Abundance vs Collapse

As I prepare to attend the Age of Limits conference, I am wondering what it will be like to be among people of a completely different mindset than those I usually see day to day.

Today I gave a short presentation to my firm on Cradle-to-Cradle and the resulting C2C product certification program. We started with NetZero buildings, then upstart certifiers at Green Globes, then C2C, then Leed v4 and finally asked whether the International Code Council’s new International Green Construction Code will supplant both LEED and Green Globes.

As I presented McDonough and Braungart’s upbeat message that we can design our way to abundance, I noted that that one word – abundance – probably explains why Cradle-to-Cradle has been so attractive to their wealthy and powerful clients. No businessman wants to hear about the usual environmentalist prescriptions that people should conserve more and consume less to save the planet. They want to produce, sell, and grow; they want people eager to buy. From an environmentalist, abundance has to sound like a great business plan – even if you have to throw a few dollars at green projects and practices.

I left them with the thought that we can certainly try to use the environmental architect’s kit of parts – green roofs, photovoltaic arrays, water systems, etc – but that ecosystems have taken millions of years to evolve, so the idea that we can quickly create new ones or insert ourselves into old ones without some spectacular failures is a tall order.

I later ran across this Santiago Times article European contact not land use led to Easter Island collapse, claiming that Easter Island scenarios described by Jared Diamond in Collapse and Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress are fundamentally incorrect:

The Rapa Nui people and their iconic Moai statues are often held up as environmental parables of our age — in a collective obsession to build ever more and ever larger stone monoliths they stripped their Pacific island home of its trees and consigned their once rich society to catastrophic collapse.

But in an article recently published by the Journal of Archaeological Science, Mara Mulrooney, assistant anthropologist at Bishop Museum in Hawaii, challenges that narrative, championed more than 60 years ago by the likes of the legendary Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame and popularized recently by science writer Jared Diamond in his 2005 book “Collapse.”

From her home in Hawaii, Mulrooney told The Santiago Times about how her research led to a very different conclusion — with European sailors not indigenous land practices leading population decline on Rapa Nui.

Back on now-defunct The Oil Drum the idea that some Rapa Nui idiot had cut down that last palm tree was more or less gospel with the doomer crowd, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It isn’t the first attack on the collapse theory, but it is the most plausible I’ve read yet.

Update: I see that this story broke in late 2013, but there seems to be little back and forth since then.

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