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Why Climate Change Isn’t Our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won’t Save Us

August 17, 2017

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Reposted with permission from Ecowatch.

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution, and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity. The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species, and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion, and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion. Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it’s simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers. It’s true: if climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, “We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast,” they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, “We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions.” Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we’ll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion, and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures. Technology—in this case, solar, wind, and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps, and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production. Discussion participants don’t have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it. All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers, and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can’t do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes. The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors. After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation, and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined. Why shouldn’t it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

 

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity, and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating, and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”).  Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection. Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren’t sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn’t the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves “bright greens” or “eco-modernists” have abandoned the moral fight altogether. Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that’s cheery and that doesn’t require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope. The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won’t work either. A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it’s no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn’t that it appealed to humanity’s moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement’s great strength. The effort fell short because it wasn’t able to alter industrial society’s central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost. Now we’re at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society. We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities. We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There’s more good news: once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage. Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines won’t make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it’s not just our last hope; it’s the only real hope we’ve ever had.

  • cognizantfox

    Yes, thank you. And how to increase the rate of systemic change? it’s a call for leadership for those who see the problem.

  • pgjack

    Nothing to disagree with in this fine article. The problem is that world leaders sail whichever way the popular wind blows. There are occasional exceptions but not many and those that do push for change don’t usually stray very far from current norms. In the US both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are seen as change agents by large segments of the public but neither one wants to talk about limiting population and consumption, they just have different ideas about who should most benefit from our commercial and growing societies. I’m afraid that the only force strong enough to drive the changes needed is significant collapse of the current system. And that would lead to cataclysmic violence. I hope there is and answer short of that future but I can’t see it.

  • Bruce Parker

    Climate change IS “Our Biggest Environmental Problem” – even if we address “overshoot” global warming will eventually cause catastrophic climate change. See http://ccdatacenter.org/documents/ClimateChangeObservations.pdf for some “musings” about our certain “overshoot” of the correct temperature increase target of 1 degree C

  • steppxxxxz

    overpopulation is a myth. There is overcrowding and over growth ofindustry but there are not too many people and its a pernicious neo malthusian eugenicist agenda at work. The target is always the poor who consume the least. Not the rich white western world.

  • Jay

    Yeah right. Tell that to what’s left of the wildlife in Africa and Asia.

  • Anthropogenic climate change is absolutely our biggest environmental problem. Agreed, it is has been brought about in large part by humans’ recent ecocidal predilection for overconsumption and generating near indestructable waste products that poison air, land and seas worldwide. Unfortunately for most life here, Our exponentially accelerating overshoot rate will continue to exacerbate climate change and Earth’s 6th mass extinction, as there are no significant plans in place to degrow population, economic activity, or energy & resource consumption levels of Industrial Civilization. The Infinite Growth Model is still seen as the only way forward. Even though it’s becoming more and more obvious that it is impossible on a planet with finite resources.

    “And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial
    civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a
    regenerative human culture worthy of survival.
    There’s more good news: once we humans choose to restrain our numbers
    and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts.”

    Good news. Sure. If it could actually happen. It’s sad to me that the sobering realities like climate change and mass extinction are always couched as “fixable”. They’re not. We’ve unwittingly started irreversible non-linear global ecosystem wide feedbacks that won’t stop anytime soon. Human culture at the scale we’re at currently is inherently unsustainable, degenerative and ecocidal. Among humans driven to breed and conspicuously consume ever more of everything (most of them), they’re not likely to choose to do otherwise until forced to, and by that time, the jig is up. We’re basically bacteria in a petri dish. Ravenously consuming all nutrients in our environment, population exploding until there are no nutrients left and population crashes. We’d do well to expect that population crash sooner than later. We’re not clever enough to get out of this intractable predicament we’ve wrought. The restoration of life on earth likely won’t happen on human timescales. Mass extinctions take eons to unfold.

  • Linda Silversmith

    actually overpopulation is our biggest problem – leading to all the others — and not even this article put it first. we have about 5.7 billion more people than the earth can sustain.

  • nabashalam

    Bullshit! There is plenty to go around. It is just distribution and greed… WTFU!

