Moo! Exponential growth, outspacing, food and livestock.

earth-images-from-space-at-night-7

 by Enrique Lescure

An issue of waste. An issue of space.

Oftenmost when mainstream organisations are dealing with environmental concerns, they are focusing their attention on one particular issue close to the heart of that very organisation. It could be conservation, energy, emissions or rainforests. However, despite their best efforts to counter the trend, the usage of the planet’s biosphere has increased for every passing year – as evidenced by the Earth Overshoot Day that for every year is moving backwards throughout the weeks and months.

Some people believe that the current system in itself is fundamentally good, though they also believe that it has caused some problems. They do however believe that these problems can be managed within the exponential growth system, and that the problems themselves are mainly caused by insufficient technology.

sunpower_main

Wind, solar, geothermal will put an end to oil dependency, and we will continue to have the current socio-economic system, and growth will continue so everyone will continue to have it much better in the future as GDP per capita will increase (now we for a moment ignore that real wages amongst the US middle and working classes have not increased since the late 1970’s). That is the mantra of the mainstream.

The way of the EOS is not to say no to optimism, but to say no to illusions. This is why we must poke a hole in this illusion.

Exponential growth on a confined space such as a planet will not – under any circumstances involving real biospheres – ever be able to sustain itself for eternity. Either it will be stopped by a stagnation of demand (as happened during the 1920’s), or by the very limits of the planet itself.

Proponents of the system then claim that when resources turn too expensive, humanity will – through the creative processes of capitalism – automatically find alternatives that are both cheaper and cleaner and offer a higher standard of life to the consumers and better profits to businesses.

The issue of space

amazon-deforestation

Of course, they have it partially right. The world is not a zero sum game, and it is possible to find more efficient ways of doing things through technology. But technology in itself is most often not a problem. What is problematic, however, is the idea that the Earth is just a sum of resources, which has been the basis of Economics since the 18th century.

What they tend to ignore however, is the issue of ecology. The biosphere consists of tens of thousands of complex eco-systems, consisting of millions of animal-, plant- and fungi species. These eco-systems are more or less stable webs of life that interacts through interdependent relationships.

What tends to be forgotten is that we do not only take things from nature. We are also transforming nature, by turning areas into production zones for food and raw materials. One last point before we move along, is that proponents of the current system often refer to the Coase theorem, an economic theorem formulated by Ronald Coase, who basically sums up that the environment first deteriorates during early stages of economic growth, to recover later because the public has increased their income so much that they demand a better public environment (it can also be summed up as that well-defined property rights can regulate any problems). In short, to heal you first have to wreck.

These proponents often cite the well-known facts that Europe and North America today have more forests than they had a 100 years ago, to show that this law holds and that it is general. Given that, how then come that even if we use up less of our forests in the developed world today, our global footprints are increasing?

Simple.

We are simply shifting more of the logging to the developing world, especially the rainforests of Africa, South America and South-east Asia – some of the most biologically diverse places on Earth.

Linear resource flows

Mouldy_Clementine

A mere 200 years ago, most economies were local village and town economies where most things utilised by humans within a confined area also were produced within that area. Today, even relatively simple items such as drawing pins are often consisting of substances that are extracted wherever it is cheapest and most effective to do so from a profit perspective.

Modern mega-cities are existing because they extract their resources from the entire Earth. The organic direction that this endeavour takes is characterised by what I call linear extraction systems. Such systems are characterised by the reformation of space into monocultural production zones, which de-facto are an industrialisation of nature. Such production zones are necessitating the destruction of the natural eco-systems previously located within the very same space.

In short, you must wreck to make.

Of course, all types of human activity will affect the environment, but the current system in employment in itself is based around production models that seek rationalisation above everything else. What means with rationalisation is the transformation of space and resources to best suit the profit demands of the market.

The effects of this can be seen throughout the world.

monoculture lawn

Moo!

If we for a moment place ourselves outside of Earth and outside of time, we can see that while there has been human cultures and tribes that have been carnivorous, most humans prior to the modern age lived on a largely vegetabilic diet – out of pure necessity. Meat requires animals to be grown up, and animals eat food.

However, with rising living standards, first in the west and later in the non-western world, new technologies and the rise of an increasingly urban middle class has led to a rise in meat consumption. Moreover, meat – at least for the generations who first had access to refrigerators – symbolised an increased social status and prosperity.

thumbnail_chicken

Apart from refrigerator technology and increasing abilities to preserve and transport meat, the 20th century has also seen the birth of a meat industry, which often is completely inhumane, dependent on steroid feeding animals and denying them the opportunity to pursue their natural behaviour. However, this industry is also contributing immensely to the destruction of the planet.rexfeatures_1141708a

A large part of the meat industry is consisting of cattle and sheep, two hoofed animal species with similar digestive systems. This digestive system is very good at producing methane emissions, which contributes immensely to climate change. Methane for the record is a more potent gas than carbon dioxide.

