Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Real Limits of the Earth

Scientific American Blogs presents Part 1 of a disappointing two-part post on limits to growth: The Limits of the Earth, Part 1: Problems.

Part 1 begins with an explanation of human innovation, by the author of a book, of course, about how human innovation can overcome limits to growth.

"Ramez Naam is a computer scientist and award-winning author. He believes innovation can save the planet and lift billions into prosperity, but only if we make the right choices to embrace it. His next non-fiction book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, lays out the path to harnessing innovation to maximize our odds of overcoming climate change, finite fossil fuels, and the host of other environmental and natural resource challenges that face us."

The remainder of Part 1 is a laundry list of some of the problems facing humans due to resource limitations.

I can see where this is going. This is yet another unscientific, anthropocentric paean to technology, human economics and the mythology of perpetual growth in a finite world. This is another young man who has yet to feel his mortality, who thinks that humans with computers can overcome all obstacles, and who is largely ignorant of basic biology, ecology, earth sciences and natural history.

There really are limits to human growth, hard limits that cannot be fantasized away with unreasoning belief in human innovation. We can't invent our way into a rosy Star Trek future with unlimited energy and natural resources. We can't turn the world into computer-managed agro-business to feed 10 billion people. We can't convert all natural habitat into solar and wind farms for human energy demands.

Like it or not, humans are but one species of life on this planet. Humans must relearn how to live in
cooperation with, not at the expense of, all other species. We can do this. We just put away the toys of youth and start acting like responsible adult residents of the planet that sustains us.

And discontinue our subscriptions to the pseudo-science rag formerly known as Scientific American.