The Lie of Sustainable Growth

The Lie of Sustainable Growth

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The Lie of Sustainable Growth

Message 5 of the Frontier Files

c 1995, Rick N. Tumlinson / Space Frontier Foundation

This message is part of a series of Space Frontier Foundation essays designed to inform the internet public about the incredible possibilities awaiting us in space.

We see the future as limitless, and our planet as part of a much larger Solar System that is rich in size, energy, materials and possibilities for invention and discovery.

Not so for those who are supposedly guiding us toward that future.

Our leaders have developed the 20th century’s version of the Flat Earth concept. But this time, rather than placing us on a world flat as a pancake, they have trapped us in a bubble. Five hundred years after the beginning of Age of Enlightenment, society has merely expanded the size of its mental prison, and all current thinking is trapped in the cage of earth and its biosphere. This is a cage in our minds. It is this idea lurking behind such phrases as “limits to growth,” or today’s vogue term in social-planning circles: “sustainable growth.”

Sustainable growth. On its face, the concept is admirable. And in fact we agree with most of its tenets. Our species must preserve, recycle and reuse whatever we can to protect our ecosphere. Space may be our future, but even the most optimistic of us realize the great majority of the human race will be right here on earth for some time. We must preserve it.

But without space included in the equation, “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. Think about it a moment. It suggests a pattern of growth somehow continuing indefinitely within a closed bubble — but a bubble can only “sustain” so much growth before we bump into the walls. Proponents of this view plan for all of the world’s people to live under a global set of rules designed to limit our inevitably increasing damage to the biosphere. They hope to “manage” human society through treaties and agreements that percolate down to the level of local laws.

Very few people have followed this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, especially those of us in the most technologically developed societies; yet it we who have the most to lose. We already consume and pollute far out of proportion to the small percentage of the world’s population we comprise — and virtually everyone on Earth aspires to the same high-consumption lifestyle.

Even with huge improvements in clean technology and recycling, under the closed sustainable growth scenario, it is simply impossible for every human on the planet Earth to achieve the lifestyle of the average North American without destroying that same planet. Yet, morally, there is absolutely no reason they should not be as rich as we are. Who can blame them when they try?

It need not be us or them.

We can sustain the growth of the human species and the other life of planet Earth only by bursting the bubble. We must open the space frontier.

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