The Diseconomics of Growth

H.V. Hodson


Chapter XI.

Pressure on Resources

One of the most frightening aspects of the population problem is the huge potential claim upon the non-food resources, of the world, as well as food, of the present “less developed countries” when not only their numbers but also their economic standards rise. Not only will they eat more, they will also use more materials, more fuel, more water, and will pollute more. To quote Professor Forrester’s evidence to the Congressional Sub-Committee again:

The pollution and natural resource load placed on the world environmental system by each person in an advanced country is probably 20 to 50 times greater than the load now generated by a person in an under-developed country. With four times as much population in under-developed countries as in the present developed countries, their rising to the economic level of the United States could mean an increase of 200 times in the natural resource and pollution load on the world environment.

In short, the eventual success of national and international efforts to close the economic gap between the advanced and the less developed countries would not only be disastrous for them and for the rest of the world; it is inherently impossible.

There is something wrong, one cannot help feeling, about that statement. If it means, as it seems to do, that while the rich get richer the poor must always remain poor, in the interest of the human race, why should the proposition apply only, or specifically, to different countries or nations? It must presumably be equally true of classes or segments of a nation itself, and we should all forever be content with that state of life to which it has pleased God to call us. Whether applied to nations or classes, the proposition is repellent on political no less than humanitarian grounds. Within a nation, egalitarian doctrine and democratic power would combine to renounce it, even if it meant impoverishing the rich as much as enriching the poor. Communism, or extreme socialism, would destroy it by abolishing the rich. As between nations, doctrinaire egalitarianism lacks as yet any foothold in reality, and there is no effective world democracy to exert the power of the many at the expense of the few. The very poverty of the poor nations prevents them from physically threatening the richer, though they can have powerful sponsors, like Russia or China (whose motives, however, are far more likely to be their own interests than those of the less developed countries generally).

If, indeed, in a science-fictional mood, we consider the possibility of a world war to redress the balance between rich and poor, it is hard to imagine what would be the casus belli or what the military aim. Not, one would suppose, to seize natural resources, for on the whole the poor countries are as well endowed with these as the rich. Not to achieve the impossible object of making the rich with their capital equipment and know-how and diffused skills work like helots for the poor. It could only be to destroy the rich and their riches; envy would have to be very desperate to seek such an end, as damaging to the perpetrators as to the victims. A tidal wave of international Communism is not inconceivable, as a means of changing the whole economic power structure of the world; but to judge from the history of Soviet Russia its results would not be an equalisation of economic welfare among different peoples and nations, but its redistribution in favour of a new affluent group.

The proposition, then, that global pressure of consumption upon resources denies the closing of the economic gap between less developed and advanced countries, or indeed any substantial narrowing of it, is very unlikely to be overthrown by any violent or dramatic consummation. Yet it remains a dangerous paradox. We should therefore look more closely at the premise, concerning pressure upon resources by world population rising steadily at the same time in numbers and in economic activity and consumption.

This is indeed a more profitable exercise, as a guide to immediate action, than agitation directly opposed to population growth, whether the principle promoted is voluntary responsibility or governmental compulsion. Popular education, attitude-changing propaganda, dissemination of medical information and contraceptive techniques, take a long time. So does the working-out of administrative systems for assisting or enforcing birth control. The larger and less sophisticated the population, the harder the task and the slower its discharge. Meanwhile the pressure of people on resources will continue, do what we may. Everyone who will be aged 28 or more in the year 2000 has already been born in 1972, whatever happens to births from now on. And in the absence of major plagues, massacres or natural disasters we can be sure that life-expectancy will also rise in most parts of the world.

In the short run, then—meaning the next quarter-century or so, which is not only as far ahead as we can reasonably look when seeking policies of action in these matters, but is also a period during which the most miraculous success in birth regulation can have but little effect upon the working population of the world—the heart of the global population problem is how to relieve the growing pressure of people on resources, either by increasing the resources or by reducing the average consumption per head. By resources is meant everything that man uses or consumes: light, air, water, land, timber, food crops, animals (including fish; birds and edible creatures of all kinds), sources of energy, metals and other minerals.

It is often argued that there are quite a number of potential ways in which resources (in the form used by man) can be increased, or more plentiful resources substituted for scarcer ones. Examples that are put forward include:

Extracting power from atomic energy, solar energy, tidal and other hydraulic energy.

Desalination of sea water.

Conversion of cellulose into human food (IE edible, nutritious matter).

Conversion of marine plankton into human food.

Large-scale “farming of the oceans.”

Use of more prolific and disease-resistant plant varieties.

Recovery of useful land now desert.

Use of light plastics instead of heavy timber, etc.

Substitution of more plentiful metals (EG aluminium) for scarcer ones (EG copper).

These are of very variable merit or feasibility. It is dangerous to put much trust in possible substitutions, or in new sources of food, materials or energy. Some are probably impossible. Some are counter-productive—they use up more energy than they save. Some only switch the eventual pressure and scarcity from one set of natural resources to another: for instance, from land life to marine life, from wood or metal to petroleum and other chemical ingredients of plastic manufacture, even from renewable to non-renewable resources. Others are so costly in capital that to pursue them rapidly to a point where they make a real dent in the global problem would by itself involve a big transfer of resources to making and running the necessary equipment. Still others are cosmetic solutions that only postpone the inevitable alternatives. Or they yield their products at so high a direct cost that they would need giant systems of subsidy to make any impression on the problem of scarce resources.

We too often forget that this problem is not merely one of finding enough of something, but of producing enough for those who want it, where they want it, at a price they can afford. (In the tropical East, in bygone days, ice hewn by hand was brought down from the frozen sub-Arctic in the holds of sailing ships and stored in deep pits, sheltered from the sun; by doing this on a grand scale, in theory all India could be kept cool with little or no use of all the electrical energy and metals and other materials that go into modern refrigeration: but theory is not prospective practice.) Scientists have shown how to make edible matter out of softwood, but they have not shown how to make a meal which a poor Bengali would eat even if he were starving, at a cost which the poor Bengali or some government or agency on his behalf would pay. We must not rule out subsidies, even immense and elaborate ones, in order to solve the resources problem, but we must keep our eyes, in the context of the population problem, on things that could be done within a generation in time and without utopian schemes of international administration and economic transfer.

Let us therefore look more closely at the other way of relaxing pressure of people on resources, that is, consuming less. The potential here is more immediate, larger and inherently more rewarding. For a start, there is immense scope for the avoidance of waste. The poor of the world waste their little and the rich of the world waste their much.

More food is produced in the developing countries than reaches the consumer. Wastage of the harvest, from insects, bacteria, moulds and rodents, could be reduced by the provision of better storage facilities. In India, the protein available amounts to 71.5 grams per person per day, whereas consumption is around 51 grams. It has been estimated that in 1964 the wastage of food grains in India amounted to 47.3 per cent of the harvest. In Nigeria 46 per cent of the sorghum is lost ... in tropical Africa 30 per cent of all crops. Not only is food lost, but other food is contaminated... A halving of this wastage might increase the food available by up to 20 per cent. [Michael Allaby, in Can Britain Survive? (1971), citing HAP Parpia and A. Ramsay Tainsh]

The richer, more sophisticated agriculture and food distribution of advanced countries is not subject to so much waste and is well motivated to check such as remains. But their peoples waste food at the other end of the chain on an unmeasured but undoubtedly comparable scale, by extravagant use, throwing away much that is edible and wholesome, reducing the nutrient quality by processing or by inferior cooking. (Their bad diets, especially white bread and flour and excessive sugar, lead incidentally to waste of a limited resource of a different kind, medical and dental skill and other health facilities.) The richer countries also waste in industry, because it seemingly does not pay to do otherwise, a significant percentage of raw materials such as timber and metals. As world scarcity begins to be felt, and raw material prices rise, there will be increasing economic motive to save this waste. Another hidden form of waste is pilfering, by no means a trifling matter in some products and trades: it could be argued that this is irrelevant, because the stuff is used, though by the wrong people, but the point is that these people, apart from wasting a great deal of what they have not paid for, are taking more out of the economic system than they put in.