  • nabashalam

    There is plenty to go around. It is just distribution and greed…

  • nabashalam

    Are sources are far from “finite”… We are just using the wrong ones…

  • nabashalam

    Yes we are FUBAR already… now to minimize the damage…

  • “We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.”

    Planting seeds seems our best hope. There isn’t any effective movement toward ecosystem restoration or even preservation. It’s unlikely that our leaders even recognize the need.

  • John Rainbird

    Climate change is a symptom of an unsustainable society for sure, but yes it is unlike any other problem to date in its capacity to disrupt and reset planetary scale ecological and biophysical processes.

    There really are two big challenges here – one is our ability to respond effectively at scale and the other is the system dynamics at play where we may already have missed the bus – but there is possibly a chance we haven’t – yet. In terms of response it is abundantly clear we cannot rely on current governance processes – they are still asleep at the wheel and have vested perspectives in maintaining the current paradigm, they appear for the most part to be blind to any greater realities of where we are heading,

    That really only leaves one viable option as I see it and that is mass informal organisation to drive an awakening and change agenda that government could not ignore. There are literally thousands of groups working on these issues, but I don’t see any effective global coordination across the social-ecological NGO and research sectors to create a critical mass for change. We need to get organised and rapidly, we need clear consistent messages and pathways for change, and we need to bring the people with us on this journey.I suspect there are enough people out there who at some level appreciate the current paradigm is failing and are looking for ways forwards but not seeing it coming from government or industry. Civilization is also a dynamic non-linear system and has potential for rapid change, even if some of the hard parts of the system are somewhat less responsive. I think this is our only opportunity, and even then its a long shot, but clearly we need to do something different as currently we are failing badly.

  • Noel Wauchope

    A brilliant analysis

  • Jeff

    Start supporting, promoting and subsidizing a workers cooperative sector in the economy. There has be a shift deom a for-profit system to one that is needs based. You want the real root of the problem, its capitalism or our mutated version of it. A CEO must maximize profits and ‘externalities’ like the environment don’t matter- its built in. Social democrat measures are a step in the right direction (ie Sanders) but we need a more headon, honest approach. Overpopulation is not the pblm- its a myth. Its the inequality and distribution thats the pblm.

  • Rob Harding

    Hi John. Great comment, thank you. Given the points you raised in the last paragraph of your comment (with which I agree), I recommend that you check out the Great Transition Initiative and its resources to help make communicating about transitioning to a life-affirming global culture as easy as possible.

    http://www.inspiringtransition.net/resources

    This is a “mass informal organization” strategy, like what you mentioned seems necessary at this point. No formal membership – just alignment on the fundamental need for whole system change. And if you like what you see, please help spread the word!

  • John Rainbird

    Hi Rob – thanks for the link – I’m aware of the transition movement and this link is very helpful. I’d really like to see the various groups working on this coming together more to create a greater movement and bring their collective memberships along – there is greater potential there to drive significant mainstream change but it does need better alignment of messaging and resources. Will keep spreading the word! Thanks again and keep up the great work.

  • mwildfire

    No, they don’t (world leaders go whichever way the popular wind blows). They will sail directly against it if that’s what the actual decision-makers–the very rich–want. The Page and Gilens study proved this for the US. Of course even the rich don’t benefit from what’s coming–but study of past empires shows that the elite are able to sufficiently insulate themselves from the consequences of their choices that they will often blunder on into oblivion. And this time, we have another factor: many of those super rich are actually corporations, treated legally as persons with rights, but in fact nothing like persons, much more like machines–completely incapable of understanding or caring about consequences. Nonetheless, it’s true that proposals to limit population or consumption would be a total no-go politically. But this is partly because of the education of the masses–which doesn’t happen primarily in school, but via mass media with its emphasis on advertising.

  • mwildfire

    not true. This essay, and the video clip within it, make it quite clear that both population and consumption growth are the problems. It happens that most population growth is currently happening among the world’s poor, while most consumption is among the rich, but we need to curtail any population growth and in fact reduce our numbers–and we need to end the wasteful “American Way of Life” wherever it exists, it just isn’t sustainable or equitable.

