17 November 2014

The G-20's failure on growth

There are, in my humble opinion, two overwhelming threats to humanity, either one of which will undermine global civilization if not dealt with adequately and quickly. The recent G-20 conference dealt with one—climate change—but not only ignored the other, it pushed us further down that path to Armageddon.

Article 19 of the Leaders’ Communiqué from the conference read:
We support strong and effective action to address climate change. Consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its agreed outcomes, our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth, and certainty for business and investment. We will work together to adopt successfully a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015. We encourage parties that are ready to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of COP21 (by the first quarter of 2015 for those parties ready to do so). We reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund.
Very good stuff indeed—if, of course, it translates into action. But notice in the second sentence "our actions will support ... economic growth." This deals with the second great threat: resource depletion. We cannot have the "sustainable development" the communiqué promises if we continue to exhaust the planet's resources faster than it can replenish them, and that unfortunately is exactly what we are doing. We are now well beyond the Earth's ability to satisfy our demands upon it.

Growth, in the sense the G-20 uses it, i.e. GDP growth, must stop or we will suck our planet dry. Yet, what is the conversation about growth among the world's leaders? More of it. While they have at least recognized the threat of climate change, even if they aren't doing nearly enough about it, they seem to be completely oblivious to the threat of resource depletion. Tragically, our leaders do not seem ready yet to fully accept the inevitable consequences of our profligate ways.

1 comment:

  1. Bill, it is deeply troubling when we witness a powerful and entrenched cognitive dissonance in the leadership of the 20-largest economies on Earth.

    Growth. We're addicted to growth - perpetual, exponential growth. Any mathematician will tell you how that concept squares within a finite planet with finite resources - it doesn't.

    We're already consuming the planet's renewable resources at 1.5 times their replenishment rate and that excess or "overshoot" grows by the year. The key point inevitably overlooked is that we are absolutely dependent on overshoot. Like any addict we have a dependency and like some addictions, it's lethal, eventually.

    Yet global populations continue to grow - 9-billion by 2050. 11-billion by 2100 while the Earth's ecological carrying capacity is in the mid 3-billions. And, even as our population swells our per capita consumption grows.

    We exceeded our planet's carrying capacity in the mid to late-70s. Around this time we began the die off of our wild life. Over the past 40-years we have lost half the wild life on Earth. Half. Gone. Not coming back. It can't come back because we're monopolizing many essential resources for ourselves - water, trees, habitat. Nature need not apply.

    The issue of growth, like the issues of overpopulation, over-consumption, the rapid accumulation of waste and pollution of all descriptions, is taboo.

    We will make grand pronouncements about carbon emissions without admitting that even on that front our best efforts will be thwarted by our failure to acknowledge these inter-related challenges. We have to solve them all if we're to solve any of them.

    Doing that, solving them all, means not treating them as stand-alone threats but as related symptoms of a greater problem. It's when you see them as symptoms that you begin to perceive the real problem. It's when that real problem, out of which all these immediate challenges arise, emerges through the fog that you understand the enormity of what we're up against.