The most conspicuous resource, however, which richer countries waste is water. Private households waste a great deal, industry even more. Economy in the use of water would not only save the drain on natural water supply itself but also reduce consumption of other materials and energy required for water distribution and recycling. The era of “free” or cheap water in our cities is probably coming to an end, and when that happens, and when water charges to industry rise, as they surely will, there will be stronger motive to economise.

Much economy in the drawing-down of scarce natural resources can, furthermore, be effected by re-use and recycling. Most industrial scrap is re-used or re-cycled, but there is still much that is not, and when we come to the final product we can see immense scope for economy of this nature. Metal objects, large like motor cars or small like tin cans, are just junked. Waste paper is burnt or treated as garbage. The non-returnable glass bottle is a growing pest to everyone but the manufacturers and retailers, who of course are the people with the direct and effective economic motive. Municipal cleansing departments burn, bury or take out to sea millions of tons of re-usable material daily. Sorting and re-using, or re-cycling, may not pay now, but they will come to do so, and if the run-down of world resources were allowed for in the price of materials used they ought to pay a great deal better forthwith.

Another route whereby great quantities of valuable materials are lost is the disposal of sewage. Composting of sewage has already been shown in particular places to be economic both for the sewage authorities and for the users: on a massive if not universal scale it could replace a great deal of present use of mineral and chemical fertilisers on the land, all of which use up natural resources—and could lead to the production of better food into the bargain.

It is conceivable that by the avoidance of waste at all stages, and by the maximum re-use and re-cycling of materials, the charge made by a given level of economic activity upon raw resources other than food could eventually be halved. Suppose that this could be achieved in twenty years from now, through heavy investment in re-cycling plant, pricing systems and other inducements to economy and re-use, and a campaign of public and industrial education. This would mean that the world could afford over that period a 2 and a half per cent gross economic growth rate without increasing its call on scarce natural resources. At the end of that short period of time we should be back at the level of total consumption of the resources affected from which we started. Something would have been done to postpone the crisis of resource exhaustion, but not very much on a century-long view. We should still be a long way from Professor Forrester’s “ideal” world-dynamics projection, in which the dangerous exhaustion of natural resources, as a limited stock, would be delayed for at least a hundred years beyond AD 2000.

One conclusion at least is obvious—the overwhelming degree of responsibility of the economically advanced countries of the world. One-quarter of the world’s population is using nine-tenths of the world’s consumable resources. If a man in a rich industrialised country like the United States consumes fifty times as much energy and metals as a man in a poor peasant region, his responsibility for economising them is fifty times as great. He need make only a ten per cent economy to enable five more of his fellow men to live twice as well as they do. Multiply him by millions and the world population problem is seen in truer perspective, in relation to economic growth as a generator of the coming crisis in natural resources.

It is stupid to say that the machine cannot be stopped, let alone put into reverse. Man’s economic adaptability is greater than his biological. In war, or other times of extreme scarcity, governments have to impose severe, usually rough-and-ready, regulations to conserve resources—rationing basic food and fuel, putting heavy imposts on luxuries, prohibiting some activities altogether and requiring licences for others. People manage as best they can, well enough as a rule, though with some discomforts and deprivation, and at the cost of an onerous bureaucracy. The struggle of mankind to survive may drive us to this sort of siege economy, but it will not happen just yet, and not all at once. While taking some tips from wartime experience, we must look for more partial and gradual changes in our ways of economic life than incarceration in a cage of manifold prohibitions and rationing.

The key to the resource problem is energy. With economic advance, energy consumption multiplies faster than use of any other major scarce resource, and at the same time takes its own toll of those others. Between 1950 and 1960, annual world consumption of energy grew from 2700 million tons coal-equivalent (mtce) per annum to 4400 mtce, a growth-rate of 5 per cent per annum compound. In the next decade it rose to 6600 mtce, a growth-rate of 4 and a half per cent compound. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that by 1980 world energy demand will have risen to nearly 12,000 mtce, at an annual growth-rate of nearly 7 per cent. Japan, the industrialised country with the world’s highest rate of growth of Gross National Product, has multiplied its energy demand six times in a decade. From 1980 onwards the developing countries are expected to reach a level of industrialisation and economic consumption which will begin to multiply exponentially their call on world energy resources.

