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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - August 11, 1971, Lethbridge, Alberta Wedneiday, Auguil 11, 1971 THE UTHBRIOGE HERALD- 5 srald Leach Spaceship earth faces alarming crisis I _____ in nlants 'bui-ninfi' sea water, Ion Washington megalopolis urging people lo use r j ONDON Many people now realize thai Spaceship Earth is in some kind of trou- ble. What lew appreciate, with full imaginative force, is how real and desperate the trouble is. There is every indication that the combined activities of today's million passen- gers are very rapidly, at in- creasing speed, overloading Earth into a series of break- downs that Hie engineers may not be able to fix in time. There is hardly any doubt that if we are ts avoid these loom- ing crises and we may we must go through a wrenching and perhaps explosive period of adjustment probably in our lifetimes, certainly in our children's lifetimes as wo learn to live within the limited means of our finite space ve- hicle or are forced to do so. At present we are avoiding these challenges with ignorant complacency. One can see why. We have a huge emo- tional investment in doing what we have always done: ex- panding, raising living stan- dards, reducing poverty. The notion that our century must mark the unique end-point to this process the time when the dream of Utopia died is so appalling it becomes un- thinkable. Many influential people are now putting about the myth that the environmental crisis is (a) mainly a domestic prob- lem, (b) largely about pollution and amenity, and (c) since we are beginning to tackle (b) with some vigor, all will be well. From here It is a short step to demanding more growth to clear up the legacy of a dirty past; and from there to attacks on the anti-growth lobby for being out-of-touch elitists who want to keep the masses down while they hog the last nice scenery for them- selves euvironmcntalism as a new form of class warfare. The real issues are different. They go far deeper than the fight to make Britain or any other country clean and tidy. They are global, not domestic. They demand a vision rather lunger than the time-span to the next election. They have bren stated most clearly by an American, Professor Dennis Meadows: 1. Population, economic and industrial growlh cannot con- tinue indefinitely (or for much 2. The pressures sustaining these growths are enormous; 3. So. if the growths are to be stopped, the counter-pres- sures inevitably will be enor- mous too. This is the key point that we ignore, These counler-prcs- sures may take many forms- starvation, pi a g u e s, war, scarcity of resources, deepen- i n g pollution, psychological stresses or, hopefully, dras- tic changes in our personal and social values. The over- whelming question is whether we can ride these loom- ing counter-pressures into a no-growth future, or whether they will ride us into a series of catastrophic collapses. One thing is clear: our brand of industrial and economic growth must end fairly soon. To see why, consider the single most alarming feature of life aboard Spaceship Earlh the widening gap between the fifst class passengers (i.e. the in- habitants of the rich countries! and those living and partly liv- ing below decks The rich now number about 1.000 million. They are dis- tinguished by having a share of the gross national product of their countries of each and by the ability lo increase their share rapidly by reckless- ly exploiting Ihe spaceship's resources. This "wealth" is new doublins on average every 17 years. Despite Ibis, there are'still huge areas of poverty, squalor, unemployment and f nisi rated aspirations: power- ful forces for further Growth. The other 2.600 million pas- sengers in the Third World have a GNP share of only SI80 each a 13-foid difference. But Ibis fi.curc is growing at only half our rate (Iwo per cent) while Ihcir population is increasing three limes fasler than ours, dmiblini! in 24 vears. If Ihosc growths if in 130 years Iho Third World will have cruiphl up to our n r e s e n I share-out of But in Ihe same lime our share will have soared lo each n 250-fold difference and world populn- lion would be around (iO.OOO million. Bolh are "impossible" predictions for many reasons. Yet even now Ihe rich-poor Cap is pulling leri'ihlc sirains on global slnbilily. Wr nil have pnnio impression of whnt life in Iho Third World is like: HO mil- lion undcr-fivrs wilh prolein malnutrition; one in every Iwo babies dead before school age; Iho survivors with no school- ing at all; a steady rise in world illileracy; millions slreaming lo cities in search of work and life, but ending in malignant shanty towns; tlie teeming Ganges della. Bui Ihe full picture is even more tragic and dangerous. Development experts have now realized that the failure of food to get ahead of numbers (or ovef vast areas, even lo keep pace) is not primarily an agri- cultural problem (which West- ern technology could help lo bul an economic one. The fact is, the mass of people, are too poor lo buy the belter foods they need, even when they are available. S'o the mass of farmers have little incentive to produce surpluses for sale. The highest