In his 2009 Legacy lecture, "An elder's vision for our sustainable future", David Suzuki points out that the Earth’s water, food and air are finite. If the Earth were a basketball, the biosphere — our only home -- would be thinner than a layer of varnish on its surface. What orthodox economics and our leaders assume, unlimited growth on a limited planet, is suicide.
Suzuki proposes a thought experiment. Suppose we are bacteria in a test tube full of food. It’s huge compared to our tiny size, but still finite. Like humans, our population increases exponentially.
“At time zero you have one cell; one minute you have two; two minutes you have four; three minutes you have eight; four minutes you have 16. That is exponential growth and at 60 minutes the test tube is completely full of bacteria and there is no food left, a sixty minute cycle. When is the test tube only half full? Well the answer of course is at 59 minutes; but a minute later it is filled. So at 58 minutes it is 25% full; 57 minutes 12½ % full. At 55 minutes of the 60 minute cycle it is only 3% full.
So, if at 55 minutes one of the bacteria said to its companions that they had a population problem, the other bacteria would be incredulous because 97% of the test tube would be empty and they had been around for 55 minutes.
Yet they would have only 5 minutes left. At the 58th minute it would only be a quarter full. At the 59th minute, half full, And if just before the hour bacteria scientists invented 3 more test tubes, they would only buy 2 minutes of life: the 60th minute, one test tube full; 61st, two full, 62nd, all four. With no food left, the population crashes. Their technology quadrupled the supply (three more Earths), and bought just TWO MINUTES.
In real life can we add even a fraction of 1% more of air, water, soil or biodiversity? We cannot. The biosphere is fixed and finite -- we are past the 59th minute -- and every biologist I have talked to agrees with me, ”
Back on Earth, right now, we see no shortage. In our air conditioned supermarkets the food is stacked to the ceiling, tap water flows in our kitchens, oxygen supplied by the trees. We are in the 59th minute. Time to change. But rightwing deniers (like this one) insist the scientists must be wrong.
Our blog in 2008 posted a 8 min animation that tells the same story: “Are humans smarter than yeast?” Read the two previous posts on this blog, The line cuts through the heart, and Letting go of honest hope. Listen to all of Suzuki's inspiring Legacy lecture, and read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth to understand what has happened to the biosphere in the last two generations, and what we must do about it.Eco-economics deals with the human impact on the biosphere in the anthropocene era.
|Population mind map by Jane Genovese|
The Kaya formula is
Some what better-known is the Commoner, Ehrlich and Holdren formula:
Human Impact (I) on the environment equals P= Population multiplied by A= Affluence and T= Technology. The Quaker book Right Relationship (p.76+) includes E for ethics, I=PATE, to argue that we must both for scientific and moral reasons adjust our impact, making major changes in PAT to reach a sustainable whole earth economy. “Change the system not the climate,” as the protesters chanted at the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen and later. Humanity is still far from E action. We are robbing our grandchildren of their future.
Update - Suzuki Leap Manifesto in 2015, its signatories, and recent news of the movement.