24 November 2009

Undermining the economy to save the world

This video is a lecture titled "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy"given in 2000 by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, a physicist at the University of Colorado. Apparently, he's given the talk something like 1500 times and although you may quibble with a couple of his assertions (mostly about assuming steady rates of population growth), it's hard to argue with his main point that continuous growth is not possible. He says, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." You can be sure that any difficulty you may have with the arithmetic is being exploited by folks who are fairly certain you're not checking theirs. He spends quite a bit of time on poking holes in some pretty outrageous claims about coal reserves as just a few examples of "information" that gets into the public sphere without anyone bothering to check the basic math.

If you watch the entire hour or so, and I hope you do, I wonder if you will arrive at the same conclusion that I did; that the ravenous pursuit of economic growth above all else is the greatest risk to longterm wellbeing we face. It's the driver behind climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity and environmental devastation. And it's not open for discussion in polite company.

As there doesn't appear to be any polite company currently in the room, I'd like to point out that the current economic and political system is killing the planet and now would be a good time to stop being a good citizen and start subverting the status quo. First of all, stop working so hard! Work less, earn less, consume less, pollute less, and best of all – pay less tax. Don't vote for anyone who lies. This may eliminate all candidates. Too bad. Don't let your babies grow up to be MBAs. Get your kids out of cubicle training and let them unschool. Grow food. With your justice and environment hat on, start thinking about whether private land ownership even makes sense as a concept. Never take an economist seriously, unless he's showing you his garden. Boycott Christmas shopping.

Or else Dr. Bartlett and I have got it all wrong, in which case, carry on.

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