilding find a basis for optimism that this time will be different - not another Mayan Empire, Easter Island, Haiti....

History teaches us that to the extent that the world eventually does "choose" a new, sustainable economic model it will be a choice forced by imminent collapse, or it will be a forced choice that follows the collapse. I would love to be proved wrong, and we're certainly capable of better, but I'm not seeing much evidence that supports optimism that "this time will be different". (But perhaps things look different to Friedman, as he pulls his Lexus SUV into the driveway of his lavish mansion, a lifestyle he appears to view as completely sustainable and consistent with what he preaches in his columns. Let me guess... his pool is now solar heated?)

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