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Monday, December 9, 2013

Civilizations don't die, they commit suicide

London, Ontario, the city I call home, has problems. These problems are common and challenge cities everywhere. London the town grew into London the city but it did so without a vision, without a plan. Like so many places, London sprawls out over the precious farmland of Southwestern Ontario, like ink leaking from a faulty pen destroying the shirt. Most cities on the planet leak people.

Sprawl has been going on for as long as there have been cities. It is not a new problem. It is the scale and global nature of today's sprawl that is new. As I write this my memory flashes back to the early '70s and my days at university in Toronto and I recall a book that I had to read for one of my classes: The Limits to Growth, a report on a Club of Rome project.

Selling more than 30 million copies, that book had a big effect on a lot of people, young and idealistic at that time four decades distant. Unable to find my copy, I found the following linked article online: Revisiting The Limits to Growth: Could The Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All? (Part One) by Matthew Simmons.

Simmons' article was interesting in that it didn't find fault with The Limits to Growth but instead found fault with many of the criticisms that have flooded the popular press in the intervening decades. Simmons tells us:

Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything by 2000. . . .
The book postulated a continuation of the exponential growth of the seventies . . . would result in severe constraints on all known global resources by 2050 to 2070.

The task was to examine the complex problems troubling "men of all nations; poverty in the midst of plenty, degradation of the environment, loss of faith in institutions, uncontrolled urban spread, etc."

While many readers concocted various 'imaginary' assumptions, the book's conclusions were quite simple. . . . a limit to the growth that our planet has enjoyed would be reached sometime within the next 100 years.

The Limits to Growth is not the only book with a tone that reflects my gut concerns about the massive loss of  Southwestern Ontario farmland. For a more on-point discussion of the problem (without actually confronting it head-on) read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Malcolm Gladwell and published originally in the New Yorker.

This is a review of the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. According to Gladwell, Collapse is a book about the most prosaic elements of the earth’s ecosystem — soil, trees, and water — because societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors. . . . The lesson of Collapse is that societies, as often as not, aren’t murdered. They commit suicide . . .

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