"The explosion of recent books on climate change, resource depletion and the crisis of the global environment reflect an extraordinary culmination of pressure from both our natural and political environments. Many of these authors feel as though these books have been squeezed out of them by the urgency and magnitude of the challenges facing us. Ultimately, each author, using different frames and different vocabularies, is saying the same thing: unless we make fundamental changes now - both in policy and in our everyday lives - we will face inevitable economic, social and environmental disaster."
—Ross Gelbspan, journalist, author of Boiling Point
Four World Renowned Resource Authorities Challenge Kerry, Bush
A recent gathering of experts with combined experience and study of climate change, population and resource depletion of more than 100 years produced the following statement to the US Presidential Candidates.
October 15, 2004
To: President Bush, Senator Kerry
One of you will lead this nation for the coming four years. If the US is to retain its position of leadership and its capacity to fulfill the needs of its citizens, it is essential that national policy reflect several facts that have been totally missing from both your pronouncements during this campaign.
Each of us has just completed a major research project culminating in a new book on the future of the US and of the planet. The texts deal with many different issues, but all of them justify the following three recommendations:
#1 Base decisions on information about their impacts on future generations.
Decisions with profound long-term consequences are being made on the basis of their very near-term costs and benefits. Examples are: response to climate change, selection of energy sources, treatment of forests and other renewable resources. It is like trying to steer a large and fast moving ship through the fog only by holding a long stick out in front of the bow to detect any obstacles. That policy would lead to catastrophe for the ship and it will lead to catastrophe for our nation.
Reestablish independent efforts to project out current national trends and to propose and discuss alternative futures for this country 10, 20 and more years into the future. Make choices about the US future an explicit part of the political process.
#2 Use resources efficiently.
The US is using and deteriorating the earth’s natural systems and resources at rates that cannot be sustained for even one more generation. Depleting oil, over-fishing ocean fisheries, over-pumping ground water, eroding agricultural soils - these are just a few examples. This is stupid economically. It is only possible because of hidden subsidies. Changes that can quickly reduce resource and energy use and lower pollution would generate great financial profit. Develop a set of national accounts that tally the true costs of our resource use. Eliminate subsidies that promote waste. Then use tax incentives to encourage efficiency.
#3 Deal with climate change
It is now widely accepted that human activities are changing the climate. Many countries have signed the Kyoto Accord. They are actively working to reduce green-house gas emissions. Climate change is likely to be sudden, not gradual. This was shown in a recent Defense Department study. Therefore the nation needs to start finding solutions now, before the problems spiral out of control.
Sign the Kyoto Accord. Then work with others to correct its obvious deficiencies. Implement energy efficiency standards. Start aggressive efforts to substitute wind and solar for fossil energy sources.
Will these three initiatives solve all our problems? Of course not. But they will re-establish our country’s moral standing in the community of nations, raise the efficiency of our industry, reduce our foreign debt, and start a process from which our government and corporations can learn how to deal with other long-term problems.
We don’t seek these initiatives out of an abstract concern for humanity. Our research shows that if the US does not begin efforts like these, it will lose its leadership position in the community of nations within a generation.
Professor Emeritus, University of New Hampshire
Co-Author of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
President, Earth Policy Institute
Author of Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and A Civilization in Trouble
Professor, Stanford University
Author of One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and The Human Future
Ross Gelbspan Journalist, Author of, Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisi What We Can Do to Avert Disaster
From Greenwatch, July 1, 2004.
Important Reading for the Bush Administration
Thirty years ago, a book called The Limits to Growth created an international sensation by stating what now -- to most people -- seems obvious: that industrial and population growth would reach real limits in the future, and that global society could suffer severe damage, depending on how we respond to a world of finite resources.
Now a 30-year update of the book, based on massive amounts of new date, provides the most comprehensive analysis of our global future ever assembled. The new 30-year update suggests that the central problem for the next 70 years will not be averting environmental decline -- which the authors view as inevitable -- but containing and limiting damage to the planet and humanity. It's too late for sustainable development, the authors conclude. The world must now choose between uncontrolled collapse or a carefully planned reduction of energy and materials consumption, back down to supportable levels.
To view the complete article please visit http://www.bushgreenwatch.org/mt_archives/000148.php
From Sacred Pathways, June/July 2004.
