The book Limits to Growth doesn’t answer everything about the environment and sustainability, but I find it gives the best high-level, systemic understanding of the patterns of humanity’s overall interaction with nature.
The authors created a model and ran simulations. It could have happened that none corresponded with observation, but after 50 years, there is remarkable correspondence, as researched by podcast guest Gaya Herrington. I recommend reading her results after reading the book.
Reading Limits to Growth is like learning to sail.
Their results teach you generally what we can do, but many things are beyond our control. In sailing we can’t control the wind or currents, but we can still have a great time. In humanity’s interactions with nature, we can’t control how much natural resources exist or the laws of physics, but we can, in principle, still have a great time.
If we sail beyond sight of land, we vastly increase our risk if we haven’t learned and prepared enough. If we sail into a hurricane, no amount of preparation will help us.
The environmental equivalents of sailing in uncharted territory or stormy conditions are overpopulation and overconsumption. We vastly increase our risk if we haven’t learned and prepared enough if we overpopulate and overconsume. The longer we go, no amount of preparation will help us.
The equivalent of sailing in charted territory and pleasant breezes is enjoying what we have, living within our means. People call me extreme for trying to live sustainably, but the people saying it are sailing into a hurricane. I’m staying within sight of land.
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