29.2 C
Byron Shire
January 26, 2021

Brick walls or rubber bands? The nature of ecological limits

Latest News

What to do with no booze at your party

Eve Jeffery It’s almost human nature, certainly Australian nature, to celebrate with a drink. Nothing says wetting the baby’s head...

Other News

A short history of our rail corridor debate

The debate over our disused rail corridor has long gone stale. It is acrimonious, ideological, and exhibits a strong tendency to avoid key points.

Fellow Second Peoples, the work of justice and reconciliation is ours

It’s not just up to Indigenous people to bear the load of communicating the truth of our history and seeking justice around this day.

Cr Darlene Cook: more to Lismore City Council than roads, rates and rubbish

In the first of a series about those who are putting their hats in the ring to be the next mayor of Lismore, Cr Darlene Cook talks about the issues close to her heart, for the city at the heart of the Northern Rivers.

Mullum gravity mains

Alan Dickens, Brunswick Heads The Water & Waste Sewer Advisory Committee (WWSAC) submitted to the elected council that a five-year...

Biden Inauguration: speech, song and poetry herald new era for America

‘The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.’ After four years of turmoil, Joe Biden offered hope and calm to the American people in his first speech as President.

Of concrete & canals

Matthew Hartley, Byron Bay A sharp-eyed observer sent me a link to a paywalled article advancing the conversion of the...

Jason van Tol

The concept of a limit can invoke the image of a brick wall; when driving at high speeds, sudden death can occur with one small error in steering.

The brick wall metaphor for the concept of ‘limit’ has characteristics of immediacy and finality. Herman Daly has suggested that a more appropriate model for ecological limits is a rubber band. A stretched rubber band resists and pulls back to a position of equilibrium, and the more it is stretched the harder it pulls back.

As the expansion of human numbers and economic activity proceeds, we shape the environment to suit our needs. Every species has its own characteristic niche in an ecosystem, but in the age of the Anthropocene, the scale of our influence on the environment has come to dominate.

While the current pandemic may appear to be a random misfortune, it has been expected by epidemiologists for at least 15 years, following the first SARS (a type of coronavirus) outbreak in 2003.

What causes an outbreak?

Dr Peter Daszak is a disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance, which conducts research on global health and ecological conservation. In a recent interview on Democracy Now, Dr Daszak was asked to comment on the environmental origins of COVID-19.

Having worked for 20 years on identifying the causes of disease outbreaks, he named two principal causes:

1) dense and growing human populations, and

2) land-use changes as people move into new areas, by building roads for mines or logging, and encroaching on wildlife habitat.

While he stated that the origin of the current coronavirus is not exactly certain, his past research in China has demonstrated that bats are common carriers for many types of coronaviruses, and that increased human contact with wildlife, like bats, is usually the cause of disease outbreaks.

Economic growth and human population

It is important to recognise that economic growth is at the core of government policy worldwide. At the same time, the human population, currently at about 7.8 billion, is expected to continue growing, to between 9 and 10 billion by mid-century. With this is mind, Dr Daszak and other epidemiologists expect that continued growth will result in other, and even more severe, pandemics in future.

The counter model to the growth economy is the steady state economy, as promoted by Daly and other ecological economists. Two of its key characteristics are a steady or mildly fluctuating population of humans, and a steady or mildly fluctuating stock of human-made things.

The steady state economy comes out of the field of ecological economics, which is organised around three hierarchical goals, the first of which is called ‘sustainable scale’, which attempts to answer the question ‘how big’ should the economy be? Notable is that this question is completely absent in standard economics, which advises unlimited growth instead.

What’s fair?

Taking this into account, the steady state economy has an important role to play in avoiding planetary sickness, but so too does the second goal of ecological economics. The second goal, constrained by the first, is called ‘fair distribution’, which attempts to answer the question, ‘How much should each person get?’

Since the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776, the free market economy has been fiercely defended, where governments have no role in wealth redistribution, and where each individual attempts to aggrandise their own personal gain. This, we are told, will lead to an optimal social outcome.

If there was ever any doubt about this doctrine, the current pandemic is showing that it is clearly false. It is to everyone’s advantage that everyone has health care coverage, regardless of their ability to pay.

It is to everyone’s advantage that everyone has unemployment insurance, and sick leave, so they are not forced to work while sick themselves. And it is to everyone’s advantage that everyone makes a decent wage, so nobody is forced to work long hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, running themselves down, compromising their immune systems, and further facilitating the spread of disease.

Yet global inequality is reaching dizzying heights, where, according to Oxfam, the eight richest people in the world have the same combined wealth as the bottom half of the global population.

The planet pushes back

COVID-19 is just one manifestation of an ecological limit that economic and population growth are pressing on. Climate change, biodiversity loss, colony collapse disorder, plastics in the ocean, are just a few others. Notice that none of these limits has resulted in immediately and finally ending growth – we are still fuelling climate change, producing plastics, and encroaching on wildlife areas. Rather, using the rubber band metaphor, we can say that these are ecological limits pushing back on the growth of the global economy and human population, and the more we continue to grow, the harder they will push back.


Recent stories, information and updates regarding COVID-19

Queensland Health issues public health alert

Queensland Health is asking anyone who has arrived from New Zealand since 14 January, including on green corridor flights, to get tested and quarantine until they receive a negative test result.

0

Keep free parking at LBH – HSU and Saffin

The Health Services Union has called on Lismore City Council to reconsider a decision to cancel free all-day street parking at Lismore Base Hospital.

0

Access to capital critical for small business

Many businesses and in particular small business, have been really struggling under the weight of COVID-19 and with the rollback of Jobkeeper, things have just gotten tougher.

0

Meaningful lockdown more satisfying than busyness

New research shows people who pursue meaningful activities – things they enjoy doing – during lockdown feel more satisfied than those who simply keep themselves busy

0

UK variant of COVID-19 linked to hotel cleaner

Queensland Health says that the partner of the quarantine hotel cleaner who tested positive to the UK variant of COVID-19 on 7 January 2021, has also tested positive to COVID-19.

0

Former MLC critical of councillors in NYE aftermath

Former Greens MLC Ian Cohen has lashed out at councillors for their lack of preparation for NYE.

1

Tweed mayor supports Brisbane lockdown

The Mayor of Tweed Chris Cherry says she supports the swift action of the Queensland Government in introducing a 3-day lockdown of the Greater Brisbane area in response to a COVID-19 case.

0

The Greater Brisbane lockdown restrictions

Queensland Health has clarified transit restrictions in place from 6pm last night (Friday, 9 January), limiting incoming and outgoing movements from the Greater Brisbane Area.

0


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

2 COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -

Hand-picked beans make the best brew for Bangalow Coffee

Story & photo Melissa Butters Andy and Michelle have been serving up great coffee at farmers markets for 18 years. Andy, an exploration geologist, and...

A lot to bang on about at golf clubs and bowlos

Gone are the days when services and sports clubs dished up a choice between a pie and chips, or bangers and mash. Food in clubs...

Entertainment in the Byron Shire for the week beginning 27 January, 2021

Lemon Chicken is not only a Chinese takeaway favourite, it's also a great local five piece band who play songs that you forgot you loved. They like to pick and choose from the fine selection of great tunes we all grew up on.

Rail Trail or nothing!

Neil McKenzie, Bangalow David Lisle’s article A short history of our rail corridor debate summed up succinctly and accurately the compelling case for a rail trail,...
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -