Inherently Unsustainable - Why Homo sapiens Is Inherently

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Inherently Unsustainable - Why Homo sapiens Is Inherently Powered By Docstoc
					Why Homo sapiens Is Inherently
(and what to do about it)

Faculty Seminar Series
William E. Rees, PhD
UBC School of Community and Regional Planning
Do We Understand the Problem?

“….no amount of ethical axiology, or
  legal, policy, and technological
  engineering, is going to solve
  problems that are misunderstood”
  (Drengson 1989).
Premise: Humans now partially direct
their own evolution
   Human evolution is now as much determined by
    socio-cultural factors as by biological factors.
   The dividing line between „nature‟ and „culture‟
    is not always clear. For example, human social
    behaviour has a biological basis. Moreover…
   Both cultural and biological„mutations‟ are
    subject to natural selection. That is…
   Maladaptive cultural traits and cultures can be
    „selected out‟.
Hypothesis: Industrial society is
inherently unsustainable
   „Unsustainability‟ is an emergent property of the
    systemic interaction between techno-industrial
    society and the ecosphere.
   The seeds of this ecological and social
    unsustainability spring from the very nature of
    Homo sapiens. That is…
   A predisposition for unsustainability is encoded
    in human physiology, social organization and
    behavioural ecology.
Homo sapiens, heal thyself

“Man will become better only when you
  make him see what he is like.”
  (Chekov, 1860-1904)
Coming to Know Who We Are
   Like other species, H. sapiens is endowed with specific
    attributes, predispositions, and abilities. We have used
    these to our competitive advantage in the evolutionary in
    ways that were conducive to our own sustenance,
    reproduction and survival. With industrial society an
    historically adaptive strategy has become dysfunctional,
    even pathological.
   “Unless we confront the idea, however dangerous, of our
    human nature and species being and get some
    understanding of them, we cannot know what it is we
    might be alienated from or what emancipation might
    mean” (Harvey 2000).
The Behavioural Factor: Our
Capacity for Self-Delusion
   “The human mind evolved to
    believe in gods… Acceptance of the
    supernatural conveyed a great
    advantage throughout history, when
    the brain was evolving” (E. O.
The Benign Side: Necessary
Cultural Myths
    Myths should be seen “…not as mistaken
    views but as comprehensive visions that
    give shape and direction to life”. [So
    interpreted, myths “move from being
    dispensable misunderstandings to essential
    categories that we all take for granted”
    (Grant 1998).
Science as Plastic Myth

   “Scientific theories are
    distinguished from myths merely
    in being criticizable, and in being
    open to modifications in the light
    of criticism.”
    (Sir Karl Popper).
    The Perverse Side: Deep Denial
    in the Service of Evil
   “For us to maintain our way of living, we
    must… tell lies to each other, and
    especially to ourselves… the lies act as
    barriers to truth. These barriers… are
    necessary because without them many
    deplorable acts would become
    impossibilities” (D. Jensen 2000).
Avoiding Reality
   “We have all by out actions or lack of
    them—in particular over the last quarter-
    century—agreed to deny reality.”
   “If we are unable to identify reality and
    therefore unable to act upon what we see,
    then we are not simply childish but have
    reduced ourselves to figures of fun—
    ridiculous figures of our unconscious”
    (J. Ralston Saul 1995).
Our (Unsustainable) Contemporary
Economic Myth
   Virtually all international agencies and national
    governments share a comprehensive vision of global
    development centered on unlimited economic expansion,
    fuelled by more liberalized trade.
   At the heart of this vision is the belief that human welfare
    can be all but equated with ever-expanding material well-
   This contemporary myth has been the principal force
    giving shape and direction to political and civil life in
    both high-income and so-called developing countries on
    every continent since the late1970s.
Cartesian Dualism
(Today‟s dominant cultural myth sees economy and
„environment‟ as all but separate systems.)

