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Humankind in peril

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

To the Editor:

The history of humankind on Earth could prove as brief as it is dangerously misguided.

Around 1800, after hundreds of millennia relying mostly on nature’s local bounty, a handful of entrepreneurs co-opted our global-resource “trust fund” through free-market buccaneering. Unrestrained growth and their freedom to exploit it were claimed the keys to everyone’s prosperity. 

With 1 billion of us fielding their labor force, markets and economies grew, populations and wealth grew. Resource exploitation grew apace.

The resource trust fund was vast. Every cultural or economic advancement sprang largely from exploiting its bountiful interest. Little natural capital was consumed at first. No one questioned the wisdom of growth (though miserly profit distribution was sometimes violently protested).

Around 1970, world population passed 4 billion, and the natural interest from the trust fund could no longer support our growth. We didn’t miss a beat. We began sacrificing natural capital. Only a pariah questioned the wisdom of continuing to grow.

Today, with over 7 billion of us, our consumption still exploding, we are glimpsing the limits of that once-vast resource heritage.

Yet no one seriously suggests we stop growing. Quite the contrary. The White House says we need more young, educated workers while our older unemployed demand more jobs.

Soon, decades at most, our natural trust fund will be depleted and growth will inevitably stop, leaving billions of us in poverty, many, perhaps most, facing premature death. 

Will anyone then consider whether we acted as judiciously as we might? Will it much matter?

Donovan C. Wilkin


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