Humans will consume more and more until we destroy the planet – common wisdom that is all wrong. This fascinating article documents a turning point in the United States and United Kingdom. There is:
Substantial evidence not only that Americans were consuming fewer resources per capita but also that they were consuming less in total of some of the most important building blocks of an economy: things such as steel, copper, fertilizer, timber, and paper. Total annual U.S. consumption of all of these had been increasing rapidly prior to 1970. But since then, consumption had reached a peak and then declined.
Of 72 resources tracked by the USGS, from aluminum and antimony through vermiculite and zinc, only six are not yet post-peak. reason.com
America has reduced its consumption in absolute terms, not just per capita, and not just in the aftermath of the Great Recession. “Dematerialization” doesn’t mean some kind of scifi technology. It’s our future.
Steel, copper, aluminum, timber, paper, fertilizer, water, cropland – America’s use of these and more has peaked and now trends downward. Growth in the use of plastics is tapering off – won’t it be great if plastics follow the same trend?
Just as we’re learning to produce renewable energy more economically, our total energy use is leveling off.
All this while GDP continues to grow.
A great reversal of our Industrial Age habits is taking place.
Eurostat data show that countries including Germany, France, and Italy have generally seen flat or declining total consumption of metals, chemicals, and fertilizer in recent years.
India and China are probably not yet dematerializing. But I predict that they will start getting more from less of at least some resources in the not-too-distant future.
Add birth-rate declines in the wealthiest and most industrialized countries, and our stewardship of the Earth seems poised to change for the better.
Throughout my life, it seemed that humanity was on an irresistible path to destruction. Self-interest is built into our DNA, so sacrifices for the public good seemed impossible. Perhaps the answer isn’t to go backward, but to go forward. A brighter day is dawning.
This doesn’t mean we don’t need to protect the environment, our fellow species, and our fellow humans. There are ecosystems in danger that require action. Doing the right thing is still, well, the right thing to do. But if you ever felt despair sapping your determination, now you can take heart. The future may be more like Star Trek and less like the Walking Dead. Tomorrow is coming.
Read the whole article. It’s worth your time.