Apr 182013
This is part one of a two-part series on the limits of human economic growth on planet Earth.

Part one details some of the environmental and natural resource challenges we’re up against. Part two, on the ultimate size of the resource pool and solutions to our problems, will be published tomorrow and linked here.  Both parts are based on Ramez Naam’s new book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet

The world is facing incredibly serious natural resource and environmental challenges: Climate change, fresh water depletion, ocean over-fishing, deforestation, air and water pollution, the struggle to feed a planet of billions.

All of these challenges are exacerbated by ever rising demand – over the next 40 years estimates are that demand for fresh water will rise 50%, demand for food will rise 70%, and demand for energy will nearly double – all in the same period that we need to tackle climate change, depletion of rivers and aquifers, and deforestation.

One view of these looming threats is that we’ve exhausted planet’s resources.  We’ve overshot the planet’s carrying capacity.  Economic growth – the root problem driving our growing consumption and pollution – has to end.  Indeed, the global economy may even need to shrink to avoid complete ecological disaster.   That’s the thesis of a long line of environmental books, from The Limits to Growth to Peak Everything.

Looking at this large array of problems, it would be easy to agree with the Limits to Growth thesis – we are simply consuming too much and polluting too much.  The underlying driver  – economic growth – can’t keep going without sending us over a precipice.

In my own new book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, I challenge this view.  The problem isn’t economic growth, per se.  Nor is the problem that our natural resources are too small.  While finite, the natural resources the planet supplies are vast and far larger than humanity needs in order to continue to thrive and grow prosperity for centuries to come.  The problem, rather, is the types of resources we access, and the manner and efficiency with which we use them.

And the ultimate solution to those problems is innovation – innovation in the science and technology that we use to tap into physical resources, and innovation in the economic system that steers our consumption.

Read more . . .

via Scientific American – Ramez Naam

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