Friday, October 13, 2006

Limits to Growth

One of the really difficult things about watching the last 30 years has been their slow motion car wreck effect. Very little happening today (page scandals excluded) wasn't budding in the mid-70s, but over and over the wise and wonderful of this world chose to ignore what those buds would clearly grow into if not tended (and heavily pruned), whether global warming or sclerotic society, coreless Dems or corrupt Repubs, ignorant "citizens" or imperial pres.

That choice was deliberate. As I've said before, Jimmy Carter for the most part was clued in and spelled it out. Dems as well as Repubs chose being grasshoppers, not ants, and "Morning in America" over courage and wisdom. We'll never be able to say we weren't warned. We had a president telling us, buttressed by numerous reports and studies, and we wrote him off as inept, micromanaging, and a bad leader rather than ourselves off as stupid, selfish, and terrible followers. One of the best of the reports and studies, one that drew much of the clueless criticism, one that has yet to be taken down in its overall theme, was Limits to Growth.

30 years later, it's back, updated, just as valuable, just as foreboding, likely to be just as ignored unless we get the word out. I remember all the "there are no limits, you must be a commie" nitwits who came out of the woodwork, like the idiot Simons, William and Julian, who thought their degrees meant they were wise. They only proved their points to themselves. Reality has already started revealing their silliness. Limits took early computer simulation capacity, known data on resources and use, and did the math. Critics claimed they missed something here, exaggerated something there, always underestimated unfailing human tech and innovation. After all, it wasn't possible that things could turn out badly for humanity due to global population, accessible energy, weather and resource changes, institutional inability to adapt--IOW, virtually every danger we face as a planet 30 years later.

Well, today the computers are better, even with the chickens beginning to roost on them, the data are more thorough, and the predictions aren't changing, only our timeline for dealing effectively with them. Limits was never the "doom and gloom" book that its opponents misleadingly claimed, and neither is the new version. It was and is a warning cry made in the hope that humanity's better instincts and judgment will someday rise to the call. So far, well . . . .

So, here it is again, forecasting different scenarios for the human future depending on how we act and react, a couple of them even hopeful if we act very quickly and accept a future of moderation. Limits spells out the problem areas in scary detail but also discusses how, despite losing 30 valuable years, we can still prevent complete disaster (even if that's the outcome of all the more realistic scenarios). As ice sheets melt and hurricanes havoc, as traditional standards of living for all but the elites fall and institutions corrode, maybe we'll pay more attention this time.

Or not. The book came out in 2004, a fairly decent time to have discussed these things as a nation. And this election year? Oh, yeah, our grandchildren's world really is at the forefront, isn't it?

This thing is, even in slo-mo, after 30 years, the collision with reality is getting really close.