  • mwildfire

    and Malthus was actually right. We have managed to grow our numbers far beyond what he thought possible, thanks to technology–but that only means the coming crash will be that much more devastating, not only to us but to a good many other species. The crash has already begun, as we are well into overshoot–we’ve just managed to displace the dying onto other species. It’s not just the outright extinctions–with the exception of the few species we depend on or which depend on us, most vertebrate populations are shrinking. We’ve grabbed most of the habitat, most of the resources, leaving less and less for wild life.

  • mwildfire

    no it isn’t. Overpopulation is a key part of the problem. And if communism were the solution, why did the USSR devastate its own environment even worse than the USA did? (I agree that capitalism is a problem, just don’t think it’s THE problem, which has deeper roots than capitalism).

  • mwildfire

    No there ISN’T. Perhaps humans in our current numbers could survive a good while given redistribution, but only at the eventual cost of ecosystems and other species. It’s just as wrong to say our current (let along still growing) numbers are sustainable as to say that the whole, or main problem is our numbers. Ehrlich was on the right path with his P X T X A equation–population, technology and affluence–except that I think separating technology and affluence was an unnecessary complication, just call it consumption. It’s the two factored together–to many humans, and too much per capita impact by the wealthiest billion or so

  • steppxxxxz
  • mwildfire

    I disagree. Overpopulation IS a problem; and so is capitalism, and I don’t advocate an immigration ban but I do advocate a universal one-child policy. It’s just as wrong to pretend overpopulation isn’t a problem, that humans can take up more and more and more of the Earth, as it is to say it’s the ONLY problem. Or that poor people are the primary cause of environmental harms. Similarly, it’s just as dishonest to take McKibben’s tack of talking like Exxon and the other oil companies are the main cause of climate change and the rest of us are innocent victims, as it is to say “it’s all of us” as though we were all equally culpable. The humans who front for the corporations have worked hard to see to it that efforts to create environmentally responsible laws are derailed; the PR and advertising industries have managed to keep most people obsessed with acquisition and distraction and barely aware of the impacts. We’re not equally culpable. But at the same time, any proposal to limit our numbers elicits nearly universal shrieks of outrage, as does any suggestion that people shouldn’t be free to purchase as many homes as they want, fly all over the world at will, drive SUVs, put out five huge bags of trash a week, etc.

  • We need to achieve a change of thinking. To do that we must to liberate, value and use our intuition/gut/instinct. (whatever YOU call it)
    All civilization has always been concerned with the mind’s need for verifiable proof. Climate change, threats of too bigger population and A I etc, all require the mind to be satisfied with a verification of them that everyone can agree with (which will never going to happen!)
    The mind cannot verify itself, yet demands verification of every thing else but itself. It thinks “growth” is the way out of our problems but we all know in our “gut,” growth is impossible in masculine dominated world of left/right politics Both sides demand “Experts must verify every thing. We will all be dead long before that.
    Our intuitive faculties know the truth of the “swallowed” instinctive terror we all feel deep inside us that can never be verified Our “gut” tells us absolutely We/Earth/Humanity are deep in jeopardy but no matter what, the mind demands proof and denies, in its duality, what it can’t prove.
    The gut/heart/intuition uses “whole body cell intelligence” and that aspect of ourselves we must now fully liberate and use to modify our thinking in the solving of Humanities problems whatever they are.
    As human beings we must recognize mind, a male dominated masculine energy/perspective needs to
    liberate the female dominated feminine energy/perspective inside us, to tame, unite, balance, harmonize and merge with its male energy to complete us as human beings. It is as if we were trying to conceive/create a new child we cannot rely on our male intent alone to Presently we are like a man in the desert who has one leg shorter than the other

  • Jay

    Educate and empower ALL women across the planet with equal if not slightly greater powers than men (shifting from a Patriarch society to Matriarch society). A two-child policy would work better long-term, since some women may only want one child (or even no children). Of course, the only way this could work is for the Patriarchal Main Religions to disintegrate and disappear..

  • Jay

    You Sir, are part of the problem, not part of the solution. You obviously don’t care about the natural world and its inhabitants.

  • loraine james

    Global Capitalism (growth at any cost) waste at levels never imagined , space endeavors and missiles firing off daily, Warfare for the past century all birthed from the pursuit of technology/Machines. “Systemic Change driven by Moral Awakening” I agree is the only way to sustain a future for humanity and the environment that sustains us.