These resources, in respect of fossil fuel (coal, oil, natural gas), are inherently limited. We do not know what the absolute limits are but we know that we must be getting closer to them all the time. Strikes of oil and natural gas in Alaska, the North Sea, off the coast of Australia and elsewhere off-shore and on-shore, or such startling discoveries as that England’s largest potential coalfield, though of low quality, lies under the green fields and valleys of North Oxfordshire, enlarge known resources but they do not enlarge the total amount in the world, known and unknown, tappable and untappable. The National Coal Board, admittedly with an axe to grind for use of its own resource, claims that cumulative global requirements of energy over the next thirty years to the end of the century will be 400,000 mtce, equivalent to three times the total world energy consumption from the beginning of the industrial era to the present day, four times the present proved oil reserves and seven times the present proved gas reserves. [Energy, a special report: The Times, London, 1st September 1971]

The fossil-fuel resources for energy are spread all over the world: the demand for them is largely concentrated in the industrialised quarter. Here is a division of interest which runs counter to such economy as a closed and unified society would impose upon itself if its future activity depended upon the future availability of its own resources. It is an important aspect of world diseconomics. The consuming countries compete with each other in economic growth, and therefore in energy demand: the supplying countries compete in supplying the most they can at the best price they can get. According to the chairman of one of the world’s great oil companies, among the oil-producing countries outside the industrialised regions only one, Kuwait, has shown any concern for conservation of its asset.

No general check to this competitive process of rapid exploitation is in sight. It can safely be said that every source of oil and natural gas now known or likely to be discovered will be needed and used during the next thirty years, the period for which oil will and can still be the main source of energy for the world. And then?

At the moment the main hope lies in the development of nuclear power. Although twenty years of disappointment in the economic exploitation of nuclear power lie behind us, a break-through is in sight. The fast-breeder reactor of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Dounreay is highly promising both technically and commercially—although breeders have immense potential for harm in case of accident, and no satisfactory solution to the problem of storing high-level wastes has yet been found. The cost of electricity from a large-scale fast-breeder reactor has been unofficially estimated at 13p a kilowatt, less than half the cost from a modem oil-fired plant in Britain. At anything like that figure, there will obviously be an economic drive, quite apart from the motive of fossil-fuel conservation, for replacing fossil-fuel generation by nuclear energy in a country situated as Britain is. It is reckoned by the hopeful, assuming safety and waste problems to be solved, that Britain will be taking 20 per cent of her electricity consumption from nuclear stations by 1980, and 60 per cent by AD 2000. (The UK Atomic Energy Authority put the latter estimate at 70 per cent.)

This sounds fine. But the remaining 80 per cent of Britain’s electricity demand in 1980 will be more than 100 per cent of her present demand if its growth rate is only 2 per cent per annum compound in the intervening decade, and the remaining 40 per cent in the year 2000 will be more than 100 per cent of her present demand if its growth rate is only 4 per cent per annum in the twenty years after 1980. Like the White Queen in Alice, we have to run faster and faster to keep in the same place. And these estimates for Britain relate to the world’s most advanced country in atomic energy development.

Furthermore, electricity is the consumable form of energy in which substitution of sources is easiest. No economic way of using electricity for vehicles on a mass scale has yet been invented, nor can atomic energy be distributed in small parcels, as oil or gas can, for firing internal combustion engines. The battery-powered motor car and the self-sufficient fuel-cell have so far made slow progress towards economic viability; there appears to be earlier promise in the steam automobile, which though it still needs to carry its fuel around is far less polluting in use than the conventional automobile. It is possible that we may see a revolutionary development of the use of liquid hydrogen as a substitute for petrol in road transport. While it presents serious problems of storage, compression and evaporation, it is already relatively cheap, it is non-polluting, and it is virtually inexhaustible in supply from electrolysis of water by nuclear power plants. [See an article by Dr Lawrence Jones of the University of Michigan in Science. 22nd October 1971.] But, however this development may turn out, it is technically and industrially in the middle-term future at best, and meanwhile the oil-consuming internal combustion engine is universally with us. The automobile and the aeroplane are great consumers not only of oil but also of other resources which if not yet seriously scarce are likely to become so within a measurable time: metals, rubber and textiles or their synthetic substitutes, land space for roads and parking and airports, air space, water for industrial processes in their manufacture and for vehicle-washing, almost everything except food that the world is short of or soon will be. They are also major causes of pollution. It would seem a good idea to start thinking about how we should use these machines less.

