Sustainable Development is an Oxymoron

by Panos Prevedouros

On March 2, 1972, a team of experts from MIT presented a groundbreaking report called The Limits to Growth. Read more in the Smithsonian Magazine.

More recently, Australian physicist Graham Turner of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems shows how actual data from 1970 to 2000 almost exactly matches predictions set forth in the “business-as-usual” scenario presented in The Limits to Growth.Looking at the thick line updates of the 1972 trends, I find the energy trend alarming. The rest of the trends do no seem to be as alarming as originally forecast in 1972. Significantly, the population growth in China is under substantial control. But growth in China, Brazil and Nigeria counterbalance the population reduction of China.

The retired MIT professor who led the original study had this to say:

  • Sustainable development: I consider to be an oxymoron actually…
  • Predicting a global collapse … is like being in San Francisco and knowing that there is going to be an earthquake and that it is going to cause buildings to fall down. Which buildings are going to fall down, and where are they going to fall? We just don’t have any way of understanding that.
  • You can for a brief period spend more out of your bank account than you save, if you have come through a long period of thrift. But eventually, of course, you bring your bank account back down to zero and you’re stuck. That is exactly what is happening to us on the globe. We are living off the savings of biodiversity, fossil fuel accumulation, agricultural soil buildup and groundwater accumulation, and when we have spent them, we will be back down to the annual income.
  • In 1998 we had the dot-com bubble bust. In 2008 we had the housing bubble bust. Both illustrated what incredibly primitive understanding and capacities we have for dealing with bubbles. We are now forming a bubble in population, and in material and energy consumption.

Panos Prevedouros is a member of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s Board of Scholars.

Panos Prevedouros’ blog, which is from where this has been reposted (with permission), can be found at :http://fixoahu.blogspot.com

Panos D. Prevedouros, Ph.D. is a professor of traffic and transportation engineering at the Department of Civil Engineering, Univ. of Hawaii-Manoa since 1990. Panos graduated from the Aristotle Univ. of Greece in 1984, and with Masters and PhD degrees in 1990 from Northwestern Univ. (Evanston, IL), a leading academic institution in engineering and transportation. He chairs the Freeway Simulation Subcommittee of the Transportation Research Board. He was president of the Hawaii Highway Users Alliance from 2006 to 2008. Panos co-authored a Transportation Engineering textbook and over 100 reports and technical papers. He received the 2005 Van Wagoner Award of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. He co-organized the 1st International Symposium on Freeway Operations (ISFO) in Athens, Greece, and the 2nd ISFO in Honolulu in June 2009. Dr. Prevedouros served in the Transit Advisory Task Force in 2006 and in the Technology Selection Expert Panel in 2008 of the City Council of Honolulu. He ran for mayor of Honolulu in the 2008 elections and finished 3rd in the primary elections with 18% of the vote from a field of nine candidates.

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