  • mwildfire

    My assessment is that we badly need a reduction in numbers, thus one child. It’s true two-child would be more readily accepted. But it isn’t just patriarchal religions that stand in the way–it’s ethnicities and national identities and such, people screaming genocide if they aren’t given more breeding rights than some other group. And of course, the practical question of how you ensure no further children without health effects.

  • loraine james

    Studies prove birth rates are down in most part because men are becoming more and more sterile in the developed countries due to modern chemicals and stress . Developing countries are the opposite with not much decrease in births. Therefore birth control methods should be focused on this segment of the worlds population .

  • winthrop staples

    The only deficiency of this essay is that it avoids the “gloomy” reality that most of our elites know full well that continuation of perpetual growth in the size of the human enterprise (population x consumption and pollution per capita) will, like the 2008 housing “bubble” crash they caused, lead to future biosphere population “bubble” crashes as well. But as in the case of our market economy, that they are willing to liquidate and degrade most remaining ecosystems for yet more wealth and power …. because they think-feel that as in the present and past – that they will be able to personally escape the consequences of future eco catastrophes of their making. A former India minister of Population matters summarized this elite vs common citizen eco dilemma by answering a question “How can some of India’s political party leaders educated in Oxford, Harvard … be against providing family planning and contraception given India’s mass poverty, disease and death rates?? He answered and repeated twice for emphasis that “No matter how bad things get, the children of the rich will not starve! So … if there is some advantage to continuing unsustainable population growth they will.”

  • stashgal

    RELIGION & corporate GREED will prevent the one action we need to prevent our collapse, stopping population growth & reversing it.
    I have been “harping” about overpopulation since the early 1970’s. No one wanted to hear it.
    Too many people believe it’s their “god given right” to have as many children as their “god” gives them, males insist on having many children to prove their virility & business demands GROWTH to fuel it’s PROFITS & increase SALES.
    China is offering incentives for families to have MORE CHILDREN!

    Because of the above, we will not stop overbreeding, we will continue to consume MORE until we cannot & then we will COLLAPSE.
    I cannot see any escape now from total collapse of the economy & our excessive population & who knows what will be left once the dust settles.
    Enjoy this high tech, high energy way of life because it’s ending & we will never live like this again.

  • stashgal

    Why would you be opposed to an immigration ban? Don’t ‘merican’s consume more per person than anyone else in the world? About 10X as much?
    So importing people from the 3rd world will increase that persons consumption rate 10X , it’s like adding 10 more humans to the planet!
    Wouldn’t it make more sense to help them where they live now?
    Do we need to import more poor people into a high consuming, wasteful country that is also very overpopulated?
    Don’t we have enough homeless, unemployed & sick people already who must go without medical care because they can’t afford our private for profit system?
    In any case, we are doomed to collapse, & adding more people will just make us collapse sooner & harder.

  • windship

    I read somewhere reliable a while ago that humans and their domestic animals now represent 90% of all the terrestrial vertebrate mass on this planet.

  • oscar

    I am glad somebody is making actual proposals of population reduction strategies: 1 child per mother, 2 children… etc because it shows how far reality is from enviromentalists dreams.
    I propose to start a discussion on the morality of environmentalism while promulgating rules of behavior.
    It’s clear to me that care for the environment, care for other species ( thanks Mwildfire for insisting on this), doesn’t need to be demonstrable, it can’t be demonstrated.
    It’s an inner thing albeit a feeling occurring predominantly in an affluent society. By affluent I mean a society which is not permanently hungry.
    I think we should insure survivability of the living to achieve something in
    population control and then massive education efforts to show the link between “quality of life” and protection of the environment.
    I realize that a political program like this one would fail immediately in the western world, for a start it woul jeopardize most present day jobs.
    I am missing an in depth discussion of these themes, does anybody have a suggestion about serious reading material on the subject of morality of environment preservation?

