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When demand outstrips supply
on 26 September 2005
Overshoot: when demand overtakes supply.
I recall buying the original edition of this book back in 1972, and also recall the rubbishing it got from those who believed it was all scare mongering.
The events of the 1970's should have acted as wake-up call, but they now seem like a distant memory: the three-day-week, the power cuts, the petrol rationing coupons (never implemented).
Since 1972, growth has been given a huge boost by globalisation, and the take-offs in China and India.
When this book was published in its 1992 edition - 'Beyond the Limits' - the authors warned that unsustainability was already evident: deforestation, climate change, the ozone hole.
They point to the failure of various international summits to get a grip on the problem.
It seems that our elites are vaguely aware that there is a problem here, and mention it in passing to give the impression that they on the case. It is usually on the list of the many things the Prime Minister is going to sort out before dinner.
The Kyoto protocols were some sort of triumph. But the developing nations, like China and India were not included and George W Bush doesn't seem to be persuaded that there's a problem.
The lack of urgency is widespread: as the victims of Katrina and Rita now know better than the rest of us.
Yet it's all something we know. We all know, for example, that the oil is going to dry up some day, but what the heck? It won't be next week, will it?
But someday it is going to be someone else's next week.
When that time comes, all the lost local skills will suddenly be missed. For that is what it will be: a return to the local economy. Your food, your shelter, your clothing, will all have be sourced locally. In the UK's case it's drop-back over two hundred years, minus the skills that were around in those days.
So, for the third time since 1972, the authors lay it all before us: what needs to be done.
First, and most painfully, there is no time to be lost:
"The longer the world economy takes to reduce its ecological footprint and move towards sustainability, the lower the population and material standard of living that will be ultimately supportable. At some point delay means collapse."
In the chapter "Transitions to a Sustainable System" the authors show us just how dramatic the changes need to be.
They offer our elites the chance to start the changes now, while there is time to manage the changeover.
They all make sense, but they require something more than political action, they require an end to individualism as we have known it. This is the leap many people will not be able to make
Out must go the competition for individual power, status, and wealth which are the engines of the current society. Reflect on that: and you see the enormity of the task.