                   Growing              Energy and           Infinite
                   Economy              Resources         “Environment”
               • Separate from                            • Source of resources
               • Free of biophysical      Wastes          • Sink for wastes

 Expansionists treat the economy as an open, growing, independent system lacking any
         fundamentally important “connectedness” to an infinite environment.
The Expansionist Vision
(weak sustainability through techno-substitution)
   “If it is very easy to substitute other factors for natural
    resources, then… the world can, in effect, get along
    without natural resources, so exhaustion is just an
    event, not a catastrophe”
    (R. Solow 1973).
   “Technology exists now to produce in virtually
    inexhaustible quantities just about all the products
    made by nature…”, and: “We have in our hands
    now… the technology to feed, clothe, and supply
    energy to an ever-growing population for the next
    seven billion years…” (J. Simon 1995).
The Blindness of the Self-Deceived
   “[Like] other social value programs, the doctrine of „the
    global free market‟ itself does not recognize its ideology
    as ideology, but rather conceives of its prescriptions as
    „post-ideological‟ recognition of law-like truth (original
   The truth of the global market order is believed to be final
    and eternal, „the end of history.‟ Its rule is declared
    „inevitable.‟ Its axioms are conceived as „iron laws.‟
    Societies that dare to evade its stern requirements are
    threatened with „harsh punishments‟ and „shock
    treatments‟”(McMurtry 1998)
Flawed Assumptions of General
Competitive Equilibrium
“Today the general equilibrium model is …a basic part of the professional economist‟s tool
bag, and one that is increasingly used.”

    A free-market competitive equilibrium is efficient - i.e., demand
     equals supply in every market; all resources are fully utilized.
    No individual or firm can be made better off by altering the
     allocation of resources in any way, without making someone
     worse off (Pareto optimality). I.e, government intervention in the
     public interest is inefficient. But all this depends on:
    Diminishing marginal returns in consumption and production;
    Perfect competition among a hyper-infinite continuum of traders, all
     with perfect knowledge of all present and future markets;
    An infinite number of future markets;

     …and all these additional assumptions are clearly false.
Too Frail a Vessel in which to Float the
“New World Order”?
  “…there appear to be so many violations of
    the conditions under which competitive
    equilibrium exists that it is hard to see why
    the concept survives, except for the vested
    interests of the economics profession and
    the link between prevailing political
    ideology and the conclusions which the
    theory of general equilibrium provides.”
    (Ormorod, P. 1994. The Death of Economics)
The State of Economics in the U.S. (1)
(James K. Galbraith on the year 2000 meeting of the AEA)

   The great issues of economic policy -- inflation
    and unemployment, growth and stabilization, the
    government‟s budget, inequalities of income and
    wealth -- were missing.
   In short, what was most conspicuously missing
    … was any actual discussion of economic ideas.
    (Galbraith, J.K. How the Economists Got it Wrong.
    The American Prospect 11, No.7, Feb. 2000)
The State of Economics in the U.S. (2)
   So what is modern economics about? It seems to
    be mainly about itself. The AEA meets to
    celebrate the importance of its members, their
    presence in high positions,… (etc.)
   But self-absorption and consistent policy error are
    just two of the endemic problems… The deeper
    problem is the nearly complete collapse of
    prevailing economic theory… so complete, so
    pervasive, that the profession can only deny it by
    refusing to discuss theoretical questions…
    (Galbraith, J.K. How the Economists Got it Wrong.
     The American Prospect 11, No.7, Feb. 2000)
Economism Perverts Sound Economics
and Undermines Sustainability
   Globally, the marginal (ecological and social) costs
    of growth may already exceed the marginal benefits.
   If so, the world is currently promoting uneconomic
    growth - growth that impoverishes.
   In many rich countries today, there is no objective
    or felt improvement in well-being associated with
    rising GDP/incomes per capita.
Money Doesn‟t Buy Happiness
                   In many rich countries
                    today, there is no objective
                    or felt improvement in well-
                    being associated with rising
                    GDP/incomes per capita.
                   Here we see “…the strange,
                    seemingly contradictory
                    pattern in the United States
                    of rising real income and a
                    falling index of subjective
                    well-being (people report-
                    ing themselves as „very
                    happy‟) (Lane 2000).
Neo-Liberal Economics:
The Bain of Eco-Sustainability
“Neoclassical models do not incorporate any information about
actual ecosystems structure” (R. U. Ayres, et al.).