  • mwildfire

    First of all, nobody’s proposing “importing” people–they come looking for a better life and we either allow them in or not (or try not to). Secondly, I’m not much looking at this scenario from a national perspective–“us” is all of us. Third, while I agree that it would be better to improve their lives where they are–the vast majority would no doubt prefer not to be uprooted, to cut ties–I think the primary way “we” can help “them” is to take our collective foot off their necks. The reason they expect a better life here is that this is the colonial center where John Michael Greer’s “wealth pump” empties…for example, NAFTA led to tremendous dumping of subsidized US crops, especially corn, that Mexican farmers couldn’t compete with–at least a million lost their land and livelihoods and ended up either in the maquiladoras or entering the US, And then often those maquiladora jobs disappeared when corporations found even cheaper labor and less regulation in Asia. So now Trump has begun his promised renegotiation of NAFTA–but the fact that it’s being done in total secrecy tells us how it’ll go–the objective will be to give even more power to corporations and the rich, and when Trump says the US needs a better deal he isn’t talking about displaced factory workers–he means the deal needs to even more lopsidedly favor US corporations over Mexican and Canadian ones. Latin American governments that try to make things better for the poor majority are targeted by Washington as rogue regimes, their leaders called “dictators” by our compliant press

  • Asle Frydenlund

    Take a look here, this is the other way of thinking http://impactivationsystems.com/index.html

    The sustainability movement has wasted three decades based on miss-understanding a German word to be linked to the English verb: To sustain, while it meant: To avoid, To reduce, To minimize

    Everything we do is today linked to “own interest, meaning my own money”, and as such education and information in Transformation must happen as we are faster and faster “Sustaining” us to death.

  • I appreciate your reply and what you said but I looked at your site recommendation and as a working class British/American of 73
    I found it to be like many other highly technical sites to be concerned not with people and their hopes and dreams of a better life but instead to be a “big corporate” approach that presumes to know what is needed without reference to the reality of ordinary people’s lives.

    The elite created and caused the havoc we are leaving for future generations. I appreciate we all got on the bus they created but it does not alter the fact that the ruling elite created laws and controls that led us into what you and I are both fighting for. It is a for sure fact that people do NOT have a say in their government’s policies, they are to suite ruling class and the corporations that have no responsibility to anyone other than their shareholders. They literally kill for profit
    People in general are prosocial and yet our governments and all corporations are not. If anything they are psychopathic in their approach to government and profit. Again, the mess we are living in is not my or your fault How often do you see any elected representative refusing to compromise his values, fighting for the truth or the rights of anyone . You see it for maybe a news cycle then nothing . For me, I think the system is wrong undemocratic and not representative of anyone and we don’t need another big heavy corporation “knowing best” for me
    I challenge you to take your lap top into Manchester and let regular working people read and comment on the site you wanted me to see. It is complicated, full of itself and high faluting and only communicates with those who are initiates to its jargon.

  • jim.swanek

    .

    Nice try, but overpopulation is due to antibiotics and vaccines in the lesser-developed world allowing the 3rd-7th children of poor couples to live instead of die. Then, globalization allows those nations to off-set their huge increases in rural poor to urban agglomerations and, ultimately, migration to the developed world.

    The problem is NOT native-born folks in the developed world having babies at a rate of 1.5 per couple…

    .

  • jim.swanek

    .

    The birthrate among the NATIVE-BORN in the developed world is already approaching 1 child per family; that’s obviously not the problem. The problem IS that developed nations are idiotic enough to think that any failure to “grow” must be met with imports of the 3rd-7th children of poor couples in the lesser developed world.

    .

  • mwildfire

    The one child of the native-born uses more resources than the second through seventh…and incidentally, THAT sounds pretty slanted to me. Really, approaching ONE, and really seven? Not four, say?…anyway, of course, it’s true that if the third-world people come to the US they are likely to use more resources too. But saying “stay out–we intend to use all the resources ourselves, not share with you ignorant breeders” ain’t gonna fly.

  • the_94th_united

    Plenty of us white people in the west with 4-6 kids. We are all greedy and selfish bastards. This wont end well, We can’t do anything about it either. People will breed as much as they want and our capitalistic system will run it’s course till the world is broken.

    – No one should be able to morally justify having more than two kids (preferably a boy and a girl) in a system and a world like this.

  • the_94th_united

    I disagree. Women should be able to bear a new love interests child. It’s us men that needs the restriction. Maximum two.

