Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet Is Not Possible
Dr Tim Weiskel, Research Director, Cambridge Climate Research Associates

As an anthropologist who looks at the broad sweep of history, Tim has been struck by the enduring legacy that European colonialism has left as a mark upon the world since 1492.  The physical impact of colonialism is now being understood in a new light as we come to understand that through its emphasis on long-distance maritime trading networks, European colonialism acted to trigger the “marginalization” of the human species, a process which is still continuing today. On all continents, in all cultures and in all national traditions humans are moving collectively from the center of continents toward the margins of continents.  In an age when sea level is rising, this will prove to be increasingly problematic.
 

Other conceptual and intellectual legacies of the European colonial moment include the habit that Europeans acquired of thinking of the world as a continuously expanding “frontier.” This was a metaphor that distorted the reality of a spherical Earth, but, nonetheless, it spawned the powerful myth of perpetual growth and the illusion that humans could effectively conquer and control the global ecosystem and manage it for their own maximum benefit.
 

These large-scale delusions which govern public policy to this day need to be re-examined in the light of basic biology if we are going to survive on a finite planet.  As a species we do not stand apart from nature.  The only chance for our collective survival is that we come to the realization very soon that we are instead a part of nature, and we must learn how to re-insert ourselves into Earth’s biogeochemical cycling systems.
 

The fact is that we will not be able to persist for very much longer in the 21st century with the fantasies and myths born of the European colonial experience.  We need to learn how to become a participant species in a complex ecosystem. As any biologist will affirm, no known organism or population of organisms can outlive its life support system.  Humans will be no exception to this fundamental biological law.  Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.  We had better start soon to explore the transitions we will need to make to achieve sustainability in the 21st century.

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9 October 2017
Duration: 23min
Size: MB