Interview by Vidya Impallaria
Dennis Meadows is a professor of Systems Management and director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. After 34 years on the faculty of various universities, he plans to leave UNH at the end of June. Meadows notes that he is not retiring, just focusing on three main goals. He is building a writer’s studio in the woods near his home in Durham where he will add to the nine books he has already published. He also designs educational, computer-assisted games that are used in many countries to teach adults about environmental issues. And, he is working with six partners to rebuild an ancient farm in France, making it into a retreat center where educators and researches can work on environmental issues.
Sacred Pathways: What can you tell us about your personal views on Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update?
Dennis Meadows: We said in 1972 that if policies do not change, there will be a sudden decline in population and economy. Policies have not changed. I do not anticipate the end of our species here. But on the other hand, there is no significant effort under way to make the changes that are required to stabilize the situation and to sustain some sort of decent life on this planet. Thus there will be growing ecological and political crises. Humanity will blunder through a set of responses to these crises, and eventually we will get ourselves down to a much more sustainable level. But it will be much less attractive than the present. This is not going to happen in the distant future, but in the next 20 years. The time to act was 30 years ago.
SP: What will it take in order for us to correct the problems?
DM: Our analysis is global and long term in nature. It doesn’t provide a detailed explanation for local prescriptions, but there are some insights useful to your readers. Our research proves false the claims that technology and the market will take care of major problems. This faith is not based on any real understanding of the problem. Both the market and technology reflect the values of those who create them. When people disregard nature, ignore social inequality, and believe that force is the way to resolve conflict, then they will create markets and technology that destroy nature, widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and promote warfare. The claim that technology will solve our problems permits our leaders to shirk their responsibility. We need to hold them accountable. Our book is unique from others that talk about specific global problems such as climate change, the loss of tropical forest, depleted groundwater systems, and related issues. We do not see these issues as problems, but instead they are symptoms of an underlying problem. The real problem is our governance system. Pressures arising from population and economic growth will manifest one place or another. If you solve energy problems, you will have a food shortage. Solve that, and you will encounter difficulties from pollution or resource scarcity. There is no permanent solution without changing the governance. We need a system that looks far ahead, respects the complexity of the globe, and works to avoid deteriorating important resources. For those concerned about these issues, our book is a wonderful compilation of data, providing 80 graphs and tables that give people an understanding of key resources.
SP: How did you come up with the Five Tools for Transition and Sustainability, which is published in the book?
DM: Jorgen Randers and I made critical comments, but that chapter is Dana’s. A really important influence on Dana’s perceptions was an international group that she and I created in 1982. We organized a weeklong meeting in Hungry comprising a group of 50 scientists from around the world who were interested in sustainable development. We still meet once a year, and are currently planning our 23rd annual meeting. We call it the Balatone Group. Balatone is the largest lake in Hungry. Since it began, the group has evolved into an organization of loving, helping, interesting people. We all come together and help each other. Reflecting on that group and what made it productive led Dana to identify this set of tools for sustainability.
SP: I liked a comment from the book, noting that it is time for everyone to take responsibility, not just our world leaders. Can you explain?
DM: I think we can observe in many parts of the world that national leaders are not picked because of their vision of the future, but because they’re handsome, or have lined up a powerful interest group, or their political party finds them to be an acceptable candidate. When you pick leaders for those reasons, they tend not uphold their responsibilities because they have no understanding of the issues. If you want to do something for the long term it means sacrifice in the short term, and that doesn’t get re-elections. This issue of responsibility, is not my observation. We have shifted in this country from being a nation of responsible people to being a nation of entitled people. People think more about what they are entitled to get, not what they can give. What our book does is to point out that achieving any kind of long term decent survival option for the globe requires changing things over the short term that will disadvantage some people and some institutions. For instance, oil. We should be working hard to enhance the use of renewables, but over the short term that reduces the profits of the oil companies.
SP: What do you think about Hydrogen as an alternative energy source?
DM: Hydrogen is not an energy source, but a way of storing energy. It’s an interesting mode or form of energy, but it’s not a solution for our problems. Hydrogen has to come from natural gas or electrolysis, which is electricity. A hydrogen economy could be interesting, but the focus should be on renewable sources of electricity.
SP: I read in the book that the authors are thinking about compiling a 40 year update as well. Can you tell us what you foresee?
DM: If we were we to do a 40 year update, it would be in a totally different form, more like an article for a major magazine. It is time to move from analysis to action, and most decision makers don’t take time to read long books.
To view the complete article see the June/July issue of Sacred Pathways