The Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 6, 1984:
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Travis Charbeneau 3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221 firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 804 358 0417 www.travischarbeneau.com
For Now "up" is Here Travis Charbeneau slug "growth" 1143 words
Horace Greeley said, "Go West, young man." And millions have, following the ever-westward urge for freedom and opportunity Americans have responded to since Jamestown. We're still moving West, flocking now to the Sun Belt, which is essentially the West -- plus Florida. The promise is that of new horizons and unlimited growth, a fundamental premise of the American Dream. For approximately four-and-a-half million years, we've enjoyed the option as a whole species of picking up and "going West" if our current residence became too crowded, too limiting or just plain boring. And this "New Frontier" spirit applied very appropriately to the American economy, "West" being greater development and higher profits. "Progress" and "more" have always been synonymous in America, where to stop "growing" is to die. But this aspect of the American Dream has lately begun running afoul of reality. Among the first, and most pleasant, indications of this were those stunning Whole Earth photographs from the Apollo missions of the late Sixties. These pictures revealed that the Earth was indeed finite. Technically, of course, this was a fact long within our intellectual grasp, but the Whole Earth shot really drove it home: the Earth was a big spaceship. We were the crew. Further, more disturbing, implications of this were not long in coming: The OPEC embargo and ensuing energy crises were unquestionably man-made, and then man-mangled to be made even worse, but they drove home another obvious fact: our fossil energy resources too, were finite -- as well as dirty and inefficient. Our entire economy was based on dinosaur remains which, like the dinosaurs, would eventually and certainly disappear. America, which had been consuming the world's energy out of all proportion to its population, had to go on an energy diet. The speed limit, having increased steadily since the advent of the automobile, was suddenly cut. Development of the million-horsepower Corvette was halted. We shook our heads in disbelief: You call this "progress?" Recently, we've observed other, equally disturbing trends: a shortage of fresh water in the Southwest and South Florida, scarcities of certain mineral resources, loss of arable land and topsoils, overloading of the waste-absorption capacity of the environment and a sore testing of our planet's life-supporting eco-systems: everything from depleted ozone layers to oxygen-poor water in the Chesapeake due to nitrogen fertilizer run-off -- all direct or indirect consequences of our simplistic "more is better" definition of progress. I remember a billboard along I-95 between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in the early Seventies after a temporary condominium moratorium had been passed: "Moratoriums Are Not Progress." Since then, overpumping of the fresh water aquifers to provide water for the ever-burgeoning population of South Florida has sucked sea water into those systems. Aquifers, unlike toilets, do not flush. When our ancestors first signed aboard to skeleton-crew Spaceship Earth, the ship's eco-systems were so vast and our technology so limited we could rape its resources with impunity. Oh, we might deforest and island or two, or hunt a few minor species to extinction, but Mother Earth prevailed. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, our power, and numbers, have grown. The mere existence of our nuclear Boogieman and his potential to destroy 5 billion years of work in a matter of hours, indicates the potential of our more subtle technologies and their capacities, when combined with unprecedented populations -- and just a little carelessness -- to make mischief aboard ship. In essence, we must consciously re-define "Progress" or die of it. Happily, we see the beginnings of this all around us. There is, for example, a growing ethic of frugality and ecological harmony replacing the consumption-and-waste, planned obsolescence ethic of our old industrial society. A prime and personal example of this is the health and fitness movement. You are, in a way, the crew of your own little spaceship with its own unique eco-systems and you'd better take care of it or it will turn on you. The aptness of this metaphor spreads to the environment at large. There is an increasing focus generally on the quality of life, as opposed to quantity. The human potential movement on the left and the fundamentalist Christian movement on the right are both personal attempts to define quality of life. In the middle are a host of commonly-agreed upon standards which are constantly getting tighter, for example, nobody wants to turn on the shower and have industrial solvent come pouring out. Third, and especially as our society makes the transformation from an industrial to what some are calling a a transindustrial, service, or information economy, we find change occurring more subtly and profoundly, with less material upset. Great physical undertakings, like the building of great cities or the Interstate highway system, become fewer. The slow infiltration of microcomputers into the home, with all the subtle yet profound changes they bring, increase. Fourth, and likewise, our new technologies will be very sophisticated while consuming less energy and material, and they will tend to be small in scale. Early adding machines used lots of steel, brass and energy and they monopolized desktops. New calculators are made of sand, run on tiny batteries and fit in your pocket. Minimized environmental impact is an increasingly attractive feature in both new products and the industries which produce them. Finally, production units (farms, factories) particularly in the Third World, may be smaller and relatively self-sufficient. The new technologies, applied to the old ones, as in computerized, robot-run steel mills, provide a third alternative to being either underdeveloped or over industrialized -- perfect for places like Brazil and Mexico which are increasingly being thought of as the next Japans. These places may by-pass many of the growth vs. environment pitfalls we industrial pioneers have fallen into on the road to a transindustrial society. As always, though, there are interests which resist change, especially fundamental changes in values like quality, as opposed to quantity of life. South Florida condo developers wanted to continue to build condos. No water? "Let 'em drink Perrier." Forbidden to sell certain lethal pesticides in the US, chemical companies sell them in Latin America. Upshot: you get it back in your banana. The steelworkers' union and its employers may lobby for protectionism of the US steel industry, courtesy of the taxpayer, which could be the rough equivalent of stuffing oats into a dead horse. And there are those who will resist birth control and abortion until humans have covered the Earth three deep and the act of procreation becomes at least awkward if not impossible. We can only hope that the really vital agendas for change can be agreed upon -- like solvent-free showers. Spaceship Earth needs this consensus. From time to time we'd all like to radio the Mother Ship in desperation and say, "Beam me up, Scotty." But, for now, and for the vast majority of us, "up" is "here."