Let us begin with the private motorist. The cheap reliable motor-car has revolutionised private life—though not as much, throughout the world, as the pedal bicycle, the one invention of the modern age which has added nothing to the capability of war (compare the apparently innocent typewriter, without which it would be impossible to cope with even the simplest logistics of modern warfare), and which has liberated countless millions of people in villages and towns in every continent from virtual imprisonment within walking distance of their homes. For the fortunate minority in advanced countries—and remember that even in the richest countries it is still only a small minority that is on a two-car standard—the automobile has become like another pair of limbs. Without it, such people feel crippled, like a man with one leg or arm.

It has great advantages for much personal use. It saves time. It enables a man to live where he wishes in relation to his place of work, or to his children’s schooling. It takes everything from door to door—the shopping parcels, the baggage, the golf clubs, everything. It vastly widens the range of visits, hospitality and friends. It has become the vital prime-mover for vacations, even overseas if the sea journey is short, as it is between Britain and the Continent or Ireland. It tows a trailer, a caravan, a boat. It does all this and much more.

It would be out of the question to reverse the revolution abruptly and destroy the automobilic way of private life, even if we recognise that it is a privileged way for the relatively few, and that the penalties for this privilege are paid by the many. It would be impossible, not because such social revolutions cannot take place: an historical example of such a devastating counter-revolution against a privileged way of life is afforded by the enormous reduction of domestic service in countries like Britain and America within two generations. Before World War I in Britain not only did the wealthy employ armies of butlers, housekeepers, footmen, parlourmaids, house-maids, between maids, ladies’ maids, governesses, cooks, kitchen maids, hallboys, bootboys, coachmen, gardeners, but every lower-middle-class housewife had a tweeny or cook or maid-of-all-work, and little suburban semi-detached homes were built, even in the 1920s and 1930s, with a “maid’s room.” All this has gone and, far beyond the disappearance of the great country or town house establishment, the way of life of the middle as well as the upper classes has consequently changed every bit as much as it would be changed by banning most uses of private automobiles. After all, we virtually did this in Britain for six years of general petrol-rationing in World War II, and it was not the greatest of hardships. The total counter-revolution in private car use is impossible to contemplate, not for social but for economic reasons. Whole industries, commercial networks, cities and towns, have been built upon the assumption that people move by car. They cannot be made derelict or stranded, for their replacement would cost billions, and take many decades.

Nevertheless, the private automobile revolution could be checked and gently put into reverse. It is a remarkable fact that in highly automobilic countries the average private car journey is very short. Both in the United States and in Britain it works out at around 4 miles. The density of cars per unit of population or road length is so different in these two countries that this would seem to be something like a constant for the automobile age. If the average is 4 miles, and this after taking into account all the longer journeys of scores or hundreds of miles, it follows that a vast number of journeys must be a mile or two or less. This is the vulnerable fringe of perfectly optional car use (with obvious exceptions for the handicapped or special loads). In the past we thought nothing of walking half a mile to the shops, a mile to school: why should we regard it as unthinkable to have to do so now?

It is not suggested that a host of snoopers and wardens and cops should check our private movements and punish us for using cars unnecessarily in the eyes of some privacy-invading law. But if the price of petrol were fixed high enough to take into account the depletion of world resources and the rule that privilege should pay its full cost, many a family would change its car-using habits, and over a longish period the pattern of development of houses and shops and public facilities would be altered. Meanwhile, those who care for the environment of mankind and its future ability to live within the world’s natural means will always ask themselves, as we were bidden to do in wartime, “Is your journey really necessary?”

