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Enough is Enough

13:51 14/10/2019
Enough is Enough

Debates linking climate disaster to consumerism, excess and injustice are far from new. The missiologist and former Bishop of Winchester, John Taylor published Enough is Enough with SCM Press in 1975. Over 40 years later, much of it feels like it could have been written yesterday. Here is an extract:

***

'I wish you wouldn't squeeze so,' said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to her. 'I can hardly breathe.'
'I can't help it,' said Alice very meekly: I'm growing.'
'You've no right to grow here,' said the Dormouse.
'Don't talk nonsense,' said Alice more boldly: 'You know where you're growing too.'
'Yes by grow at a reasonable pace,' said the Dormouse: 'not in that ridiculous fashion.'
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Three years ago economists, ecologists and social scientists started a violent debate which has continued ever since. In January 1972 The Ecologist devoted a whole issue to A Blue-Print for Survival. It appeared over the name of thirty-three scholars, mostly scientists and obviously sincere. It was based largely on a book which the authors had seen, though it was not published until two months later: The Limits to Growth. This had been written by Dennis L. Meadows and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the auspices of an informal association of industrialists, scientists, economists and educators, calling itself the Club of Rome. 

The Limits to Growth derives its arguments from an intricate world-model which shows the inter-play of such factors as the global growth of population, of industrial capital, of environmental pollution, and the exhaustion of the world's non-renewable resources of minerals, chemicals and fossil fuels, and the insuperable limit to food yields. 

The conclusions of the study were deeply pessimistic:

  1. If the global figures for population and for industrial output continue to increase, as at present, in a geometrical progression - or, to use jargon, exponentially - then natural resources which are non-renewable will become exhausted during the next century. Agriculture and industry will slow down more and more until food production becomes inadequate for the human race.
  2. If that model is correct by new discoveries of non-renewable resources and by recycling wherever possible, then a rising pollution of the environment will bring about a drastic decline in food production early in the next century.
  3. If, besides solving the problem of natural resources, pollution is statutorily reduced, then industrial production can have a longer lease of life, but the population explosion will exhaust the food supplies.
  4. Even if the population is levelled off and the research enables us to double our food yields, then the exhaustion of the land, the eventual depletion of resources and the slower but still inexorable accumulation of pollution must ensure the collapse of the human life system by the end of the next century.

One is reminded of the words of a much earlier and greater prophet of doom: 'It will be as when a man runs from a lion, and a bear meets him, or turns into a house and leans his hand on the wall, and a snake bites him.' But the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, like the prophet Amos, does not leave us entirely without hope. The conclusion of the argument, we are told, is that we must immediately plan - hopefully the start date 1975 is proposed - to level off the upward curves of population growth, industrial output, pollution and, a little later, per capita food production in order to achieve a stabilized global equilibrium.

There is obviously no surer way of rousing the emotions of economists than to suggest that the highly developed countries of the West should deliberately stop the growth of capital investment, slow down industry's consumption of raw materials, and set about educating the citizens to expect a levelling-off of the standard of living. To say these things is to challenge the basic assumptions of the economic theory by which we have lived since the 1930s and, with rather less awareness, for far longer than this.

[…]

The heated argument of the doom debate will go on, no doubt, for a long time. I am not qualified to join issue over this or that prognosis of the world's sickness; I am more interested in diagnosis of its present state of health. I have a deep fear that those who might have the skill to give us accurate predictions will not be allowed to do so until it is too late. But a disciple of Christ should be the last person to put aside his share of responsibility for the future with a shrug of despair. As John Poulton has put it:

Man's future is upon him. Christians will be heard speaking of God most plainly when they are seen to cope with Future Shock as if there is One in control, the Lord of all change, the Lord always coming towards them from that future. (John Poulton People Under Pressure, 1973)

That faith does not equip us with the skill to measure and predict. We can only clamour through the corridors of power that the experts be aided to do that adequately for the survival of our race. But in the meantime what everyone of us can do is forego the lethal folly of our ways and then throw our whole weight into a sustained campaign against the attitudes of our affluent society and all those who deliberately seek to engender them in us. For, whatever the ins and outs of the doom debate, the message that comes through is clear and simple enough for action. It is intolerable to maintain the ever-rising standards of the few upon the poverty of the many. Any attempt to raise all to parity with the rich will destroy our world. The rich - ourselves - must learn to be content with less.