  • Where in the Constitution does it say it’s government’s responsibility to create jobs? CEOs have bought our governments to satisfy their greed into a machine of evermore growth and expansion feeding off a growing population to survive, but survive by consuming its host just as a cancer.

  • Rob Harding

    Thanks John. I agree with you. Will you consider reaching out to Andrew Gaines (andrew.gaines@inspiringtransition.net) to share your feedback? I’m sure he would greatly appreciate hearing from you, and he would most certainly invite you to join the informal team (though I’d say you are already part of the team by speaking up). One thing you could also do is share this article with him in case he hasn’t seen it.

    I’m interested in connecting further with you as well, perhaps with a focus on the following needs that you presented:
    – we need to get organized and rapidly
    – we need clear consistent messages and pathways for change
    – we need to bring the people with us on this journey

    My email address is rdharding2@gmail.com. Please email me if you’d like.

  • the_94th_united

    If there was restrictions on child birth down to maximum two, Maybe the desperate act of child-longing would perish. With education and enforcement combined with the knowledge (you only get two so choose partner wisely) we’ll preferably see less people splitting up after getting children too.

  • the_94th_united

    it has to be a collective moral. One family can’t breed out three-four kids and demand others only get one or two.

  • elizabetta

    While climate change and over population will be catastrophic, trying to convince the far right segment of the population of these risks seems to be impossible. Perhaps it would be better to branch out a bit and discuss other things that their brains can comprehend, such as the fact that carcinogens in their air, water and food can cause cancer, so we need to stop burning fossil fuels because they cause cancer.

  • the_94th_united

    There are many people not associated with the far right in many western countries which have 4-6 kids… The greed of breeding isn’t simply just a far-right thing. It’s a human thing. Just because we can and want to. In western countries i actually blame women more than men for this. In our free world, women have a choice. it’s all to common to hear comments like “we didn’t plan it, it just happened” “giggles” and “life happened” …. When you’re bringing a child to this world, that is very much something you’ve planned for… With all contraception available today, one just simply cant say that it was not planned.

  • lizzite

    Glad to see Jay Forrester mentioned. He was my neighbor growing up, but sadly I only knew he was a scientist, as many were in our neighborhood. He passed away a year or two ago and that’s when I became aware of his contribution to Limits to Growth.

  • Asle Frydenlund

    Thanks for your word’s and for taking a look at this new site, I truly appreciates your comments as they will help me to wright in a more accessible way.

  • Asle Frydenlund

    But also I must communicate with the “perpetrators” in their own language leading to a more technical language on a businessman’s level. How would force them to change their way of thinking if not talking about money?

  • Asle Frydenlund

    I would like to invite you to direct communication so you can insert your knowledge and experience into my logic thinking strategy. Spending time in the street talking and even protesting I have done since I was 14 and I could not achieve what my systematic way of thinking have so far.

    My problem is that I have written the Impactivation System and Standard with it’s methodology and can see it clearer for every day that gous by. My way of thinking before making a decision is new even it’s 300 years old, shutout this nothing will continue to happen for yet 30 years.

  • Asle Frydenlund

    Resisting a new technology and way of systematic thinking just because it’s not understood is one of today’s largest reason to a continued destruction if this planet being any age and any background, maybe it’s time to get curious to why we have spent over a decade developing this tool?

  • elizabetta

    I agree with some of what you said, but the fact is, right wing extremists are the ones who are making population control more difficult – especially for low income women – by eliminating coverage from health insurance plans, banning abortions and making it more difficult to help poor women in other countries with birth control. Once the fanatics eliminate planned parenthood and insurance coverage for birth control, then unplanned pregnancies go up and right wingers blame women for getting pregnant. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that fewer birth control options result in unplanned pregnancies, resulting in higher demand for abortions. It seems some religious fanatics believe the only way a woman should engage in “sinful” sex acts is with the consequence of pregnancy hanging over her head. Nevermind that men don’t have to be burdened with the same risks. The far right has also eliminated funding and tax breaks for any support to foreign countries if that support includes help with birth control. So women who are literally starving to death in Africa, and who are watching their children starve, COULD be offered free birth control which would eventually solve the problem, but religious fanatics are offended by this because they think women should be told to practice abstinence instead. So we feed them just enough to keep them alive and having a new batch of kids every year – that’s only a good plan if you’re involved with one of those “feed the children” organizations that are constantly begging for more donations to keep this right-wing con going.