Moreover, cattle demands much nutrients to grow, as well as much water. This means that  the world’s 1,5 billion cattle is a high resource cost in terms of both space and actual emissions. Around a third of the world’s land surface is needed to feed the current population of cattle and sheep. Moreover, this has a direct impact on soil erosion and freshwater depletion. To not speak of greenhouse gas emissions. It is measured by a recent report by World Watch that this industry alone stands for 51% of the total emissions, meaning that it is the major contributor.

The solution

The film Cowspiracy recommends everyone to become vegetarians/vegans, which would solve the demand issue. The problem with that solution however is that it would not account for the lands already being damaged by the demands of the meat industry, and that it doesn’t take into account that not all people have the opportunity to arrange their consumption after environmental/vegan demands (even though that could change if more people became vegans since that would make vegan food commercially viable).

What we have seen is that we have an economic system which unintentionally punishes good behaviour and rewards bad behaviour in terms of sustainability.

The solution must then be to form a better form of market which would better reflect the needs for a holistic approach to the planet, especially where the cost of products would be measured against their ecological impact. The EOS has proposed such a model, called Energy Accounting. Under such a model, the cost of obtaining food would resemble the ecological impact of that particular food production model, which would pennalise for example the consumption of beef, as well as production that is not ecological.

What needs to be done globally however, is that we need a global accessment on how to minimise the amount of space we use to produce food on, so to give these areas back to the eco-systems which need to fill them so this planet should have a functioning biosphere.

This would require a mobilization of forces on all levels, from grassroots to global associations, in order to consciously steer our civilization towards food sustainability. EOS has worked on this together with Green Free Will on a local basis in northern Sweden, through the Umea Biodome Project. However, we need such initiatives in every city in every country on Earth.

It is a matter of the survival of the human civilization after all.

The Way Ahead

Galaxy

“If fear should win our hearts
Our light will have long diminished
Before it reaches the farthest star” ~ Ronan Harris, VNV Nation

My name is Enrique Lescure, and I am a board member of the Earth Organisation for Sustainability – EOS, and has been active within the network since 2007.Energy Accounting, Earth Organisation for Sustainability, EOS

Maybe it could be seen as pretentious to say that we – we who are alive today – perhaps are the most important generation that has lived during the era of humanity on Earth. That the decisions that we make – or not – during our lifetime, will affect life on Earth during hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of years?

Our planet has gone through five mass extinctions during its life, the last one caused by a meteor hitting the sea at the Yucátan Peninsula 65 million years ago. It ended the age of the Dinosaurs and led to the rise of the mammals as the dominant terrestrial forms of life.

While I am writing this, almost all eco-systems on our beautiful planet are put under an unfathomable stress. Complex ecosystems are replaced by mono-cultures. Heavy metals, chemicals and particles are poisoning air, water, earth and organisms alike. The rise of CO2 has been caused by emissions of fossil fuels into the atmosphere. The seas are dying. The quality of the soil is being destroyed. If this development continue, it will spiral into a sixth mass extinction event.

I am sure that you who are reading this know about this.

You also probably do know that this is caused by the current civilization that we have created.

The question is: How should we solve this?
Answers are varying. Politicians are speaking of bans, taxes and subsidies. Businesses and scientists are speaking of technical measures. Grassroot organisations are speaking of solving local problem. The complexity of the issues can seem overwhelming.

Though all these issues are really symptoms of a main cause.

What is then that main cause?

The main cause is that we have created an ecologically and socially unsustainable civilization, founded on a debt-based monetary system dependent on exponential growth. Today we are using around 135% of the renewal capacity of the Earth.

We must solve all issues with climate change, sea destruction, heavy metals and mass deaths amongst animal and plant life, and each of these problems present an enormous challenge for all of us.

The main challenge however is to reduce our usage of resources from 135% to below 100%, which means a level where the biosphere can start to recover after decades of exploitation.

I was aware of many of these problems already when I studied at high school.

Thus I started to explore ideas aimed at solving the environmental deficit we are experiencing today. I started to see that the green movement relied too heavily on changing the behavior of the individual, as well as changing details of how the systems are working today. The alternative green forces, anarcho-primitivists, deep-greens and eco-fascists, were on the other hand focusing on misanthropy and on unrealistic visions of a pre-industrial world.

At the end, my search led me to establish contact with students, engineers and researchers from many countries, who shared similar ideas on how we should proceed. Our goal was aimed at creating a realistic, tangible model on how to combine a high-tech civilization with social and ecological sustainability.

Thus we created EOS – the Earth Organization for Sustainability.

EOS was founded as a research- and grassroot network, producing a blueprint for a hypothetical sustainable civilization. This is a (well… relatively) short text called “The Design”, which is describing our ideas.

