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The Product of the 20th Century – CO2

Happy Earth Day, I hope you are doing something earthy. I’m inspecting runoff quality today, my kids are involved in a Columbia River Sturgeon Release program, and we’ve got crops growing in our urban farm. Please let me know what you think of this post, the concept should challenge your opinion of your life’s work or worth.

Back in the sixties, a bold group of thought-leaders considered the path of growth that the world appeared to be heading on, and asked themselves the question, “can there be limits to growth?”. At the time, this was considered a preposterous idea, right in the golden age of the automobile and suburban sprawl with cookie cutter bungalows popping up all over North America. This group was known as the Club of Rome and published a book called, “The Limits to Growth“, which was a hotly debated topic for a few years, then again in the seventies, and is beginning to be so again today.

One the the main premises of the model was that the production of waste products would increase at a greater rate as the economy and population of the world increased, and as a result, the cost of dealing with the pollution, through mitigation,disposal, health care, disease, would become so over-bearing for the economic system that the patterns of growth would be cooled by it’s own success, (and by-products).

As it has turned out, the pollution that has had the most impact on the world, is the increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Considering all of the varied products that make up North America’s production capacity and the things we consume to maintain our lifestyles, it is fair to state the the whole thing runs on a system that is propped up by consuming fossil fuels and generating CO2. It may be, that the main product of the 20th century, the economy we live in, and therefore our personal lives is CO2.

If we all agree that it is imperative to not only limit but reduce CO2 levels, and quickly – it is entirely likely that a contraction of the economy will occur. The saviour-status that is bestowed on alternative energy technologies by techno-pundits, the government and all who hope for a clean, green, energy-filled future needs to be seriously analyzed. The rate at which we are converting to these alternate technologies is well below any meaningful rate of change, and to get there we probably need to burn even more fossil fuels and extract more resources from the earth, creating more waste products. Quite the pickle, I’d say.

What would you say to the challenge that the product of your life is little more than hot air?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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