  • Eric Schaetzle

    Richard Heinberg writes that the core environmental problem is overshoot, and the cure is system change driven by moral awakening, not a technological fix. Read a little further though and you’ll see his answer is more nuanced than that. It’s really a combination of the two. Which is probably why I find these “either/or” headlines frustratingly oversimplistic.

    If Heinberg wants to talk about systemic change, then why not begin by looking at the most sustainable system we are aware of – natural ecosystems. Then the question isn’t about the virtues of technology or the role of morality. The question is: How far are we from the ecosystem model? How do we get closer to it? I have few preconceived notions for how to answer the second question. I do believe however that it will involve much higher levels of system feedback than we have currently.

    Ecosystems and cities can both be viewed as incredibly complex data processing systems constantly shuttling energy and materials from one place to another (data, essentially). So if we want to be sustainable, we have to understand how that data is processed (or how the energy and materials are moved around and transformed). Get it? Sustainability isn’t a question of moral awakening or technology. It is a question of having a deep understanding of complex systems, or at the very least an appreciation for them. Is this the moral awakening Heinberg is talking about? Maybe, but the article lead frames this as a “black-or-white” issue, though that’s an entirely artificial viewpoint.

  • fjwhite

    Much to applaud in Heinberg’s essay. If I have one concern, it is that, given his predominately bleak analysis throughout the piece, I wasn’t convinced by his brief good news conclusion. Moral awakening may be our last best hope, but it’s a hope that must be flushed out in much greater detail to be convincing — something along the lines of what Tim Jackson, British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development does in his thoughtful and penetrating analysis, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2017.

    For a short introduction to Jackson’s book, click on this ShortLink http://wp.me/pO0No-3Xy

  • postcarbon

    You may be interested in seeing some of the things that Richard and Post Carbon Institute have written and said about systems thinking, and also learning from ecosystems. A good place to start is here: http://education.resilience.org/. You may also be interested in our analysis of the transition to a 100% renewable energy system, in which we argue that key to a successful transition is understanding how we use energy, not just what sources provide that energy. In that, we point to lifecycle analysis (LCA): http://ourrenewablefuture.org.

  • Eric Schaetzle

    Thank you. I highly recommend reading Our Renewable Future and Heinberg’s ealier article on Climate Holism vs. Climate Reductionism. A holistic approach sees both morality and technology performing equally valuable roles in addressing environmental problems, along with applying basic research into ecological systems. But I do agree that we need greater attention to the ethical foundations of sustainability as part of this holistic approach. One of the pioneers in the field of industrial ecology, John Ehrenfeld, even made that the subject of his book.

  • Sevull

    Agreed. Whether or not anthropogenic global warming is the most significant manifestation of overshoot does not matter though. There are myriad threats to civilization now converging as a result of overpopulation. It’s a direct causal relationship, and yes, as Heinberg says, it’s systemic. The solution to systemic problems involved systemic change. So naturally, the question is whether or not changes at the individual level, delayed by cognitive shortcomings, will be sufficient to prevent an economic and ecological disaster from which humanity will not be capable of enduring.

  • Ram

    I agree with the arguments made in the article, but take issue with the title — as it’s not only misleading, it is also factually wrong. Climate change is the result of other more fundamental problems, for sure, and it is part of the “planetary boundaries” some of which we have breached and need to urgently get back under. But climate change is still the biggest threat by far to the continuation of all life on Earth unless massive action is taken urgently. The actions must address the fundamental problems, of course, but the immediate target is to get back to some kind of “safety” and that simply cannot be ignored or wished away.

    The framing of climate change as a problem that can be addressed on the supply side — such as through renewable energy — is the biggest mistake that most environmentalists make, especially 350_dot_org, while almost completely ignoring the one action within the power of the individuals and families that would have a profound effect: and that is a switch to a plant-based diet. Animal agriculture has caused so much devastation over the last few centuries and there is no way to pretend that it can be “reformed” and made “sustainable” on a global scale.

