Friday, May 16, 2008

On limitless growth

In my brief respite between semesters, I’ve been revisiting HBR’s Business and the Environment. I was particularly struck by an interview with former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, who expresses concerns about a booming world population, depletion of mineral and agricultural resources, and the ability of a large company to turn a profit in this environment. He delves into natural limits on renewable resources and posits some innovative, though questionable solutions to a number of resource problems.
I pose some questions to the reader:

Can humans continue reproducing at the same rate they historically have? Can people, on average, consume at a rate the equal (or similar) to historical rates of consumption? How do we know how much each person can consume? Should people consider their children or other future generations in how they consume?

Image source: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

8 comments:

Pat Jenkins said...

are you implying i need to lose a little weight erd with a little less consumption?... there is only one thing that will cause the extinction of what man needs to survive. the inability to use what he needs!!!!... take that mr. shapiro!!!!

Motherhussy said...

ERD, since there is such an over-abundance of humans, what with the booming world population and all--why don't we use some of them for consumption? This of course would raise a pandora's box of further questions such as:

At what rate can people consume people without depeletion this precious resource?

Whom decides who devours who?

and

How do we know how much each person can consume another person?

Sorry. Just being silly.

SOILENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Perish the thought.
I think the population and its needs are too great to consume without weighing pros and cons. People also used to believe that we need lead in our gasoline, chlorofluorocarbons as propellants and coolants, and phosphates in our laundry detergent. However, the harm that all of these resources cause has a dollar-value that exceeds the benefits they produce. There are more environmentally benign alternatives to all of these products, and we now use them without a second thought. We can repeat this strategy to significant profit and environmental benefit.
Also, you may want to read the interview before you ding Mr. Shapiro. I've the feeling that Monsanto's views on most issues are more germane with yours than with mine.

E. R. Dunhill said...

motherhussy,
It's good to see you. Thanks for stopping by.
Also consider the case of Jeremy Bentham, English philospher, jurist, professor, and advocate for higher education for a breadth of social classes. Despite all of the interesting things he published, he also came up with some seriously crack-brained ideas for the use of human corpses:
*Lawn ornaments
*Household or institutional icons
*Objects of academic debate
Despite the fact that Bentham died in the early 19th century, his disembodied head has engaged in high-level academic debates within the last ten years (teams of scholars debate for him by proxy, though the head does attend the debates).
While such uses would almost certainly quiet the concerns of vegetarians (as compared to the Soilent Green option), I think vegans might object to this.

Pat Jenkins said...

i would imagine mr. shapiro does believe like me erd, becuase his company hopes to produce that which will BENIFIT man, not harm him... and producing products and developing better technologies for our existence is somthing that should never be discouraged. that is if you love mankind!!!

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Pat,
I would love to believe that the benefit of man is the motivation for developing new products, however, having been associated with large corporations over the years, I fear that the primary motivation is profit. Rare is the corporate CEO who looks beyond that factor. Sam Walton once said something to the effect that the greatest success comes from helping the greatest number of people. That philosophy is meritorious if taken at face value. Again, however, I fear that the underlying motivation is purely profit. Now, please don't get me wrong. Profit is a wonderful mechanism for motivating action -- especially solutions for existing problems. It plays on man's greed. It is too bad there is no stimulus to motivate similar action without the greed factor.

The capitalistic system is by far the best motivator of innovation and problem solving of any economic system. It will be capitalism that solves the problems of energy, etc.

Sue said...

The answers to all these questions have been admirably answered, repeatedly, by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, most recently in Limits to Growth: The 30 year up-date, and in 1994 Beyond the Limits.

But to summarize the answers are: No. No. There are methods that have been detailed by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, as well as many others. Yes (even if you don't have children and grand children of your own).

Sue said...

I'm I missing something or did you forget to put in a link to the actual interview. The only link I found was to information about the corporation.