Resources constrain growth

I have often heard talk show hosts opine that a course in basic economics should be a requirement of all students. I agree with this, but believe a course in basic ecology should be a requirement. Not only should both courses be taught, but each should include discussions of why the two disciplines are at odds and how each can better understand the other.

If so, it would be apparent that Atlanta’s slowdown in economic growth is not such a disaster. With a knowledge of basic ecology, it would be understood that growth is not sustainable in the long run and certainly that lack of population growth in an already-crowded area such as Atlanta should not be considered a bad thing.

Why hold up a city like Dallas as being a place that Atlanta should try to keep up with? Why Dallas, with its dependence on the oil industry, when the world only has proven petroleum reserves to last a mere 50 years at current usage rates, much of which will require new technology and high cost to extract?

Dallas, like Atlanta, depends on surface water reservoirs for its water supply. Yet the Dallas area has an average annual rainfall of barely 40 inches or more; the Lake Lanier basin averages more than 60 inches per year. Dallas has virtually run out of places to build new reservoirs. Its citizens are under water-use restrictions even in the wintertime.

When will economists stop measuring “progress” in terms of gross domestic product? When will they wake up and realize that bigger is not better?

A business that focuses on gross sales and ignores net profit is bound to fail. Likewise, a society that worships economic growth - when such growth is fueled by ever-increasing debt, endless population growth and depletion of natural resources — must ultimately fail.

Supposedly, economists recognize the scarcity of resources and try to figure out how to allocate them to benefit the most people or to find alternative resources.. Scarcity implies limits, whether they be land, coal or manufactured goods. You name it.

If economists can recognize scarcity, it seems that they should be able to recognize limits. If they could recognize resources are finite, it would seem they could also recognize that perpetual economic growth, which demands ever-increasing resource use, cannot be a viable long-term strategy for economic well-being.

Sooner or later growth must be restricted by limits. The world has finite resources and cannot support unlimited population. There are finite supplies of carbon-based fuels. The earth has a limited amount of fresh water and that is shrinking as underground aquifers are drawn down and sedimentation and evaporation shrink surface reservoir yield. Growth beyond carrying capacity ensures an eventual lower standard of living for the vast majority of people.

What happens when the fossil fuels that support large populations with high living standards are depleted? It should not require a degree in either economics or ecology to answer that question.