“Wherever you are sitting right now as you read this, please look around. Everything in your presence began as something from nature, mined from the ground, or harvested. The garments you are wearing, your shoes, the chair you are sitting on, the book or Kindle you are holding, the bed you sleep in. The car you drive and all its tires, wires, metals, parts. The phones you use. The walls and floor of the room, its carpet, the lights and the switches, the electrical line in the walls, the metals in your kitchen. All were once minerals that were dug up from the earth, then shipped around the world, transformed, assembled, shipped again to a store near you, and sold. Or else they were living beings -- trees, plants, animals, fibers, corals -- that had their own worldly existence, their own roles in living ecological systems. Even so-called ‘chemicals’ and ‘synthetics’ began as natural elements, later rearranged. Is your shirt made of polyester? Polyester is plastic. Plastic is oil. Oil used to be trees, plants, dinosaurs, sunlight.
The whole process of finding, recovering, and transforming these minerals, elements, energies, and beings into commodities that are shipped around the world and given economic value, and bought and sold, winding up in our homes, is what we call economics. The kind of economy we have come to depend upon, capitalist, was until recently highly efficient at delivering transformations, by using profits from previous transformations to do more of the same. And then wagering in financial markets on which part of these processes might grow and which might not.
But does this process go on forever? Can it? How can this possibly continue? Aren’t we running out of resources? Where will the metals and minerals come from to build more and more cars, and where do we throw away the old ones? How many cars can be built and bought? How many roads can cover the landscape? How many new houses can be built on open land? Where will the food come from when the topsoils are overused and destroyed? How expensive will food become as transport costs continue to zoom? How much carbon can fill the skies? How much plastic can be dumped at sea? How many giant dead spots before the oceans give out? How much nature can be transformed into commodities and still remain viable?
…Our society has blurred a most fundamental fact: Humans are completely dependent on the health of the natural world. In fact, we are part of the natural world, made of the same ingredients as the rest of life on Earth over which we have assumed dominion. But, having lost our connections to concrete reality, we don’t grasp the predicament we are in…
One thing is certain: We had better recognize this problem soon. Our horizons are not unlimited. There are boundaries to our aspirations. When we hear our political leaders renewing their race toward unlimited exponential growth, we realize they don’t know what they are talking about. They themselves are lost in an obsolete set of mental frameworks, a thirty-centuries-long process to sublimate the most basic points of all: All of our economic and social activity depends on nature. We are not separate, and we are not in charge.”
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“So the problem comes down to this: To sustain capitalist society into the future, we need to find ways to lift economic growth to a minimum of 3.5 percent annually, domestically and globally, and keep it there. If we cannot do that, everything we understand about our economy is moot, and we may be looking at imminent ecological, economic, social, and political collapse. However, if we do try to achieve that growth, as every elected official in national, state and local governments in the United States and every other country is desperately trying to do, along with every corporation, bank, and mainstream media outlet, that will also lead to ecological, economic, social, and political collapse. It’s another conundrum.
Exploitation of global resources has already collided with its limits. Rates of species extinction are far greater than they have been in six million years. Climate change. Rising waters. Disappearing fresh water and food supply. As we have said. We are walking on coals, but even the coals are running out. For the most part, however, none of this is admitted by public officials or in the mainstream media.
There are some promising theoretical solutions being discussed for possible long-term planetary survival… For the moment they can be summarized with such words as these: Less. Local. Equitable. Cooperative. Community-Based, Eco-Centric, Steady-State. Antiglobal, Powered-Down, Conservationist.
Sustained systemic economic growth is not included in the list and is no longer a realistic long-term option…”
-- Jerry Mander, The Capitalism Papers (Counterpoint, 2012)
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Many of us hike and regularly spend time in nature in part to get away from the stresses of everyday life, which include the never-ending “bad news of the day.”
Some of us find news about threats to the natural world especially distressing. But burying our heads in the sand is simply not a reasonable option. And there’s a lot an informed citizenry can do to help protect the natural systems of our planet -- even though our country's "lack of environmental leadership" (to say the least) at the national level is troubling indeed.
The above quote deals with one of those “big subjects” that are truly daunting. How can our country promote endless economic growth when resources are disappearing and the life-support systems of the planet are slowly heading toward collapse?
Like it or not, our way of life is colliding with some realities, given that we’re inhabitants of a fragile, finite planet that has built-in limitations. And no form of technology is likely to resolve these problems (those who claim or hope otherwise need to study or consult experts in ecology, the earth sciences, and climate science).
Personally I try to limit my intake of “worrisome,” stress-inducing news stories and subjects to relatively small doses each day. But I do like to periodically share excerpts like the one above with those of you who are willing to look, unflinchingly, at some difficult problems that we and future generations face.
Any of us who find ourselves worrying too much about such things (and starting to lose sleep over them) can fortunately avail ourselves of a thoroughly tried-and-true therapy for alleviating stress and anxiety. Yes, I'm referring to “hiking therapy!”
-- Charlie Cook