Dr. Tom Hickson, of the UST Geology Department, sent me the following post last week, just as the government shutdown ended.  -cs


Maybe a soft landing is too much to ask for? Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you, Tea Party?  

As the government shutdown comes to a close, as the U.S. temporarily averts a default on its debt, some nagging thoughts are floating around in my mind.  They are half-baked.  I’m not an economist, so they could be fatally flawed or screwy.  Here’s the gist of my internal ramblings:

The U.S. is the consumption leader of the world, with China and India racing to meet us.  World population continues to grow.  We hurtle toward an unsustainable future and the powers that try to impede this headlong rush are tiny compared to those that drive us on.  How much progress have we made in reducing oil consumption?  Have we reduced greenhouse gas emissions or are we on any sort of path to do this in the near future in any meaningful way?  Agricultural practices globally put our soils at substantial risk.  And yet growth is the economic panacea, essentially unquestioned except by a narrow and tiny group of academics and Occupy Wall Street supporters (I know there are more; I’m being testy here).  An unquestioned reliance on economic growth is absurd when thermodynamics dictates that there is no free lunch.  Resources are finite, so growth is limited.  This seems like a no-brainer to me. 

So, if we are to achieve a sustainable economy, we must limit growth in terms of some combination of population and consumption.  Am I missing something here?  But if powerful forces insist on growth to make economies function, how can these forces be curtailed?

Certainly one answer is through gradual social change, the political process, education, and a hoped-for enlightenment that will make us eager to live simply, to contract.  Right.

 Another answer is through global recession or depression.  Let the U.S. default on its loans, many of which are held by China, Japan, Germany, and other nations that like their consumption just fine.  Let the U.S. drag the world into economic collapse.  My guess: consumption would plummet.  All of sudden it’s sexy to carpool and bike to work.  Prius sales go up.  People start planting gardens to feed themselves.  Maybe even corporations would feel the pinch if the collapse were big enough. 

I’m just wondering: is the soft-landing possible or should we just go for the hard landing, bite the bullet, suck it up, whatever.  Would a more sustainable society rise from the ashes of this economic cataclysm? 

Love to hear your thoughts.