Environmentalists thrive on doom and gloom, but a new scientific paper notes that in every notable area the demand for commodities is declining in the prosperous nations, and we can expect developing nations to take a similar trajectory as they take advantage of technology to grow. We’ve passed peak travel due to urbanisation, peak paper due to digital technology, peak plastic, and even peak baby. Technological advances in food production mean that less land is needed to produce more food so that marginal agricultural land is going back to nature. “Americans are dematerialising” partly because of smart devices- think smart phones replacing a dozen or more single use devices.
From Don Aitkin:
At the beginning of his Encyclical, Pope Francis said this: The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor… Because I was reading on to see what he wanted to say about global warming and ‘climate change’ I let that passage pass, though I felt it was hyperbolic in the extreme, and I made a glancing reference to the issue in my essay of that time.
It is pleasant to be able to say that His Holiness can take comfort from a stirring account of the positive changes that have been occurring to Nature in at least the developed parts of the world. The monograph, Nature Rebounds, is by Jesse Asubel of Rockefeller University in the USA. Dr Asubel leads a research program that aims to find the technical means to facilitate a large, prosperous society that emits little or nothing harmful and spares large amounts of land and sea for nature. He is closely associated with the concepts of decarbonization, dematerialization, land sparing, and industrial ecology. Sounds good?
His little book is a good read, too. Asubel starts with the story of the bear that recently killed a hiker in New Jersey, close to New York City. The last known bear attack in NJ was 150 years ago. America, it seems, is going back to Nature. There seem to be about 2500 wild bears in the state, with a hunting season for six days to keep the numbers down. Protesters have picketed the area in an attempt to stop the hunt. It all sounds reminiscent of the annual fuss about the cull of kangaroo numbers in Australia’s capital city.
In contrast to the Pope’s argument, Dr Asubel says that in the USA (and I would argue the much the same is true of Australia) …[a] series of decouplings is occurring, so that our economy no longer advances in tandem with exploitation of land, forests, water, and minerals. American use of almost everything except information seems to be peaking, not because the resources are exhausted, but because consumers changed consumption and producers changed production. Changes in behavior and technology liberate the environment.
The rest of the monograph spells out his message. In farming, grain harvests are five times larger than they were in 1940, but with no more, or even less, land being used. Pesticides, nitrogen, phosphates, potash and even water are used less than they once were. The conversion of crops to meat has also decoupled, because farmers are now much more efficient than they once were.