My first introduction to Donella Meadows was in the mid-1990s after I began publishing The Record in Gold River. I found her columns on the Internet published under the title “The Global Citizen,” columns that spoke clearly about our environment and our place in it. I corresponded with Dr. Meadows and she allowed me to republish them as I could so that a wider audience would have access to her knowledge and vision.
Like many people in the past, Donella was a prophet whose message, as plain and obvious as it was, went unheeded by most, and flat out denied by many.
She co-authored a study in 1972 titled The Limits To Growth which dealt with problem of a growing world population and a finite resource base, a problem that even today many refuse to acknowledge. The book predicted economic and societal collapse in the 21st century, a prediction that generated some unfavourable reviews at the time. In retrospect those reviews appear to be little more than denial rather than valid scientific objection — much like denial that humans caused climate change found today.
Recently Graham Turner at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia published a paper looking at “The Limits To Growth” in light of what has happened in the last 30 years. His findings support the predictions made by Dr. Meadows and her colleagues in 1972.
The fact is that in relation to our increasing population our available resources per capita are shrinking. We have passed the point where the planet is no longer able to generate the necessities required to support our global population in any but the most modest manner. A manner that requires about 75 per cent less consumption per person than currently enjoyed by the average Canadian. And, as we consume, the ability of renewable resources to actually renew themselves while continuing to increase our population only gets worse.
How we got into this fix is obvious. Historically since the advent of agriculture and the ability to amass surpluses, we have had no real appreciation for the limits of nature, believing instead that we could continue to grow our society. And in doing so we have developed an economic system built on continual growth.
Those who speak the truth to us, warning us of destroying too much wild land, cutting too many trees, catching too many fish, damming and diverting too many rivers, creating too much garbage, we marginalize. The truth is uncomfortable and very few want to hear it. Instead, most of us prefer to believe that producing more, acquiring more and making decisions based on immediate economic values rather than life values is the path to a better future.
Those who believe that are dead wrong. Instead of leading us in a direction that will provide a decent, though somewhat more reduced, society for future generations, this belief will lead us to a social and ecological catastrophe that may leave those generations that follow us in a world of awful chaos.
The signs are already there, only someone intentionally ignorant cannot see them. The bio-diversity of our environment which supports us is being destroyed to accommodate our increasing population and fixation on growth. Our food supply has been industrialized and no longer produces the same healthy food that our ancestors ate. Chemicals in our environment and in our food may well be responsible for the cancers that now afflict us. And the economic pattern that has emerged is putting most of us at the mercy of a few wealthy interests who control the production of food and manufactured goods.
There is no way out of this unless we fundamentally change our society. And the kind of change that we need can only come about when a majority of us decide that growth must be reversed and healthy ecological choices are more important than wealth or convenience.
Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada’s West Coast.