In 1950, very early in my life, the world human population was a little over 2.5 billion. That was about five years after the end of a major global human slaughter known as WWII. Before the slaughter it was around 2.3 billion. About a hundred fifty years before that, 1800, the global population was somewhere around 800 million to 1.1 billion. By 1990 we were at around 5.2 billion, and now we're over 7.4 billion. (sources: Population Estimates, World Population Clock)
I want to talk a little bit about the concept of sustainability. Just a little, there's way too much to say to try to cover it all.
I remember reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1963 while our family farm was on its last legs, driven into bankruptcy by the high production methods of the Green Revolution that we also call industrial farming.
The Green Revolution refers to a set of research and development of technology transfer initiatives occurring between the 1930s and the late 1960s (with prequels in the work of the agrarian geneticist Nazareno Strampelli in the 1920s and 1930s), that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives resulted in the adoption of new technologies...
Green Revolution definition:
noun: green revolution
a large increase in crop production in developing countries achieved by the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and high-yield crop varieties.
In 1963 we were doggedly practicing what my father honored as the Rodale methods of agriculture. We were not competing well with the high production of those rapidly spreading industrial methods, nor were we receiving the government subsidies that helped those who were farming industrially to get their corporate farms up and running.
J. I. Rodale, who founded Rodale Inc, first published Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942. With that magazine, he attempted to share his methods for growing better food without using chemicals to enhance production, which would, meanwhile, destroy the natural fertility of the soil. Some might see Rodale as a Luddite response to a technology that would dramatically change the entire culture of family farming in the world. My father and his family, who'd survived the Great Depression on a 20 acre farm on the outskirts of Detroit, were among its foundational readers and eventual practitioners. Rodale was the inspiration for what later became the rise of organic farming, and what would become a recognized branding as part of the industrial conception for distributing food and gaining public trust, and thus a market, in some lines of food as the public itself responded to the Rachel Carson wake up call, and helped invoke the creation of the EPA, and participated in the rise of an environmental movement in the late sixties and early seventies. But that came nearly a decade after we went bankrupt trying to compete with industrial agriculture methods, a bit too late for us to save our farm by actually having a methods for our type of food products. Nevertheless, that aside, I trace my own personal history as an environmentalist to that reading in 1963.
All that is simply a prelude to where things have gone for me since then, to where I see things have come to now for humans, and especially where they may be going for humans in the so-called “developed” sectors of the world, like the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, and increasingly other rapidly industrializing sectors like China. I watched an environmental movement grow and spread as an idea and (very importantly) as a public attitude during the 1970s. Then I watched while corporations took back “their” country (as prescribed by the now famous Powell Memo), and, as part of the process, used their corporate-owned media and thus a propaganda system for Manufacturing Consent, to make a joke of environmentalists like me, of the Carter Presidency that began with a promise and ended with a wimper. I watched as the rise of corporate power through the eighties brought our now inverted totalitarian corporatocracy, under the banner of Reaganism, into fruition with an eventual corporate coup d'etat -- as the Canadian intellectual John Ralston Saul pithily identified it in his 1992 tome Voltaire's Bastards.
What I consider myself doing now is what I've been calling on a web site I recently created: Watching Apocalypse. Pretty much everything I'm seeing was understood to be coming about when I was studying anthropology and ecology at Michigan State University, which, ironically is also one of the primary ag-education institutions to develop, with the help of government and corporate funding, the methods of the Green Revolution. I still recall one of the well know food scientists from that institution, Georg Borgström, walking into one of my ecology classes as a guest lecturer, slamming down his latest book on the desk, which got our attention, then announcing loudly in his Swedish accent, “The Green Revolution is dead!” Georg was, by then, rapidly becoming the world's conscience on the division between the rich and the poor, and the ruthless exploitation of nature with the forthcoming risks to both the environment and the eventual capacity of the modern way of life to support a rapidly growing population.