Public transport services would begin to revive. Their decay has been one of the most lamentable phenomena of the past two decades in the rich industrial states, lamentable because for society as a whole it is painfully diseconomic. The socio-economic cost of transporting thirty to forty people by bus or hundreds of passengers in a single train is vastly less than transporting them one or two or three at a time in private automobiles. The contrast is probably greatest of all in respect of daily commuting. Scarcely anything reflects more dismally on the way in which our urban societies have coped with the modern age than the tail-to-tail stream of slow-moving cars, each with one or two people abroad, oozing into and out of our cities every morning and evening. One has only to think of the consumption of physical resources they represent—the car itself, its petrol, oil and tyres, the roads they need, the fact that every one of them has to find some space to stand in a congested city all day, in closed or open car parks or worse still on the streets, and the daily loss of time and energy and temper for their drivers and passengers, to be horrified by the waste and stupidity of it all. We have launched ourselves into a vicious spiral: more suburbs, more traffic, more roads, declining public transport, more traffic, more suburbs... Pollution as well as consumption of scarce resources mounts up. Public transport systems go bankrupt. Central city values decline, and the heart of the metropolis decays, clogged and fumigated with all this metal and gas.

It is well to recall who pays the price. Partly the self-immolating victims of the system itself, but partly the under-privileged, the poor and weak, those who cannot afford cars or suburban living, who have to live and work and have their being in the smog-ridden car parks that inner cities are becoming; the people displaced by or living on the margins of the proliferating highways and flyovers, which for financial reasons are usually driven through the poorer neighbourhoods. We are living with a social as well as an economic scandal.

We should also remember that all the cost of this mess enters into the Gross National Product and therefore into the reckoning of economic growth—all the cars, fuel, roads, tunnels and flyovers, car parks, supervision, maintenance, repairs—because they are products and services which people are paid to make or render and other people (individuals, corporations or public authorities) pay to buy. But there is no discount for the decay of suburban railways, or of housing near to the motor routes, or of property hemmed in by parked cars, or of countless people’s amenity; nor for the health cost of the fumes and the other dereliction of mass automobilism.

The case of commercial road transport is rather different. Many of the results may be the same, but we can be much more certain that the comparative financial costs of alternative solutions are weighed by the commercial users and found to be higher. (Few suburban commuters say “It costs me less to go by car than by train” or “I live 20 miles from my work because taking transport into account it is cheaper;” rather they say “It is more convenient,” or “That is where I want to live.”) Therefore it is claimed that any penalty, financial or restrictive, on the use of lorries or trucks or van adds to the costs of production, raises prices, and falls eventually on the consumer, who is everybody. This is true, but it is also true that the pollution, the noise, the loss of amenity, the congestion in the streets, fall on everybody, though more on the poor than on the rich, who can afford ways of escape. And the economy is distorted if industry and commerce, or any section of them, do not pay the full community costs of their operations. If it is desirable to raise the immediate costs of automobile use to accord with the long-term social costs (including the cost of conserving resources), it is true of commercial use just as it is of private use. Not only overall use should be checked, but also particularly pernicious elements. Unduly long or heavy trucks and trailers should be, not banned entirely, for there may be occasions when they must be used at whatever price, but heavily penalised.

The outcome might well be a revival of rail traffic, perhaps through the accelerated development of the super-fast train which Britain is pioneering, and of standardised freight-containers, easily shipped from factory or warehouse to railhead, from truck to rail bogey and rail bogey to truck. If the true commercial costs of transport by road and internal combustion engine had to be paid, the railway age would be far from defunct: it might be due for a fresh lease of life. But if we leave it too late the great capital assets of the railway system will have been lost or have become so run down as to defy worth-while resuscitation. (No charge for the rundown in the GNP or in statistics of economic growth.)

