…We can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today….To all the politicians that pretend to take the climate question seriously, to all of you who know but choose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent the catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change itself… Please treat the crisis as the crisis it is and give us a future.
— Greta Thunberg, 15 year-old climate activist speaking at the Helsinki climate demonstration, October 20, 2018
When I entered my interdisciplinary environmental graduate program, I already had years of work experience behind me as well as a lifetime of informal environmental education. I recognized the grim ecological picture. Some of my professors, however, were quick to admonish, “We can’t be gloom and doom.” Their other refrain was, “We can’t go back.” They offered no evidence for those two prescriptions with regard to the climate and ecological crises, yet their commands were common among environmental scholars. More than a decade later, we face far more dismal prospects for the future of humanity, but we are still loath to truly address them.
Doom and Gloom
In 1972, the Club of Rome, a consortium of scientists, economists, politicians, diplomats, and industrialists, produced a lengthy scientific report entitled Limits to Growth. Their work predicted a collapse of the human population due to our unchecked economic growth and resource depletion. While their estimates were condemned as alarmist and overreaching, independent researchers have updated the report for the 50th anniversary of the club’s inception, and have largely found that the conclusions from the original still hold.
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