Our thoughts are the following: We are aiming to create a model for handling the Earth’s resources in a more rational and ecologically sustainable manner. In short, this proposed model is based on a) a continuous survey of the global renewal capacity, b) that all human beings get to own a share of this renewal capacity, c) that they from their share can allocate their resources to what they want to be produced for themselves, d) and that the production is determined by where the consumers are allocating their shares.

In short:

• There is a ceiling that limits how much we can use – the renewal capacity of the Earth.
• All human beings are entitled to an income floor and an income ceiling.
• No products that people are not actively asking for should be produced. This also means a radically lowered amount of working hours.

We are not aiming for a command economy, but for a libertarian, de-centralised and federated system characterised by common communication networks. Neither do we want no growth, as growth in income and living standards under a system as it is proposed by us would be a result of environmentally friendly applications and more efficient ways to utilize resources.

How realistic is our model then?

As a research network, our approach is moving towards applying scientific methodologies on socio-economic systems. Therefore, our goal is to work together with local communities, associations and groups of individuals and test aspects of the design to see how well it works in the real world, to change or scrap what doesn’t work and evolve organically.

Ideally, we aim to also strengthen local communities to increase local resilience and together form a model that can bridge the ecological crisis awaiting us, and help humanity move towards a more evolved and mature civilization.

The most important foundation of our work is that we are striving towards a sustainable world, and that we during our journey are basing our work on ethical methods that strengthen human rights and diversity.

We can all together create a civilization based on sustainability and human creativity, a stable foundation for the values which our descendants one day hopefully will spread beyond the stars.

My question to you is: What should we – humanity – become, and how should we become?

The challenge of this millennium

Image

(This is the second installment in the new articles collection of the renewed EOS website)

When this article was written, in the first of September 2013, the human civilization had already used up the equivalent of all the biomass produced during this year. For soon to be forty years, we have utilized more biomass than the Earth has renewed for every passing year, which has led to an ever increasing ecological deficit.

 

It is estimated that thousands of unique species are vanishing every year. The CO2 emission rate is still increasing, as new powerplants driven by coal and oil are opened every week. The oceans are stained by floating continents of decomposing plastic materials. Huge areals of pristine forests – the lungs of the Earth – are being replaced with field after field of monocultural crops, often seeped with poisons. Industrial chemicals and heavy metals are polluting our water reservoirs.

 

On an overall basis, natural systems built on interdependent relationships between species, arranged in elaborate, self-sustaining webs of life, are now on an increasing rate being replaced by linear systems, where resources are extracted, transported half-way cross the planet, refined, transported yet again and then sold to consumers.

 

The purpose behind that process is not to improve the livelihood of humanity, to benefit scientific or cultural development, to raise the infrastructure of the world or to explore the stars. Any improvements in these areas are secondary to the two main goals – to sustain a debt-based global monetary system, and to continue to enrich a camarilla of banks, institutions and multi-national corporations.

 

At this point, 1% of Earth’s population is controlling over 40% of the resources of the planet.

 

Over 1 billion of Earth’s seven billion inhabitants are starving, while another 2 billion are undernourished, despite that we collectively are producing enough food to sustain 12 billion people. Instead of seeing that those who are hungry are fed, we deliberately waste, burn and drown mountains of food every week, just so new refreshments can fill up the shelves at the supermalls quick enough, so that we can subsidize dubious industries and uphold an industrialised meat industry which is hazardous and violently repulsive.

 

Some of the proponents of the current system are claiming that whatever wrongs it has, it has managed to give more people than ever before access to education and healthcare, comparing to the lives of hardships suffered by generations during the pre-industrial eras of human history.

 

Yet, that presents a false dilemma. The choice is not between our current system and a 19th century agrarian society. The choice is between this current system and a system which is less wasteful, more sustainable and more humanitarian. There is nothing in “human nature” which compels us to mismanage the planet and to continuously abuse ourselves and underachieve.

 

The choice is between what we are achieving now, and what we know that we can achieve.

 

What we know that we must achieve.

 

The other “uncomfortable” facts that the forces fighting to uphold the status quo have wilfully chosen to ignore, is the fact that with the current rate of exploitation, the current biosphere will collapse at the latter half of the 21st century.

 

Such a collapse will mean a perfect storm of developments that would see the productive capacity of the Earth reduced. This will mean a global depression that very well can sweep aside the collective wealth that humanity has accumulated, leading to unrest on a planetary scale and a reduction of the human being to a  mere struggle for daily survival.

 

Why is it so that we humans, despite that we ought to know better, are destroying 65 million years ago of accumulated biological progress, in order for a mere two and a half centuries of exponential industrial growth? And all that to allow a small fraction of the Earth’s population the sovereignty of most of the productive capacity?

 

Stay tuned.