The cover of William Catton’s 1980 book, Overshoot, includes the following definitions:
carrying capacity: maximum permanently supportable load.
cornucopian myth: euphoric belief in limitless resources.
drawdown: stealing resources from the future.
cargoism: delusion that technology will always save us from
overshoot: growth beyond an area’s carrying capacity, leading to
Most people to whom I speak do not believe these definitions apply to us. Our species, they say, is way too clever to cause a crash in our own population.
As if the temporary access to inexpensive fossil fuels does not constitute the basis for human overshoot. As if we’re not already there, suspended like Wile E. Coyote. As if we’re not stealing resources from the future and, in the case of industrialized nations, from every other culture on Earth. As if we are not destroying, degrading, and desecrating the living planet that supports us all.
Look around. We are surrounded by cornucopians, and we’re drowning in cargoism. Delusion? Yeah, we’ve got that.
Ignore the delusions for a short time, and you’ll see we’re headed for a correction. At this late juncture in the industrial game, hoping for anything else requires a massive dose of wishful thinking.
Even a correction seems unlikely, unless by “correction” you mean “crash.”
Yet the overwhelming majority of people with whom I speak cannot wrap their minds around correction, let alone crash. Many of these folks are university faculty members. They’re supposed to be intelligent, although I’ve concluded that the average academic has below-average intellect. Many of them are ecologists, too, who have been learning about -- and in many cases allegedly teaching about -- limits to growth. We’ve known about limits to growth since at least 1798. Yet we’ve acted as if those limits do not apply to us. Indeed, we’ve acted as if a miracle
would will save us.
Well, two miracles. First, we need a miraculous comprehensive substitute for crude oil. Then we need a miraculous removal of carbon from the atmosphere. We need the first miracle right now. We need the second within a generation.
In the two million years of the human experience on planet Earth, we haven’t had a single miracle. Now we need two.