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May 17, 2010 – I have to say I’m amazed the oil spill is still getting as much media coverage as it is. It began to slink off in the direction of No News is Good News, but
has come back strong. The most worrisome part of the continuing coverage is the insistence, on the part of analysts outside the oil industry, that far more than 5,000 barrels of oil a day is leaking from the exploded well. See the New York Times of May 14 for further information. That, and Anita Burke’s contention that there is only a 40% chance that the well will ever be shut down. Listen to the Radio Ecoshock program of May 6 (“From the Deepwater Horizon”) to learn more.

Speaking of which, Alex Smith’s latest program featured a discussion of the idea of Degrowth, i.e., negative economic and population growth. Be sure to catch this latest edition of the Radio Ecoshock Show. For a stellar introduction to the subject, read Wikipedia’s article. Being a librarian, I’m not always a Wikipedia fan, because students use it as “the easy way out” when they’re asked to perform research. That disclaimer aside, this particular article is excellent, and I highly recommend it. While negative population growth is only touched upon, the author gives equal time to other economic rationales, and gives the reader plenty of citations that will afford opportunities for a comprehensive understanding of the idea. I’ll go so far as to also recommend my own Nov. 4, 2009 blog, “Corporations aren’t People.”

So – why degrowth? Because the problem is what the problem has long been: the North is wedded to economic growth, the South to having too many children. These two bankrupt notions have joined forces in China and India, giving us a preview of what lies ahead. ( Russia, long since an environmental basket case, though not due to overpopulation, is certainly a worst-case example.) Meantime, the United States has been wasting endless amounts of precious time applauding China’s transition to a capitalist economy. While China’s population grows far more slowly than it used to, it grows, nonetheless. I am unacquainted with India’s population policies, if indeed it has any.

This all adds up to life in a world of too many people who want too many things. We have been trained to want things we don’t need for a long time, here in the “developed” world. We are stuffed with stuff, and now others have been taught to envy our toomuchness, and they want it, too. A bad thing? Yes, in that people everywhere are learning to waste more and more precious, irreplaceable resources at a faster and faster pace. No, in that push must inevitably meet shove, and it will happen all the sooner, now that everyone wants to ride the waste train. The Wikipedia article makes the very valid point that preparing for degrowth will make it less painful. For the briefest of moments, let’s imagine that this is, in fact, what governments decide to do.

What needs to come first? The planet requires fewer people to support immediately, but since population degrowth will take time, it can’t come first. We cannot kill surplus people. We absolutely must, however, make a start, and it must be better than a “good faith effort.” For example, we can legislate fewer children. Once the laws exist, they must be enforced. Families of more than two children MUST adopt children after they’ve had their third child, unless they are deemed unfit. The fathers of such families must have vasectomies. Governments can reward couples who elect to have one or no children. Remember, we are not maintaining or stabilizing the population of the earth, we are forcing it to decline, as rapidly as possible. Those children we do have must be educated very fully about the causes and ramifications of the problems we confront.

If this could be done at the same time businesses’ energy use is audited, it would have a considerable effect. Conservation measures would immediately be put in place, following the audits. Big businesses first, small businesses second. Energy consumption would have to be cut in half, as a first step. As alternative forms of energy became available, businesses would have to use them. Very high consumers of energy, such as manufacturers of aluminum, would have to switch to an all-recycled basis of doing business. Businesses that create air or water pollution would simply have to stop. We can no longer use our water and air as toxin sinks.

If these things could be done, degrowth would be well under way. Businesses that could not adequately decrease their consumption of energy AND their production of pollution would be forced out of business. Relocalization of small businesses and agriculture would be another necessary step. None of this would prevent climate collapse. It’s progressed too far for that. The collapse will hasten the implementation of all these strategies, but it would be best to begin them before the onset of dramatic climate change, i.e., now. Once collapse draws nigh, we will have enough other serious problems with which to contend.

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