“Once the population and economy have overshot the physical limits of the Earth, there are only two ways back: Involuntary collapse caused by escalating shortages and crises, or controlled reduction of throughput by deliberate social choice.” – Dennis Meadows et al
Original sin had nothing to do with a garden and an apple; it occurred the first time one of our hominid ancestors used a nonrenewable natural resource. I initiated my research on American sustainability during the spring of 2006, before I had ever heard the term “sustainability” or knew that my research would culminate in an “opus” on the subject. At the time, the US housing market was booming, the US economy was booming, and Americans were spending money like there was no tomorrow.
I had been concerned for some time about our ability to continue our seemingly endless binge of economic growth and prosperity, but, like most Americans, I had been too busy with my day-today activities to look into the details. That spring, however, I decided to investigate our economic situation.
My initial research was haphazard; I was not sure where to look, nor was I sure exactly what I was looking for. Various government and mainstream websites informed me that while we were depleting our economic asset reserves, incurring debt, and underfunding our future financial obligations at historically high levels, the US economy was fundamentally sound and its perpetual growth would enable us to address any conceivable future financial challenge.
I was beginning to think that my concerns were unfounded when, quite by accident, I encountered a group of economic analysts who argued that we were living far beyond our means economically, and that both our current economic behavior and our current economic prosperity were unsustainable—and they presented compelling evidence to support their arguments. So I dug deeper.
During the summer of 2006, again quite by accident, I encountered several entirely different groups of analysts who claimed that we were also living far beyond our means ecologically—we were using natural resources at levels exceeding those at which they were being replenished, and we were degrading natural habitats at levels exceeding those at which they were being regenerated. These analysts presented compelling evidence that both our current ecological behavior and our American way of life were unsustainable as well.
Since that time, my goals have been to quantify the extent to which we in America are living beyond our means, both ecologically and economically, and to articulate the cause, implications, and resolution associated with our situation. After three years of research, feedback, soul searching, and countless iterations I believe that I have accomplished my goals.
My findings on American sustainability, which are presented in the following pages, will shock most Americans. As America enters the new millennium, we find ourselves in a “predicament”. We are living hopelessly beyond our means, ecologically and economically, at a time when available supplies associated with many of the critical ecological resources and economic resources upon which we depend will soon be insufficient to enable our American way of life. Global demand for these resources is enormous and is ever-increasing, while supplies available to the US are becoming increasingly scarce—due to both market factors and geological factors. As a result, our American way of life—300+ million people enjoying historically unprecedented material living standards—is unsustainable; it must and will come to an end, soon. The inescapable conclusion is that we are about to experience the inevitable consequence associated with our predicament—societal collapse. The primary purpose of this paper is to substantiate America’s predicament—to present
conclusive evidence of its existence, its significance, its magnitude, and its imminent and inevitable consequence. The secondary purpose of the book is to put forth the only rational solution to our predicament—an American Cultural Revolution—a solution that we will never adopt.
The paper presents a message of reality, but not of hope—for America, there can be no happy ending. Perhaps however, with the benefit of advanced warning, we will collapse gracefully.