The Ecologist

Felled tree in the coastal rainforest of Oregon, USA. Photo: Francis Eatherington via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Felled tree in the coastal rainforest of Oregon, USA. Photo: Francis Eatherington via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Biosphere collapse: the biggest economic bubble ever

Glen Barry

14th September 2015

Worried about debt, defaults and deficits? Save up your concern for the real problem, writes Glen Barry. The systematic destruction Earth's natural ecosystems for short-term profit is the 'bubble' that underlies economic growth - and if allowed to continue its bursting will leave the Earth in a state of social, economic and ecological collapse.

The human family will only avert biosphere collapse if we choose to live more simply, share more with others, go back to the land, have fewer kids, protect and restore ecosystems, grow more of our own food, end fossil fuels, and embrace social justice.

The global environment collapses as in the pursuit of short-term growth, humanity overruns natural ecosystems including the atmosphere that make Earth habitable.

Together we urgently address inequity, climate change, overpopulation and natural ecosystem loss or alone we each face the horrors of economic, social, and ecological collapse.

Newspapers are full of disastrous warnings if economic growth does not return to Greece, or if it drops a couple points in China. Rarely in human history have so many been so fundamentally wrong about a matter of such importance as the desirability, and even the possibility, of perpetual economic growth.

The real threat to human well-being is not that there is too little economic growth. Rather, it is that there is too much, and that we have overshot how much growth can occur without collapsing our shared environment.

The industrial growth economy is ravaging natural ecosystems. Stocks of natural capital - including water, soil, old-growth forests, wild fish - are being pillaged to artificially inflate short-term economic growth numbers.

Modern industrial capitalism's narrow focus upon GDP growth as a measure of a society's well-being utterly fails to account for the very real and detrimental costs of liquidating Earth's natural life-support systems.

Infinite growth on a finite planet is a recipe for disaster. Nothing grows forever and trying inevitably rips apart any system seeking to do so.

Continued ravaging of Earth's natural ecosystems for short-term growth is the biggest economic bubble ever. Such a short-term, myopic focus upon economic growth can only end in social and ecological collapse.

The problem

The global ecological system is collapsing and dying. The biosphere - our one shared environment that makes Earth habitable - is having its constituent ecosystems liquidated for resources.

Inequitable overconsumption has achieved such momentum that key ecological planetary boundaries have been surpassed, raising the very real possibility of humanity pulling down the biosphere as we collapse.

Far more is at stake than abrupt climate change as natural ecosystem loss, ocean dead zones, freshwater scarcity, soil erosion, nitrogen deposition and many other aspects of ecological decline merge and worsen the others.

This sudden surge of human impact upon the naturally evolved biosphere - as human numbers went from 1 billion to 7 billion in just over a century - can fairly be characterized as willful ecocide.

Yet this relentless industrial growth continues to be falsely equated with 'progress'. Many are unlikely to respond to warnings of imminent doom from specialists until they are much more uncomfortable and unhappy than they are now. By then it will be too late.

Progress to avoid global biosphere collapse has been impeded by numerous other maladies that plague the human condition including inequity, permawar, disease, abject poverty, and authoritarianism.

Horrendous inequity whereby a few hundred people possess half of Earth's wealth as more than one billion live on less than $1.50 a day is evil incarnate and will kill us all.

The vision - long term sustainability

Exponential economic growth on a finite Earth can only end in collapse. Humanity must embrace a steady state economy - whereby the increment of natural capital harvested is replenished annually - or being ends.

The human family will only avert biosphere collapse if we choose to live more simply, share more with others, go back to the land, have fewer kids, protect and restore ecosystems, grow more of our own food, end fossil fuels, and embrace social justice and love.

Large and connected natural ecosystems must remain the context for human society. Human settlements must exist within the limits of their bioregions, linking human being with local ecological constraints.

Those that are smarter and work harder will still have more, but not grotesquely so. Basic needs of all of humanity, natural ecosystems, and kindred species will be met. The challenge of our time is to quickly embrace these necessities while remaining free, and extending the benefits of an economically secure and free existence to all of Earth's inhabitants.

Failure in efforts to promote smaller families, end fossil fuels, and to restore natural ecosystems will mean worsening widespread ecological havoc, mass death and the bad sort of anarchy, before humanity and Earth drop into nothingness.

The transition we must urgently undertake

A better life than endless consumption of toxic crap that kills ourselves and others is possible. It requires returning to the life-giving envelope of natural ecosystems and valuing experience over stuff. Much is already known regarding proven techniques to live and work more sustainably, educate yourself and start transitioning your family to live more lightly upon Earth.

We each must seek to go back to the land. More of our subsistence will have to come from what we can produce from the land and soil and sun and hard labor. The future of work lies in permaculture, regenerative enterprises, and creative self-expression that nurture learning and human evolution.

The Jeffersonian vision of agrarian democracy requires living full healthy lives upon the land, from the fruit of our own hands and minds, while rejecting authoritarianism and its pernicious hate, bigotry, and scapegoating. We must join with others in our community to re-localize our existences, as we fully embrace the global family.

For capitalism to have any future as we mobilize to avoid biosphere collapse, a global carbon tax that seeks to rapidly phase out fossil fuels, and de-industrialization of all activities that negatively impact the biosphere, will prove essential. Otherwise industrial capitalism will have to swiftly be replaced at any cost.

In America and the world we are already witnessing the rise of authoritarian demagoguery in response to rising scarcity. The charlatan nature of such political thought must be outed as we commit to green liberty and transitioning to socially just ecological sustainability. Together let's make it so.



Dr. Glen Barry has written Earth Meanders essays for over a decade. He intends to do so more frequently and seeks your support at Climate Ark.

This article was originally published on EcoInternet.


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