Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Our number's up

If you haven't already seen it, I recommend reading Georges Monbiot's latest online article for The Guardian. Entitled "It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up", I can't pretend it's a cheery piece but just because it's full of sobering thoughts, doesn't mean you shouldn't read it.

In a single essay, Monbiot touches on so many themes of such import: climate change; biodiversity collapse; the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; fracking; deforestation; overpopulation... and then trumps them all with the inherent problems for us all in the relentless pursuit of economic growth. Of course, being powered by fossil fuels this drive for growth is both time- and resource-limited anyway.... but the damage is already done. Over the last 200 years, the West (and, increasingly, the developing world) has undergone a wholesale change from a needs-based to a wants-based economy. And with the global population set to hit 9bn by 2050, it seems inevitable that greater risks, greater conflict and greater ethical compromise will be required to meet ever increasing needs.

Maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's parenthood, but this sort of thing worries me more than at any time in my life. Take time out to read the Monbiot Guardian piece. Take a look at Population Matters. See if you can be inspired to make some changes by consuming mindfully.

And before anyone trots out the old "necessity is the mother of invention" response - mankind is clever and will prevail through technology and innovation - Monbiot makes this observation:

Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in 10 years. The trade body Forest Industries tells us that "global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow". If, in the digital age, we won't reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?

I don't mean to bug you, but in case you've looked at the Guardian piece, seen how long it is and thought "hmm, perhaps not", well, maybe I can persuade you. I'm not as eloquent as George but the bottom line is that average global consumption per capita is increasing, as is the global population: in other words, there's a double-whammy of increase in demand. And, with the exception of heat and light from the Sun, the Earth is effectively a closed system: in other words, there's a finite supply. Simple logic dictates that demand will exceed supply - it's not a question of if, but when. It's patently obvious, but seems a truth too harsh to face, and so it remains the elephant in the room. Here's Monbiot's conclusion for you anyway, in which even he is reducing to mild swearing:

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn't worthy of mention. That's how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

I'm guilty, of course. Guilty of being a consumer, just like you, and not always a mindful one either. I try though. And I'm trying to discuss this... maybe you will too.

I'll hush for a bit now. Thanks for reading.


  1. Is it only me that, in an odd glass half full moment,that thinks that the Human race may not be such a big loss to this planet? Or am I just a total humbug?!.

    1. It isn't just you, mate. If the Earth was a used car, you could hardly describe it as having had one careful owner, could you?