To the editor:
The political season is now in full swing, and will only get more intense in the coming months, and we seem to be discussing everything but the reality of our situation. What is that reality, and how should it be framed?
It can be summed up with a few simple questions. The first is, how do you have infinite growth on a finite planet? Both the presumed Republican candidate and President Obama have been focusing on job creation and getting our economy back to "normal", which is annual growth of 3-3.5 percent.
You can't criticize them for that, but growth needs resources, and we are running into major constraints of many of the resources we need for that growth. With China, India and other developing economies also needing those same resources, future economic growth becomes iffy at best. to better illustrate, the United States is the model for many of these countries, yet with less than 5 percent of the world's population, we consume 25 percent of the world's resources. The math tells you that future economic growth will be difficult. Outside of taking those resources by force, is there a Plan B?
The second question is only somewhat rhetorical. Is nature part of the economy, or is the economy part of nature? Is this more ecological than nature? How much of our waste can the planet absorb before it rebels? Policy makers believe that nature/ecology is part of the economy, and thus can take whatever the economy throws its way. Growing scientific data is starting to question this assumption. If that data is correct, will we wait until it's too late before we address it? It again questions the validity of future economic growth. If the planet rebels, then growth stops, and scarce resources will now have to be diverted to make our planet liveable. Are there other options, and if so, shouldn't we be discussing them?
A third question, what is energy? The simple answer, the ability to do work. The more energy you have, the more work you can do. Our economic growth over the past 150 years has been due to plenty of cheap fossil fuels, particularly oil. As the global economy continues to grow, demand for oil will continue to grow as well. Unfortunately, the planet isn't making anymore oil, and as the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated, it's becoming more costly and dangerous to find. It's been almost four decades since the first oil shock, and every president since Nixon has talked about energy independence, but today we are more dependent on foreign oil than 1974. Sadly, we still don't have an energy policy. Isn't that discussion long overdue?
There is a connectedness to all of these questions, and to address one and ignore the others only creates more problems.There is one word that has never been used by any candidate, and that word is "limits," and it's time that word become part of the political discussion. For example, how do we prosper in a world of limited resources? That discussion takes courage, something that seems to be lacking in today's debates.