This article on the increasingly perceptible "limits to growth" - appearing, no less, in the leading free market cheerleader, The Wall Street Journal - deserves to be read by everyone interested in continuing to live (I almost wrote "sustainable economy," but really, they are the same thing). While it maintains throughout the touching faith that innovation and technology will see us through the current encounter with limited resources across the board - petroleum, water, food, industrial materials, etc. - it also avoids the usual blithe dismissiveness toward longstanding fears that unfettered human appetite will end up completely devouring all provisions for our future survival, and even seriously entertains the question of whether Malthus was right after all.
The article concludes, "Indeed, the true lesson of Thomas Malthus, an English economist who died in 1834, isn't that the world is doomed, but that preservation of human life requires analysis and then tough action." We might replace the words "analysis" and "tough action" with "thoughtfulness" and "self-governance." Our future-disregarding assumptions of permanent growth has led us to what Wendell Berry has called "global ignorance" of the consequences of our actions, a kind of worldwide form of behavior that we have seen in a crystalline form in Bear Stearns. We have permitted ourselves the self-deception of thoughtlessness, particularly a willed and irresponsible ignorance toward the future. Believing that technology will solve any problems we might create, we accumulate literal and metaphorical debts, borrowing aggressively against the future in the belief that our children and theirs will be able to continue borrowing against their children's future. Is this how a civilization raises its young, is this the legacy we wish to leave?
Already we can see our tendency is to blame other people for this confrontation with limits. It's the Chinese and Indians. It's the oil companies. It's Bush/Cheney. It's the Islamofascists. In the felicitous phrasing of Jason Peters, "it’s like heavy traffic. Heavy traffic is always other people. When you say 'traffic was terrible' you’re never talking about yourself." Well, folks, the traffic is terrible. But the last thing we should be doing is building more roads.
Hat tip: Rod Dreher