This monument is known as the Georgia Guidestones, installed in 1980. Located in Elbert County, Georgia -- an unknown businessman commissioned the installation of this monument in English and 9 other languages as well as four ancient languages. Its message is meant for many years in the future after mankind has depleted all of the resources on the planet, and it attempts to provide guidance to the people left after the global catastrophe on how to conduct their lives and their relationship to the Earth.
LIMITS TO GROWTH: The 30- Year Update by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, & Dennis Meadows
I have decided to tie together three books that I've read lately, as I think they provide some excellent roadmaps to what we are collectively going to face for the rest of our lives -- particularly baby boomers like myself.
Spoiler alert: Limits to Growth is in many respects a downer. If you read the book, you might be tempted to either slit your wrists or joing some fundamentalist cult. This is not recommended. Stick around to see Parts II and III, as I lay out not only a positive analysis of the condition we face as a species, but ultimately -- one potential solution to realistically address the challenges that we're facing together.Limits to Growth is a very curious book. As important as its findings and messages are, I would not recommend reading it. Many parts of Limits to Growth are technical and devoted to systems analysis. More annoyingly, it is written in a kind of style that would be appropriate for a comprehensive review of some local land use policy. Be that as it may, the message of the book is critically, vitally important to the human condition.
It all began with the Club of Rome in the late 1960s. A distinguished group of businessmen, statesmen, and scientists decided to track historical patterns of economic and population growth. They then took those trends and extrapolated information about vital human resources and conditions to the year 2100. It's worth noting that this report was instrumental in founding the first Earth Day in 1970.
Their report was fleshed out by scientists, statisticians, and computer programmers from MIT in 1972. What the original reports found from the various computer models was that economic growth and population increases would continue until shortly after 2000. After that, there would be a period of leveling off, followed by a systemic colllapse of critical elements needed for human society -- unless significant and worldwide corrective action was done. Without a change in the way the world has historically worked, this collapse would continue until a newer, much lower level of prosperity and population existed -- some time around the year 2100.
Using a systems analysis approach, the technicians isolate particular variables and examine how changes in particular forms of behavior can improve the long term lot of mankind. For the thirty year update, the future of the world has been divided into eight scenarios of varying optimism.What they found has not been pretty. Mankind has been behaving in accordance with a profligate resource usage scenario laid out in the original. What this means is that collectively, the world has not made any serious effort to control either its consuming impulses or its environmental destruction.We have been spending our inheritance while we max out on our credit cards. We are eating our seed corn.
To be sure, there have been minor deviations from the original Club of Rome findings. For example, mankind has devoted more energy into providing services and less energy into producing goods than was originally projected. And people should be collectively applauded for whatever efforts that they've placed into recycling and carbon reduction.
But the bottom line for the pessimistic book is found on page 14, where the authors lay out in graphic form the trajectories of the eight various scenarios for the 21st Century. Although the graphs are divided into 50 year increments, I took the liberty of measuring out where we are now and where we're headed. For the most part the immediate future can be seen as the peak of the human condition. And although many scenarios indicate that our species and our planet could continue to tread water up to perhaps 2040, the most pessimistic scenario shows that the trap door for homo sapiens could open up between 2025 and 2030.
The computer modelers admit that their assumptions on human behavior show no wars or excessive military spending, no bad national leadership, or some other foibles of human behavior that currently bedevil us. Thus, there is every reason to assume that the most pessimistic scenario is the most realistic one.
In short, we as a species have ten to fifteen years before things begin to go really horribly wrong with our planet. For those of us who are baby boomers, we will all die at exactly the right time. Our generation will have succeeded in sucking out all of the juice and pulp of the planet's fruits. And our generation will then throw the bitter rind on the ocean of steaming pig shit that we will bequest to our children and grandchildren. And yet...
All is not lost. First, I have seen with my own eyes, the dedication, energy, and competence that the younger generation has demonstrated. Even in my days as a student radical in the 1960s, I've never encountered a crop of young people as there is today. While they share the knowledge of the vast injustices perpetrated by our system, their answer has been to respond in a completely different way from the student demonstrations and sit ins from my youth.
In many respects, they have the skills of a seasoned Chicago ward heeler. They are consumate political pros, and they are fully up on the methods and technolgies to maximize results at the polls for a progressive agenda. Others are already embedded in and around national governments all over the world. As consumate insiders, they know how to operate all the machinery of public influence and power. And again, they are succeeding in subtly shifting the political discourse in the direction that all of us oldsters have been hoping to see take place for forty years or more.
Many of these actions are not visible now. But they exist all over America -- under the radar. And it is guaranteed that they will make a major difference in the way business and government are operated in the future. Ten years from now, we may all look back and be pleasantly amazed at what has transpired. But clearly, there is work to be done by all of us.
Lastly, going back to Limits to Growth, the book itself holds many ways in which significant change can occur. Since it is written by systems analysts, it goes without saying that they take the attitude that everything is interrelated. All things are stuck together, and a change in one isolated area has wide ramifications in a whole different set of areas.
Some of the things they recommend for significant change are basic, like moving towards more democratic systems, using technology to the utmost to help solve some of the global problems facing us, and practicing conservation and sustainability at all times.
I will leave you with an extended part at the end of the book that talks about the attitudes that our species needs to adjust to in order to successfully transition the most significant challenge to our survival, perhaps since the Ice Age:
Not: A warning about the future is a predition of doom.
But: A warning about the future is a recommendation to follow a different path.
Not: The environment is a luxury or a competing demand or a commodity that people will buy when they can afford it.
But: The environment is the source of all life and every economy.
Not: Change is a sacrifice, and it should be avoided.
But: Change is a challenge, and it is necessary.
Not: Stopping growth will lock the poor into their poverty.
But: It is the avarice and indifference of the rich that lock the poor into poverty. The poor need new attitudes among the rich; then there will be growth specifically geared to serve their needs.
Not: Everyone should be brought up to the matieral level of the richest countries.
But: There is no possibility of raising material consumption levels for everyone to the levels now enjoyed by the rich. Everyone should have their fundamental material needs satisfied. Material needs beyond this level should be satisfied only if possible, for all, within a sustainable ecological footprint.
Not: All growth is good, without question, discrimination, or investigation.
But: What is needed is not growth, but development. Insofar as development requires physical expansion, it should be equitable, affordable, and sustainable, with all real costs counted.
Not: Technology will solve all problems. Nor: Technology does nothing but cause problems.
But: We need to encoujrage technologies that will reduce the ecolgical footprint, increase efficiency, enhance resources, improve signals, and end material deprivation. And: We must approach our problems as human beings and bring more to bear on them than just technology.
Not: Industry is the cause of all problems or the cure. Nor: Government is the cause of all problems or the cure. Nor: Environmentalists are the cause or the cure. Nor: Any other group (economists come to mind) is the cause or cure for the problems we face.
But: All people and institutions play their role within the large system structure. In a system that is structured to overshoot (or consume wastefully or selfishly) all players deliberately or inadvertently contribute to that overshoot. In a system that is structured for sustainability, industries, governments, environmentalists, and most especially economists will play essential roles in contributing to sustainability.
Not: Unrelieved pessimism.
Nor: Sappy optimism.
But: The resolve to tell the truth about both the successes and failures of the present and the potentials and obstacles in the future.
And abve all: The courage to admit and bear the pain of the present while keeping a steady eye on the vision of a better future.
In Part II, I'll tell you about why we are now living in one of the most revolutionary periods in human history, some of its implications, and how we are already involved (whether we know it or not) in radically transforming the world.