The Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 6, 1984:

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         Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.com    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."