Another unwritten assumption that lies beneath the headlines is the belief that continuing economic growth is essential for a healthy economy. This is the basic assumption of every economist on the planet, with the exception of Herman Daly and his followers at the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.
But as Brent Blackwelder points:
“There are physical limits to growth on a finite planet.”
What’s the big secret?
I don’t understand why this is so difficult to understand, but then, I didn’t go to economics school. I chose the hard sciences. You know, science based on evidence and data, hypothesis testing and verification. Science about the hard physical world, not the mushy, social science that changes on a whim as each new economic fad sweeps through your bank account.
All one has to do is look at every other form of life on the planet to understand that unlimited growth is impossible. Even dinosaurs were limited in size and number, until they evolved into birds and flew away. Rabbits, lemmings, starlings and wildebeest sweeping across the Serengeti are all limited in growth by natural cycles of resource availability, subject to population booms and busts that affect not only their own numbers but those of their prey species as well.
The Great Escape
For some reason, humans expect to escape this fate of the lowly animals. It has something to do with faith in human innovation, invention and adaptation, and, truth be told, these mental attributes have served man well for the short time he’s hung around this twirling blue marble. It doesn’t, however, promise eternal escape from the the long spiraling slide down the porcelain parkway of evolution into the sewage lagoon of extinction. Homo sapiens, too, can follow the dodo, and if present trends continue, it won’t be long before the last specimen of our species will be mounted in the remains of the Chicago Field Museum next to the last passenger pigeon.
Enforcing the Rules
This planet we perch upon is a pretty old place and its natural cycles and periodic fluctuations have had a long time in which to build up evolutionary inertia. No upstart species can muscle in over a few measly million years, rough up the neighbors and set up a protection racket among the remaining species without attracting the attention of the ecology constabulary. They’re already starting to gather, tapping their nightsticks and What’s all thissing, as they reach for their climate change handcuffs and their read ’em their rights resource depletion cards.
The fate for species that violate the ecological rules is not a slap on the paw, or a brief stretch in the clinker, it’s solitary confinement, in the hole for the rest of whatever, throw away the key, gone away for to stay, never to be seen or heard from again. Extinction ain’t for sissies. Mother Nature means business.
The only other organism that tries to get way with eternal growth is the cancer cell, and look what it does: suffers attacks of toxic chemicals, radiation and surgical excision, then it kills its host and dies along with it.
No wonder Ed Abbey told us:
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”