All environmental signs are pointing at an increasing imbalance of humanity with the rest of nature on this planet. We have become too many and too heavy. The earth will no longer be able to carry us at this level for a long time.
The below article was written on request, for the quarterly magazine "itinéraires", No 71 été 2010, on the theme "urgencies". The photos are those from the print edition of the magazine.
The urgency of "de-growth"
On a small speck of dust came the moment that life began. There may be other specks of dust with living beings, but we will never know. Too vast are the distances in space and time. So, our destiny is to live on our planet, the earth, which we share with all other species that received the breath of life.
200,000 years ago, early humans with our physical and intellectual ability have probably wondered where was the end of their immense plains and forests. They migrated and finally, in our modern era, we found the border: the earth itself, a small ball in space.
... is primarily the "progressive development of an organized body," a living being, plant, insect, bacteria. We know that growth will, at one time or another, invariably stop, followed by death and decay. Thus life - its space and resources - give way to another generation. This is the way of life. It ends with death. Some believe there is eternal life in paradise, where you no longer need bread, wine, home, work or living space.
Adam and Eve were two. Our ancestors in the Stone Age counted perhaps ten million people. Now we are more than 6.8 billion men, women and children on the same small dust of original material, somewhere in space.
This population growth was made possible by technology, namely agriculture and machinery. After the invention of the steam engine, early 17th century, technology has taken a big boom, thanks to fossil fuels, especially oil. Without oil, modern life would not have been possible. We should reliase that the so-called "renewable" energies cannot replace the many applications of oil.
Economic growth - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - is the annual increase in the amount of products we manufacture. The World GDP per person has long been more or less stable, until the late Middle Ages. In the industrial age, the GDP began to increase, even explode since 1945.
It is estimated that human beings lived in a state of mutual equilibrium with its environment until the introduction of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Since then, we have been depleting nature and non-renewable resources with increasing speeds. We exploit minerals, harvest the trees and exploit other species to a point of extermination. Our economic and population growth is the colonization of nature and its spaces. It means the degradation and ultimately the destruction of our basis of life. Without nature, but with gold watches, we can not survive.
This is not new, it is known and documented in much detail. We have seriously disturbed the natural balance between species - including ourselves - and the resources of the earth.
We went too far, but how much?
Our "footprint" is the weight of humanity on the planetary resources. It depends on the size of the global population and GDP. Since 1750 both rose sharply, the world GDP per person 40 times and the population approx. 10 times
If one assumes that humanity was still more or less sustainable before the industrial era, we have exceeded the capacity of the earth to support us 400 times since 1750. This calculation is very different from the "ecological footprint" of footprintnetwork.org, which accounts our use of living resources, of the earth's bio-productive capacity. According to the Global Footprint Network, we would now need 1.5 earths to live sustainably, as compared to one earth in the 1980s. But no number of earths can offset the depletion of non-renewable resources. [Compare also: Ecological Footprint update and critique January 2011.] A "fair share" of resources for every human being will not change, in itself alone, our total weight neither.
In any case: we are far from equilibrium.
Oil - The Number One sign of limited resources
Peak oil means the maximum possible extraction of crude per day. Apparently peak oil has arrived. We will seen have to face a reduced availability of petroleum products and natural gas. In a recent report to the USA High Command, oil demand will probably no longer be met by supply by 2012. A difference 10 percent - necessarily theoretical - between demand and production is expected for 2015.
Oil is not only used for transport, heating and electricity production. It also serves as feedstock for a thousand and one products in our daily lives, such as plastics and pharmaceuticals, or technical products for building, machinery, etc..
Our Daily Bread also depends largely on oil: include fertilizers and pesticides, tractors for plowing, sowing, harvesting and processing, energy for transportation, processing and distribution of food. With less oil, our structures of life, agricultural and industrial production, can not continue on this scale. Transportation, globalization, everything is threatened.
Can we rely on alternative energy or should we find different solutions? The electrical energy called "renewable" does not. The solar, wind and hydropower produce only electricity and are 100 percent dependent on fossil fuels. Without oil or coal, dams, solar panels and wind turbines can not be built or renewed. So for the better future we must forget the transport based on electricity.
Even if we find more energy, that we would just continue to over-exploit resources increasingly scarce, such as clean water, fertile soils, forests. Neither the technology nor the optimism, creativity or n'il'argent intelligent life can restore extinct species, minerals depleted recreate or restore natural environments destroyed.
Logically, when we went too far when one consumes too, must be reduced. But what, how and in what time limit?
The movement of the decline suggests different solutions, including the redistribution of resources to ensure a dignified life for all. But a better sharing of food and products essential to everyday life does not trigger an automatic reduction of resource consumption.
A second proposal calls for voluntary simplicity. This individual responsibility is important. These are grains of sand make a beach. The citizens are the people and constitute the democratic political power. It is we who can change and decide to reduce and eliminate some activities too costly for the land.
However, leaders in government, business leaders, politicians and politicians and experts in economics, bear a great responsibility. They are the ones who continue to advocate growth. Criticize consumerism is to blame the victims of a political environmentally irresponsible.
Economists had "invented" the kinds of "sustainable growth" - "decoupled", "soft", "different", "balanced", "fit", etc.. But in reality, they are just delusions, because growth is always in need of raw materials and food. Each unit of GDP is a quantity of material. Improving the efficiency and the internalization of external costs can not remedy the effects of growth. Employment, "jobs" can not justify a continuance without change thoughtful.
Given that technology can not overcome the loss either, we must reduce, by means of relocation and the slower pace of life. We can once again work where you live, eat local products of agriculture and industry, less luxury, more healthy. In a world that will make us happy without the long detour destructive industrial production, it does fail to work, especially in agriculture.
Our choice of management must be based politically. Elected leaders, public servants and officials of the private sector must understand that problems arise in another way, it absolutely must stop the growth, say stop! Reorientation and economic and social restructuring that follow will be a democratic discussion that will engage the entire population.
World population grows by 75 million per year. Switzerland does not have unlimited space either. Every second, a square meter of land is devoted to the construction of roads and buildings. Deforestation and desertification, loss of species, depletion of minerals: these developments will continue as long as we do not say stop!
Since the Stone Age, 8000 generations have passed. Since the civilizations of Mesopotamia are some 240 generations. The industrial age has 12 generations so far. The future is now, this generation, our parents and our children, ourselves. Without resources to live, "future generations" remain speculative.
If these figures are not enough, the urgency becomes most obvious when we will see a decline in our door with the scarcity of oil in the next few years. Urgent is the understanding that each day of growth is a day lost to return to a sustainable society, a lifestyle that can last long without change.
A transition structures relocated, slower, more modest rise time and fossil energy. It is extremely urgent to begin this transition, instead of building yet another highway, public transportation or technical gadget.
Without growth arrest, followed by physical decay, it is quite possible that we suffered the same fate as other species in history. We sell the place to others who may survive with the remains we have left behind us.
If our exploitation of the planet is so high and our leaders still pushing for growth, paradoxically, should despair, abandon efforts? No! Yield is lost. It takes determination to continue living.