priority is, there- fore not food, but jobs even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization now preaches Ibis policy. But jobs mean development, economic growth and massive indus- trialization. And at fantastic rates. Three-quarters of all the world's under-15s mil- lion of them live in "devel- oping" countries and will soon swell the presenl mass of job- seekers. Soulh America, for in- stance, just to hold its own in Ihe race against unemploy- ment must achieve an unpre- cedented growth rate of 8 per cent per year. Can the Third World do it? In broad terms, no. Quite simply, the resources of min- erals and energy, let alone land, water, capital and a host of othef basic requirements, do not exist because we in the richer nalions have been gob- bling them, up so fast. Western- style development, which we are foisting on the Third World and which it must have to avert its imminent famines and job crises just cannot happen in so called "developing" coun- tries. Most talk about the "de- veloping world" is, in fact, a gigantic swindle. Consider the United States, with a mere 6 per cent of the world's population. To keep Americans going requires over a quarter of the world's output of steel and fertilizers, 40 per cent of its wood pulp, 36 per- cent of its fossil fuels, a fifth of its cotton, and 10 per cent of the world's total farm lands outside their own shores. Nor are we in Western Europe all that far behind. A world-wide use of re- sources on Ibis scale or any- where near it is out of the question. Even if the adequate resources existed (they do not) the "capilal stocks" of mate- rials needed to maintain Am- erican or European life-styles (the metals, for instance, lock- ed up in buildings, machines, ships, cars, bridges etc. are so vast that they could not con- ceivably be produced. The em- inent American resource scien- tist, Professor Harrison Brown, has estimated thai for Ihe whole world lo enjoy an Am- erican standard of living every mine and factory would have to work Vat-out for 60 years just to produce the capital slocks required. This lakes no account of the huge and in- evitable losses (often as high as 30 per cent a year from cor- rosion, dumping, etc.) or of ris- ing population now esti- mated roughly to double by tlie year 2000. We are rapidly heading for a resource crisis too. World metal consumption is climbing at 6 per cent a year (a dou- bling every 12 years) al- most entirely due to the rich world's voracious demands. Even if this rise is cut to 2.5 per cent so that it merely keeps pace with world popula- tion growth a long list of vital industrial metals could be exhausted very soon. The known reserves of mercury, lead, platinum, gold, zinc, silver and tin would be gone within 20 years; copper and lungstcn within 30 years nickel, alumin- ium, cobalt and manganese within 70 years. Iron would last about a century. There, is also an energy crisis that could assume crip- pling proportions. Cheap en- ergy is (he lifeblood of indus- Irial socicly, yet our demands are suicidally voracious. Since the birlh of Christ man is esti- mated lo have consumed 10 to 12 units of energy. Four of Ihese were used in the last cen- tury. Present consumption is at a rate of 50 units n and it is doubling every 14 years. Needless lo say, Iho really big consumers are Ibe inhabit anls of the rich coun- tries, each of whom uses be- tween 10 nnd 20 limes as much of the world's dwindling fossil fuels as the resl and from tl.c projected demands, it is apparently assumed lhat Ibis can be increased in Ihe future. Wilh plenty of self-fuelling breeder reactors or fusion plants 'burning' sea water, there would be no fuel prob- lems, and a world population of million could each consume a ridiculous 100 times as much energy as today's av- erage American before we hit the ultimate 'heat limit.' This is the point where so much en- ergy is used that the global atmosphere would inevitably heat up by about 3.5 degrees Centigrade. That would melt the ice caps. But lhat is all theory. In practice, the next 10 to 20 years will see a whole range of interlocking pressures clamping down on the drive for more and more cheap pow- er. The most powerful could be local heat disposal limits. Su- per-cities are already altering their' climates with the vast amounts of heat their build- ings, cars and machines push out. In the year 2000 the 56 million inhabitants of the Bos- ton Washington megalopolis are expected lu eject so much heat that in winter it will equal half Ihe amount coming from the sun, and in summer one- sevenlh. Meteorologists quail at the prospect. Even more acute is the prob- lem of waste heat from power stations. It was recently fore- cp.st thai southern California could double its power con- sumption only once more be- fore its heat effluents put an impossible strain on rivers, at- mosphere and ocean. For New York the 'heat deadline' is 1985. Consolidated Edison, the city's power supply company, has said that after that date it would run out of mainland sites with cooling water and would have to build nuclear stations floating out at sea. Even their mind boggled at the prospect: they have now stopped spend- ing one million dollars a year