   Neoclassical economics (e.g., the circular flows
    model) lacks any representation of the material,
    energy sources, physical structures, and time-
    dependent processes that are basic to ecosystems.
   The implied simple, reversible, mechanistic behavior
    of the economy is inconsistent with the connectivity,
    irreversibility, and positive feedback dynamics of
    complex energy, information, and eco-systems, the
    systems with which the economy interacts in the real
    world (P.Christenson 1991).
Living the Myth: The Economy Grows
   Economy triples in size since 1980;
   Additional five-fold expansion of GWP
    anticipated by 2050;
   The human population has increased by
    30% since 1980 and is growing at 80
    million per year;
   Three to four billion more people will be
    added by 2050.
The Ecosphere Implodes
   Half the world‟s forests have been logged or
    converted and half the world‟s wetlands lost;
   Half the land on earth modified for human use;
   70% of major fish-stocks in jeopardy;
   Carbon dioxide up by 30% in a century;
   Biodiversity loss accelerating, now1000 times the
    „background‟ rate. (Twenty-four percent of
    mammals, 30% of fish, 25% of reptiles, 12% of
    birds are at risk of extinction).
Ecological Holism
  Solar Energy                   Non-Growing                             Heat Loss
                               Finite Ecosphere

                 Available           Economic
                 Energy and          Subsystem         Waste Energy
                  Matter                                and Matter

                                  Material Recycling

       Ecologists see the economy is an open, growing, wholly dependent
   subsystem of a materially-closed, non-growing, finite, ecosphere (Daly 1992).
Nested Dissipative Structures
Both the ecosphere and the economy are „self-
   producing, far-from-equilibrium dissipative
   structures. However, the economy is a wholly-
   contained subsystem of the ecosphere.
   The ecosphere evolves and maintains itself by dissipating
    exogenous solar energy.
   The economy grows and maintains itself by dissipating
    the ecosphere. In short,…
   The human enterprise is thermodynamically positioned to
    consume the ecosphere from within.
An Evolutionary Driver:
The „Maximum Power Principle‟
   “…the struggle for life is a struggle for free
    energy available for work” (Bolzman 1905)
   “Systems that prevail (i.e., successful
    systems) are systems that evolve to
    maximize their use of the energy [and
    material] resources available to them”
    (Lotka 1922).
The Human System “Prevails”

   Human appropriations from the ecosphere
    must satisfy both their bio-metabolism and
    their expanding industrial metabolism.
   Modern high-income consumers are the
    entropic equivalent of 100-200 pre-
    agricultural hunter-gatherers.
The human enterprise has expanded
relentlessly because of competitive superiority
   Humans display a uniquely broad and ever-
    widening food niche which extends from nearly
    pure carnivory to obligate herbivory.
   Humans are uniquely adaptive which enables our
    species to exploit virtually all the ecosystems and
    „environments‟ on Earth.
   Humans have complex language. Therefore…
   Human knowledge and technology are
The human enterprise expands by…
   Displacing other species from their niches
    (bison in North America; thousands of species in
    Indonesia‟s recent forest fires).
   Eliminating the competition
    (seals from fisheries; wolves from ungulates;
    insects from crops).
   Depleting both self-producing and non-
    renewable „natural capital‟ stocks
    (other species populations; forests; ground
    water; hydrocarbons).
The expansion of the human
…necessarily depletes nature
The Competitive Exclusion
   In accord with „maximum power‟, human evolutionary
    „success‟ is associated with ever-growing appropriations
    of energy and low-entropy material flows from nature.
   Energy and material appropriated from global totals for
    consumption/dissipation by humans are irreversibly
    unavailable to other consumer species. Or…
   „What we get, they don‟t.‟
   With increasing resource scarcity, global change, and the
    morals of the „new world order‟, the rich will also
    increasingly exclude the poor.
The Hidden Agenda:
Defending the Indefensible
   “We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6% of its
    population... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of
    envy and resentment. Our real task is to maintain this position
    of disparity without detriment to our national security (emphasis
    added). To do so, we will have to dispense with all
    sentimentality and daydreaming. We should cease to talk about
    vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of
    living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off
    when we are going to have to deal in straight power
    concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the
    (Cold War global strategist and Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor, George F.
    Kennan, Presidential Policy Statement 23 TOP SECRET [1948])
The Visible Program
   Economist J.W. Smith observes that the terms of
    trade and of the structural adjustment programs
    forced upon Third World countries, are exactly
    opposite to the policies under which the wealthy
    nations developed.
   This tells us that the power brokers of the
    developed countries know exactly what they are
    doing. “Their grand strategy is to impose unequal
    trades upon the world so as to lay claim to the
    natural wealth and the labors of the weak nations”
    (J.W. Smith.Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21 st
    Century, Chap. 10 [2000]).
Who is Financing Whose Development?

