PC natives and environmental change

Fri, 12 May 1995 12:07:00 PDT

I hadn't intended to enter this discussion as it seems to be heavily wrought
with ideological convictions on both sides. Let me make one or two
observations. While there may well be variability in the conceptual
framework used by different societies with respect to the environment,
degradation of the environment (regardless of the society and their
conceptual framework) is linked to two kinds of stability: population
stablity and material usage stability. If a society has a stable population
size and constant material demand per capita for non subsistence goods (and
here I am not considering how or why it is stable) then it has a constant
resource demand through time and the conditions for long term stability not
only of the population but of the resource base can be realized. On the
other hand, if the population is experiencing growth then inevitably there is
an increased demand for resources and hence intensification of resource
usage. Even with a very low growth rate, a growing population can
potentially increase to an enormous size over time scales of 1000's of years
(e.g., a 1/10 of 1% growth rate over 15,000 years would lead to a population
in the trillions). With limited technology it is not possible to exploit
resources at a level that would support a massive population, hence the
likelihood of serious and long term environmental degradation is far less
(though obviously there are particular cases where it has occurred at least
on limited scales). With capitalism there is the added difficulty that even
with a stable population, the demand for material goods can still rise, hence
degradation can still occur even though resources needed for population
maintenance are stable. This does not mean that there has not been demand
for material goods prior to capitalism, only that it now occurs on a massive
magnitude and includes a far greater proportion of the population than would
be true where large scale accumulation of material goods was limited to a
fraction of the population.

D. Read