Recently I was reminded of a book I read back in 1980, just before Reagan was elected. Here's the title: Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by William R. Catton. The revolution with a hope for that revolutionary change he speaks of was what had taken place in the attitudes that brought about the environmental movement in the 70s. He was writing on the cusp of that brief revolution, and another revolving of the 10,000 year cycling of civilization had already begun, bringing us back to a human-centering process once again. I remember it being called the Reagan revolution. Catton's work is now considered by many in the field to be a classic. I think it pretty well sumarizes everything I was aware of at that time, plus presciently says what we are watching emerge now. Thus what was said then is completely relevant now, if not more so. It's one of those books I loaned out and never got back, so I picked up another one, plus a Kindle edition.
I mention it because on occasion I've tried to explain the idea of sustainability to various people. Usually without much success. I realize as I try that it takes a great deal of ecological context to get to the idea itself. Ecological thinking is not widely taught in our system of education because it is founded on the principles of systems thinking, which, because they are so intertwined and thus complex, do not tweet very well, nor sound bite well on the evening news. The first two paragraphs in his first chapter, Our Need for a New Perspective, however, summarizes the attitude of sustainability, even if a complete context is not so easily brought to light when trying to discuss it:
Quote William R. Catton:
On the banks of the Volga in 1921 a refugee community was visited by an American newspaper correspondent who had come to write about the Russian famine. 1 Almost half the people in this community were already dead of starvation. The death rate was rising. Those still surviving had no real prospect of prolonged longevity. In an adjacent field, a lone soldier was guarding a huge mound of sacks full of grain. The American newsman asked the white-bearded leader of the community why his people did not overpower this one guard, take over the grain, and relieve their hunger. The dignified old Russian explained that the sacks contained seed to be planted for the next growing season. “We do not steal from the future,” he said.
Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future. That is what this book is about. It is not just a book about famine or hunger. Famine in the modern world must be read as one of several symptoms reflecting a deeper malady in the human condition— namely, diachronic competition, a relationship whereby contemporary well-being is achieved at the expense of our descendants. By our sheer numbers, by the state of our technological development, and by being oblivious to differences between a method that achieved lasting increments of human carrying capacity and one that achieves only temporary supplements, we have made satisfaction of today's human aspirations dependent upon massive deprivation for posterity.
Catton, William R. (2015-04-10). Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (Kindle Locations 228-238). University of Illinois Press. Kindle Edition.
Every day I get writings in my email from various science-oriented publications about the evolving state of our world.
Here's a recent one, published yesterday: The Oceans Can’t Protect Us Anymore—Here’s Why
These topics recur as if someone's supposed to do something about an issue if only it becomes public knowledge. I introduced a similar discussion about the oceans in this thread back in December of 2013, Ocean Apocalypse. An evening talk by Jeremy Jackson presented at the U.S. Naval War College was the OP subject matter of that thread. My teacher from the ecology program at Michigan State back in the 70s had already, then, written about what we, the human species, were doing to the oceans in a series of books about Fish as Food in the sixties, which included a detailed examination of the Japanese efforts to feed themselves off the Ocean commons, in an increasingly eco-destructive way: Japan's World Success in Fishing (1964).
There are so many of these topics that I see scattered here and there. They are introduced usually in disconnected pieces, often mixed in with all sorts of other news, and then, just as often, lost in the shuffle. Only someone with an ecological consciousness and an ongoing narrative of their own is likely to notice and make sense of them. And then what? On goes the human world pretty much as it's been going. We are expecting that somehow about 10 billion of us will be inhabiting this planet before the end of this century. That's if all continues to go as expected, of course. Collapse is seldom considered a reality from within the thinking processes of any given complex society.
A second work, published in 1988 tells the other part of the story that goes with Overshoot. I consider it and Overshoot all anyone needs to read to get acquainted with our current predicament. Title: The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter.
Here's a pretty clear youtube presentation by Tainter that describes the theory he presents in that work: Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter
Once you understand that theory, which is kind of a detailed aspect of the whole idea of overshoot, you can begin to create your own narrative about what's going on. You can even begin to do your own private viewing of apocalypse unfolding.