   While developed countries claim to be financing
    the developing countries, the poor countries are
    actually financing the rich through low pay for
    equally productive labor, investment in
    commodity production for the wealthy world, and
    other dimensions of unequal trade.
   In the 1960s „only‟ three dollars flowed North for
    every dollar flowing South; by the late 1990s, the
    ratio was seven to one.
    Wealth Distribution Today
   In 1970 the richest 10% of the worlds citizens
    earned 19 times as much as the poorest 10%.
    By 1997, the ratio had increased to 27:1.
   In 1997, the wealthiest 1% of the world‟s
    people commanded the same income as the
    poorest 57%.
   Just 25 million rich Americans (.4% of the
    world‟s people) had a combined income
    greater than that of the poorest 2 billion
    people (43% of the world population).
    (Income ratios reflect purchasing power parity [data from UNDP 2001])
Yet the Media Play the Myth
   These protesters… have no coherent idea of what they
    are after… there is talk of a better shake for the world‟s
    poor, yet the demonstrators appear to be against the only
    thing giving the world‟s poorest nations any hope at all:
    continued economic growth, led by import-happy
    Americans whose purchases help put food on the table
    from Bolivia to Bangladesh.
   That is why, young and handsome as these protesters so
    often are, it is important to crush them—figuratively of
    course—if they won‟t go home and find some other
    means of exorcising their great guilt at their own good
    (Daniel Akst, NY times, 8/5/01)
    The Challenge: Is Homo sapiens Really
    a Rational Species?
   “The rise and fall of cultures… has always been
    primarily determined by the tides of human passion, not
    by the ebb and flow of reason.”
   “…only a small fraction of the population is consistently
    capable of applying the most basic rules of evidence to
    emotionally-derived or emotionally-loaded
   “…[people‟s] widespread tendency to suspend disbelief
    ensures that those who covet leadership and political
    prestige… will act as if unaware of the avalanche of data
    signaling ecospheric distress (Morrison, 1999).
Is there a solution?
   The solution to (un)sustainability lies in exercising a
    quality that, more than any other, distinguishes Homo
    sapiens from other species, the capacity for self-
    awareness and for rational thought.
   To survive, humans must consciously override now
    maladaptive genetically-based behavioural tendencies
    (e.g., competitive individualism and tribalism) that can
    lead only to civil strife, war and ecological destruction in
    favour of adaptive predispositions (e.g., international
    cooperation) that might ensure mutual survival.
   We must seize control of our destiny. Success in this
    endeavour would herald the next stage in human
    evolution, the dominance of the intellect over both genetic
    predisposition and cultural myth.
Ecological (Maximum) Power Politics
   “ long as [ecological] decline is seen as
    temporary, advantaged groups are likely to accept
    policies of relief and redistribution as the price of
    order and the resumption of growth. Once it is
    accepted as a persisting condition, however, they
    will increasingly exert economic and political
    power to regain their absolute and relative
    (Ted Gurr 1985).

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