It would be nice to believe that we can live the way we now live with no changes or sacrifices simply by becoming more efficient in our use of energy and materials. Even though efficiency is a laudable goal, this piece lays out in great detail that the numbers just don't add up for those who believe it's possible to have painless economic growth. The argument often made by the so-called natural capitalists is that our economies (that is, Western industrial economies) are less energy and resource intensive than they used to be. This is an argument only an economist could love. The biosphere doesn't care one bit whether we are more efficient in our production of world-ruining wares; it only cares about the absolute load, and that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. The Earth is still the same size it used to be.
The efficiency experts present us with a terrible choice. The rest of humanity would like to live at our standard, too. But, even if they were to do so "efficiently," the required economic growth would force us in the end to give up on efficiency as returns greatly diminish. In the alternative, we would be obliged to keep billions in poverty so that we could prosper without destroying every last corner of the biosphere that supports us.
In the long run, the numbers tells us this: simpler, more local living for everyone. If we want to keep some of the advantages of our modern technical society, we need to choose wisely which ones we want to keep. It's a message that won't get you elected or make you popular. But, it just might help make the lives of future generations more harmonious and comfortable. That sounds a lot better than the misery and the destruction of culture and science that would surely follow a population crash brought on by our wrong-headed pursuit of "efficient" economic growth.
(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)