    The focus should be on demand reduction on all fronts, starting with our food choice. But this is one area that most environmentalists do not want to touch and it is the biggest hypocrisy and fraud that has been going on.

    Demand reduction should happen in every aspect of our lives, and that would necessarily lead to systemic changes. But to say that “climate change isn’t our biggest environmental problem” would only end up supporting the bogus claims of climate change deniers, some of whom pretend to otherwise care for the environment.

    Please take a few minutes to watch this presentation by Richard Oppenlander, author of ‘Comfortably Unaware’ and ‘Food Choice & Sustainability’.
    https://youtu.be/z2JytUitqB0

  • R1chman

    Agreed. As I read through posts on this theme I see for the most part the disagreements/disjoints seem based on the human tendency to subconscioisly filter out information that does not fit in with an individual’s worldview. I do this as much as anyone else, and requires cognitive effort to really expand our perspective on the vast, systemic challenge we are all facing.

  • Carmine Incendio

    Basically there seem to be three scenarios under discussion: one, to live in an ever uglier, dirtier and more restricted world (goodby parks, fish, clean air, hello ever shorter life spans) run by our corporate feudal overlords; two, to hope technology and scientific advance will figure something out while at the same time refusing to learn anything about science and technology (turning to ‘belief’ and magic instead, anything that keeps one from having to study a little math) or, what seems to be this article’s pick-and the pick of an awful lot of writers of these sorts of articles even though they refuse to admit it – three, the killing off or sudden death of enormous numbers of people so survivors can go back to living in some fantasy agrarian past.

  • Kevin Bowers

    Im not sure that a technological fix cant actually fix the carbon problem and leave us fairly unchanged in our habits. A combo of transportation, heating, cooling and perhals Lab meats all done outside of carbon will mean that we can still vacation and have nice homes and party. Asking individuals to sacrifice im afraid is gonna be a loosing strategey. Regulate and decarbonize such that consumer choices are all carbon freeish… then party on.

  • Klaus Wehrlin

    In Africa there is still a sizeable part of the undisturbed environment left, whereas in Europe the extinction has happened already long before today’s worries about the environment started to gain momentum …

  • Klaus Wehrlin

    A possible solution, which will be equally decried as inhuman and impossible, is to give the “snip” to all persons needing medical attention.
    If you ask a farmer if he would be prepared to breed his stock the way humans are breeding he would likely call you insane 🙂

  • Emmryss

    All the more reason to join the growing movement for 4More Planets (trigger warning: satire) —

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOuuXtP_DZI

  • jphsd

    When in overshoot, the downsizing will occur regardless, one way or another. And none of them are easy/pleasant.

  • chetdude

    I suspect that the pick of the author of this article would be option FOUR: an emphasis on universal, global education, the empowerment of the women of the Planet to control their own lives including how many babies they have, fair distribution of currently available resources while powering down and the availability of all forms of Birth Control freely and easily to all and consider it a Sacrament. This would result in the world’s population declining to a sustainable level within 3 generations…resulting in a primarily agrarian, right-sized, right-powered sustainable future…

    Alas, since all available evidence tells us that since blowing past a sustainable population back in the 1920s (thanks to immense energy supplied by fossil fuels) evidently homo sapiens(sic) is an evolutionary failure (their brains grew too big and complex and they died)…it appears that Option 5 – Mom Nature’s Great Die-off that takes out large air-breathing mammals – will probably prevail.

  • Nihilist

    Please expand.

  • Nihilist

    Jeff never said anything about communism. You’re assuming he’s in favor of communism because he’s bashing capitalism. This is not a valid assumption. To speak out against something does not automatically mean you are in favor of the opposite of that thing. Do you see? Social democracy, like one finds in the Scandinavian countries, is not communism.

  • nabashalam

    Wind, solar, wave, geothermal are all infinite power sources and will never run out…Not in a million years…

  • mwildfire

    Climate change is the most urgent aspect of our big problem which is overshoot. There are others, like ocean acidification, overfishing, the oceans filling with plastic, extermination of both whole species and populations, pollution of the air, the rivers and lakes, monkeying around with DNA by people whose guidelines are not based on safety but on profit–well, overshoot and our other long-term problem which is exploitation, sometimes called “power over”.