Monthly Archives: August 2015

“Do Not Tell Me That It Can’t Be Done”

Gradual changes required.

Time to reverse course a bit?

In my last post (“1967“) I posited that humanity will need to make quite a few changes in the years ahead, and that we need to “…start letting go of the status quo.” I ruminated on that for a bit after I posted it, and decided that a caveat was in order. Namely, that these changes we need to make will be evolutionary, and not revolutionary. They will (and should) happen gradually, if all of this is going to work out. Though some would differ, we can’t have some ecological equivalent of the French Revolution, and throw out all of our cultural, economic, and political systems in exchange for some sustainable version we create out of whole cloth. And it’s not that the current systems don’t need changed, but rather because if we did throw them out we’d realize exactly what revolutionaries throughout the ages have realized—that it isn’t the overthrow that’s the difficult part, it’s making the new systems work, once you’ve thrown out the old ones.

So, for example, it’s all well and good to envision gift economies and “goddess circles” and great masses of people all growing food on self-sufficient permaculture wonderlands, but the reality is that it just isn’t going to work that way. Continue reading


Earth photographed from the Apollo 4 mission, 1967.

Earth, photographed from the Apollo 4 mission, 1967. Much has changed down there in the decades since.

It’s my birthday. I’m 48. And 48 years ago it was 1967, and looking back to that time can give us some perspective on the human trajectory, because trust me, it wasn’t all that long ago, and much has changed. When I was born, there were 3.4 billion people on the planet. Today there are over 7.3 billion, and the numbers are still climbing (though, thankfully, slowing down just a bit, but still projected to climb for the remainder of this century). That’s 3,900 million more people on the planet, since I was born not all that long ago. 3,900 million more people that need to eat, and have clothes, and clean water, and a roof over their heads.

And, what’s out-paced even population growth is the growth of the world economy. In 1967 world per-capita GDP was about $2,000. Today it’s over $7,000. So, if my math is right, while population has more than doubled since I was born, the economy is now something like seven times larger. Seven times. In general, that’s seven times more roads, ports, planes, energy use, steel  and concrete production, and consumption of all kinds.

Here’s what this mass of humanity looks like today, from the International Space Station–

As you can see from the video, there are an awful lot of us now. These two things, population growth and economic growth, have brought us where we are today, where the ecology of the planet is under tremendous pressure. Half of the world’s forests are gone. Nearly 40% of all arable land is being used for agriculture. The oceans are under siege, from acidification caused by fossil fuel use, to pollution and dead zones and overfishing. Animal life worldwide is finding itself squeezed. All of this, in addition to human-caused climate change.   Continue reading