In one respect at least the argument against loading industry with extra cost does hold water, that is, in respect of international competition. It would be a big handicap to any one country if it acted alone in deliberately raising its transport costs in the interest of protecting the resources which the whole world shares. We face an international problem for which the solution must be international. This does not mean it must be universal. The great bulk of the world’s trade in oil is conducted by comparatively few big concerns: if a dozen or so of the main consuming countries were to agree upon a common price-taxing policy, and upon surcharging imports from countries which did not follow it, the criterion of fair competition would be satisfied. There are, however, other difficulties. One is the probable attitude of the “less developed” oil-producing countries, leagued in OPEC. They would say, with some reason, “It is our resources that you are so concerned about, our outflow you hope to cut, our revenues that will fall if you succeed. If anyone is going to impose a conservation tax or levy, it will be ourselves, thank you very much.” That creates a bargaining struggle, with a lot of advantage on OPEC’s side. A compromise would have to be fought out, and undoubtedly the producing countries would have to get more cash. This is one aspect of the larger question of international organisation for conservation of resources and defence of the environment.

Aviation would of course be equally affected with all other uses of petrol if a levy or charge were imposed internationally, unless it received a special rebate. Why should it? Aeroplanes use an immense quantity of petrol, and use it in a particularly polluting way, in the upper atmosphere or noisily on or near the ground. If we are wasting resources in automobiles we are likewise wasting them in aircraft. Air journeys are highly convenient and time-saving, but they are not by any means always necessary. My own journeys to Australia before World War II took a month each way: since the war they have taken a day and a half, and with Concorde they need take only half a day. The differences over long distances are enormous. But over short distances they are not so great. Even crossing the Atlantic, only a few years ago, when one used to leave Southampton on a Thursday afternoon and arrive in New York on the Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth on a Tuesday morning, one lost thereby only a couple of working days on shore, and could use every hour of the crossing to relax, prepare and do paper-work. There is nothing so specially valuable about air travel as to excuse it from paying the full environmental cost of its operations and use of resources. There are indeed many good reasons why it should do so.

Less transport, less movement, much more economical use of scarce materials and of objects employing them (for instance, smaller and more durable motor cars), these are obvious and necessary contributors to a solution of the problem of pressure upon natural resources. Aggravated as that problem is by population increases, it is created primarily by economic growth; the official international forecast of world population growth between now and the end of the twentieth century is 2 per cent per annum compound, whereas that of growth in world energy consumption, a good index of economic growth as a toll on resources, is 6 per cent per annum compound. But there must be other contributors, even more directly related to economic growth itself. And they will require a radical change in outlooks and in ways of life. In the words of Mr Russell Train, Chairman of the United States Council on Environmental Quality:—

We must come to grips with the basic values that shape our society. Economic growth just for the sake of growth, or technology just for the sake of technology, are simply no longer good enough. We must learn to develop high levels of economic activity and technology that are based less on the consumption of resources and which contribute more to the quality of life. Such a goal cannot be achieved overnight, but will require long-term adjustment. The planning should begin now.

To return to a point made earlier in this chapter, there must be something wrong with ways of life or life-standards enjoyed by some which if attained by everyone (and if they are sensible and wholesome for a man with a white skin and a business suit why not for a brown man in a dhoti?) would destroy the human race as certainly as the nuclear bomb. The height or merit of life-standards happily does not depend on economic factors alone. According to the figures (comparing money incomes at the current rate of exchange) the average economic standard of citizens of the United States is twice as high as that of citizens of Britain. But to deduce that in any affective sense the average American was twice as well-off and comfortable as the average Britisher would be to fly in the face of facts. Many things enter into life-standards, and among the least important are multiple car ownership, expensive vacations, private swimming pools, patent health foods, multifarious cosmetics, psychiatric consultations, country clubs, lamé tuxedos and other manifestations of the affluent society.

We cannot hopefully be expected voluntarily to lower our life-standards, but we can be invited to change them, to accord with a more sensible and far-sighted view of man’s place on the planet and his demands upon its resources. At least we may reasonably be asked to forego some or all of that envious ambition to raise our economic consumption levels which is expressed in adulation of economic growth. It is our duty in the richer countries to save ourselves by our endeavours and the world by our example.


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