Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.
But doing justice to the life of a man who has inspired so many by his own actions–not to mention by his powerful words and speeches–is no easy task. Amid the deluge of celebrity essays and standard-fare obituaries, we highlight a few compelling tributes to this extraordinary leader that shouldn’t be missed.
If there exists a myth today in any of this, it is not the ski mask, but the lie that has been repeated from those days onward, and even taken up by highly educated people, that the war against the Zapatistas lasted only 12 days.
There is a considerable urgency to making this transition to a human-scale food system. While many are generally aware that our current means of producing and distributing food is unsustainable, few seem to realize that what cannot continue will not continue, that the limits are already being reached, and that the effects will most certainly be felt in our lifetimes, even in what are now wealthy countries. This is not an issue where we can continue business as usual and expect the impact to be felt only by distant populations or by subsequent generations. It will be one where we must take personal responsibility for change, both for our own benefit and that of society in general.
What price a mobile phone? Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, passed after the 2008 crash, the US Securities and Exchange Commission set 2 June 2014 as the deadline for mining companies to report the provenance of minerals they put on commodities markets, the aim being to flag ‘conflict minerals’ as such. Minerals dug in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces, including coltan columbium tantalum cassiterite and gold, are used in capacitors and other components for tablets, phones and computers. Various armed rebel groups in and around the Kivus vie for control of the mostly hand-worked mines.
So in other words, we’re in a Catch-22 that may stymie any real progress toward degrowth until its far too late. But there may be a silver lining, as I note in the piece by quoting Bob Mankoff’s comic punchline:“And so while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”Enjoy it while it lasts!