Saturday, January 22, 2011

Depressing news for Planet Earth

In his new book, The View from Lazy Point, author Carl Safina writes that “chances are about four out of ten” today that any living cell will become food for humans or be eaten by an animal that will become our food. “In other words, we now take roughly 40% of the life that the land produces.”

That’s an astonishing statistic, especially when you extrapolate it against the projected population of our planet by the middle of this century. Which, by the way, is projected to be at 9 billion people, another two more Chinas.

Safina relates this to the fiscal deficit our country is running and reports that this kind of natural deficit is also one that simply can’t be sustained even over the short term, let alone the long term. It’s not just that we’re destroying the planet’s plants and animals, it’s that soon there won’t be anything left to destroy (or sustain our soon-to-be huge population, depending on your world view). Between needing more land for agriculture and more water for that agriculture and for us to drink, he believes it would take nearly two planet Earths to meet the projected demand, and that’s assuming this large population doesn’t all want to live like Americans. If they do, add in another half a planet earth. In other words, we are already borrowing (or stealing, again depending on your world view) heavily from people not yet born. And we’ve already overreached a level of sustainability on this planet.

As a species, he says, we are good at solving puzzles, but not so good at solving problems. I hope he is wrong, but I fear he isn’t. And if he is right, we are already pretty much behind the eight-ball on this one.


Samuel said...

Just a thought. In 1987, the Brundtland Commisions of the United Nation defined sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." But What Can I Do?
Start small. Switch off lights when you leave the room. Take shorter showers. Carpool. Little changes add up if enough people make them. Such will be my contributions on behalf of my grandsons.

Scott said...

We're behind the 8-ball big time!

Grizz………… said...

Carolyn—I don't think the situation is quite as desperate as those statistics would have you believe. Keep in mind that much of the biomass on earth—plant and animal—is a direct result of human intervention and intended to feed us in one way or another. I don't believe we're nearly so close to having reached, let alone surpassed, human sustainability. Which isn't to say I believe we can keep using and wasting resources like we do—especially here in the U.S.

Everyone talks about "living green," downsizing, cutting back—yet our culture and our economy is geared directly opposite. We increasingly build houses in the 3500—5000 square ft. range. Most folks nowadays wouldn't think of drying their clothes anywhere but in a dryer, even in summer. Except for a few cities, public transportation is a joke. We've pulled up our railways, though we occasionally turn the leftover land into hiking/biking trails…a good thing. But it would be even better if you could get on a bike and actually go somewhere.

So we aren't in the best of shape—and things are getting worse. I don't doubt that for a moment. But neither do I believe we've already passed the point into hopelessness and despair.

However, this is an inevitable problem that we do need to solve…and sooner vs. later.

BTW…love the photo.

Scott said...

In response to Samuel's comment: Of course we all ought to do those things but, in the end, they won't make all that much difference. Years ago, I stopped at a nature center's bulletin board and noticed a posting entitled something like, "20 Hard Things To Do That Will Really Save The Planet." I only remember a few of the 20 things (e.g., live in an apartment in a city with public transportation, give up you car, have one [or no] children), but I do recall that they were a very significant departure from business as usual.

Elora said...

We continue "excusing" all our excesses--kind of the reverse of NIMBY. Relatively few even know what the term "conservation" means or implies, let alone elect its importance in preserving what remains. The concept of "sustainability" is still in the wings as far as "those in power" exemplify. They want theirs, even if it means polluting and abusing, and making extinct. Nobody in high places is advocating conservation. Have you ever heard President Obama, even utter the word "conservation?" Remember Jimmy Carter? There was a program last night on Jimmy and Rosaland and their role in Habitat for Humanity. Humbling. Truly. And he was the one that put solar panels on the White House roof. Only to have Reagan remove them immediately when he moved in.

I highly recommend a book my husband and I have been reading together aloud in the last couple of weeks: "Life, Money and Illusion, subtitled Living on Earth as if we want to stay" by Mike Nickerson. He addresses a full array of "discuss-able" issues: "growth," "progress," and provides fascinating historical and politial perspectives on our societal's altogether one of the very best books I've read..and best of all, Nickerson doesn't just call us down, he offers incredibly creative solutions for curbing our insatiable appetites for that which poisons and ultimately kills us all. You can buy it used at Amazon for(I believe) around $9. Worth a read, and then give it to your local library.

Thanks, Carolyn!

Carolyn H said...

Samuel: of course, the real trick will be to know what is sustainable and what is not. I'm afraid the days of little things adding up to make a big difference are past. We need to tackle the big things (as well as the little things).

Carolyn H.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: I think people don't connect the dots when it comes to sustainability and what's good for the earth. They don't make the connection between their own electrical use, for example, and energy consumption or conservation. They may be for energy conservation but still put their clothes in the clothes dryer. Every. Time. Or take 20 minute showers or whatever. They just don't see those things as part of the problem.

Carolyn H.

Carolyn H said...

Scott: And we don't seem to be doing much about it!!

Carolyn H.

Carolyn H said...

Elora: Thanks for the tip about the Nickerson book. I will look for it after I've finished The View From Lazy Point, which is subtitled, A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. It's quite a beautifully written book about the yearly rhytmns on the far end of Long Island.

Cathy said...

it's time like these I wish people from another planet would show up. Because that's only thing that's going help this planet

Scott said...

I had a meeting in central Philadelphia this morning, so I took the train into the city (vs. driving--good for me!). In any case, waiting for the train, I ran into an acquaintance who was also headed into the city. Though I've known him for years, I never knew what he did, so I asked. He told me that he is an investment counselor for one of the world's richest men who is attending the meeting in Davos right now. I don't know whether he was telling the truth or just trying to impress me, but as we got off the train downtown, he said, "Remember Scott, we're all just caddies for the billionaires, and a hell of a lot of them are ruthless." I fear he's pretty spot on, and it's not very hopeful.