The Earth Is Full

sickearth

This is the headline of Tom Friedman's column today. The first few paragraphs carry the same message as my post of yesterday. The only difference is that several orders of magnitude more readers see his stuff than read mine.

You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

“The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

Another case of synchronicity. Gilding is a self proclaimed "eco-optimist." Friedman writes,

As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he [Gilding] says, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

This response is pretty iffy. Why not start now? Take a lead from the Transition Town movement and begin to make the changes deliberately. The pain, which is inevitable, would be much less.

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William D'Alessandro said:

I couldn't agree with you more. However, Tom Friedman is not a particularly reliable commentator on environmental affairs. Several articles explaining why are in Crosslands Bulletin.

On a related note is this article from the newsletter in 2009 suggesting that global footprinting has not been a reliable guide for making public policy decisions:

October 12, 2009

Ecological Footprint Called ‘Inadequate’

Provincial agency says the approach should not be used to guide policy.

Although useful in making people aware of the consequences of their consumption habits, the ecological footprint is not a good basis for political decisions. The Institut de la statistique du Québec, the official statistical agency for the Canadian province of Québec, draws the conclusion in a study, L’empreinte écologique: revue de littérature et analyse critique (The Ecological Footprint: Review and Critical Assessment). It is available in French with an English summary.
The ecological footprint measures the biological productivity necessary to meet the requirements of a given population. The area covers the land and water required to produce the resources and absorb the waste generated during consumption. The difference between biological capacity and the human demand is the deficit or reserve.

The Global Footprint Network (GFN) established in 2003 is an organization that works to accelerate use of the resource accounting tool. The ecological footprint can be measured for a person, a business, a municipality, a country, or the planet. But the Quebec institute concludes that the scope of the GFN method is insufficient because the social and economic aspects of development are not measured.

The review also finds no consensus in the literature or in practice on the statistical framework for the footprint. Few governments use it as a sustainable development indicator.

For information contact Stéphanie Uhde, Institut de la statistique du Québec, 200 chemin Sainte-Foy, 3e étage, Québec, QC G1R5T4, Canada. Tel: 418 691 2411, Ext. 3002; Fax: +1: 418 643 4129; E-mail: stephanie.uhde@stat.gouv.qc.ca.


John Ehrenfeld Author Profile Page said:

Yes, Friedman does not always get the facts straight, but in this case, he's close enough to allow me and him to make the point. Others have said the same thing much more authoritatively, but have nowhere near the readership that Friedman does. Your prior discussion about the usefulness of footprint analysis is also helpful, but in this case, it is sufficient to make the point. We're talking about gross changes in societal beliefs and behavior, not fine tuning public policy where footprints lack, as you say, information about "social and economic aspects of development."