When the economic world reaches 21: environmentalism, climate change, and the limits to growth

I always remember when we were kids and we start to appreciate sports. In the Philippines, one of the most popular sports that kids turn to is basketball. Kids as young as 7 years old would always look up to their NBA idols (Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwight Howard). Of course, in the game of basketball, height is a factor. The taller you are, the better you can play since you’ve gotta account for skills such as rebounding, close-shooting, blocking, and dunking. However, we know from our science classes that we can only grow to a certain height and not more than that. For boys, we stop growing after the age of 21.


But is the basketball-height analogy applicable to the world of development? Have we reached the limits as far as economic growth is concerned? The capitalist sense would say that the market should be let run freely, and if it entails continued growth and development, so be it. But recently we have experienced a lot of crises – the oil crisis of the 70s and the 2008 global financial crisis. Add to that a fledgling environmentalist movement that calls for environmental protection (which has obvious economic implications) as well as the emergence of the concept of sustainable development.


The concept of the population time-bomb (a Malthusian concept) suggests that overpopulation causes underdevelopment, and there is a need to limit population growth. Or, limit economic growth. Or, to avert a total catastrophe, limit the two altogether. Let the Third World remain Third World. 


Sounds to good to be true, eh? But how can that actually happen? The First World’s economic dependence on industries that entail high energy consumption is taking a toll on the Third World. Many would have observed that the First World’s energy reserves are starting to be depleted and they are looking to the Third World’s energy reserves to fuel their own industries. Although there are several new First World energy reserves that have been recently discovered (e.g. shale gas in the United States), extracting these reserves are seen to be detrimental to the environment (e.g. fracking). And with the continued rise of the high-energy industries (e.g. manufacturing, oil&gas, etc.), consequences such as increased carbon emissions are being felt by everyone, but it’s the Third World who suffers the most. True, the third world remains in poverty, but the first world is continually trying to grow itself, notwithstanding the probability that they may have already reached their growth tipping point.


Is limiting population growth an actual solution? I’d call more for responsible population growth. Our environment is suffering a lot because of higher populations. But actually cutting population growth is not a good solution either. Make the governments and their people responsible human beings. Teach kids to be more environmentally concerned, probably. I know, easier said than done.


And yeah, probably the world has reached 21 (using the basketball-height analogy). 



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