Limits Exceeded – The Predicament of Mankind

Limits to Growth - Limits ExceededCivilization has come a long way in the last 10,000 years.

To those who follow the latest scientific findings, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be an easy ride going forward. In the early 70s I read the ground-breaking book “Limits to Growth,” detailing a study by 16 scientists at MIT about the consequences of various likely societal paths. It was clear that we were heading in the wrong direction since unlimited growth cannot occur on a finite planet, regardless of our economic model. Over the decades, follow-up studies confirmed the initial findings with even great accuracy. We have failed to heed the warning.

In 2012, lead author Dennis Meadows concluded that the collapse of our civilization is impending and that it could happen within the next few years. “We will be faced with challenges that we cannot even imagine today and they are going to be upon us much quicker than we can imagine,” he said in his presentation to the Smithsonian on the 40th anniversary of “Limits to Growth.”

Watch it yourself. Meadows is one of the most informed humans on the planet and it is well worth your time:

“We’re in for a period of sustained chaos whose magnitude we are unable to foresee,” Meadows warns. He no longer spends time trying to persuade humanity of the limits to growth. Instead he says, “I’m trying to understand how communities and cities can buffer themselves” against the inevitable hard landing.

Limits Exceeded

We have exceeded the capacity of our planet to sustain our population’s consumption. In other words, our current set of living arrangements has no future. The only reasonable response is a rapid transition to a post-carbon culture while building resiliency into our communities.

Business as usual is history. Over. Done. Kaput. It is imperative that we give this situation the attention it deserves. Las Vegas is particularly vulnerable, in a desert with scarce essential resources. There are several things I think we should be doing. It all centers on three words: Localize, localize, localize.

Cheap Energy

Peak oil has been the topic of past Green Living columns. It has not gone away and when coupled with the drought brought on by the deepening effects of climate change, we are facing a perfect storm of human-induced challenges. We must begin designing post-carbon communities now. The Post Carbon Institute is a great resource for more information.

Transition Time

Why not turn our failing urban and suburban car-centric environment into clusters of semi-autonomous walkable “villages” that foster cooperation, interaction and sharing? If we build any new homes at all, they should utilize earthen berms to add thermal mass and greatly reduce the need for climate control systems. Existing homes need deep green energy efficiency retrofits. As they stand now, most homes in Southern Nevada are essentially unlivable in the summer without massive amounts of external energy. It is a very dangerous situation.

The Transition Movement began several years ago in a small town in England. Adapting the core concepts to urban and suburban communities has been a challenge. Watch the inspiring video below on a new program aimed at changing one street at a time. You can help get the program started at the Transition Streets crowd-funding page.

Local Clean Energy

Local energy production systems are vitally important. Massive adoption of rooftop solar is crucial. Linking rooftop PV systems into multiple, village-sized micro-grids increases resiliency and can reduce large-scale infrastructure costs. Rooftop solar is a great investment, especially on an energy-efficient home.

We also need an extreme focus on fully powering our water delivery systems from Lake Mead with solar energy, a local power source we can depend on.

Essential Water

Once water is delivered to our homes, it must be treated much differently than it is now. Forget about return flow credits. We should be getting at least four beneficial uses from every gallon of water pumped the long, energy-intensive distance from the Colorado River. That means recycling on site. Remember, we have made “business as usual” a thing of the past.

Water can be recycled in many ways. With some creative bio-mimicry, we can safely cook, bathe, clean, and grow food using the same water, just like nature does. The practice of using fresh potable water to flush “human waste” into our source of fresh potable water is wasteful and insane. Learn more about very efficient residential water systems at Earthship Biotecture.

Stop the Waste

We must adopt methods to turn that “waste” into an asset. Composting and waterless toilets can create excellent materials to build fertile soil. Refer to my recent column highlighting the excellent work of the Watershed Management Group for inspiration.

Local Food

Local food production must ramp up quickly as traditional sources suffer from extreme ongoing drought. Local permaculture is key (check out Great Basin Permaculture and the Food Hub Strategist of Clark County). How many empty warehouses dot the valley? Indoor food production is an efficient way to grow healthy produce year-round, using a small fraction of the water compared to traditional methods.

Local Currency

It is time to develop a local currency that is independent of the dollar. When it comes down to it, we all depend on each other. Resiliency is the result of a strong local economy that is not tied to the cost of oil or further illegal manipulations by Wall Street. The concept is not exactly new, illustrated by the growing number of communities with local currencies.

Within this culture wealth is measured by one’s ability to consume and destroy.”

– Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization

I’m sure many others can contribute to this conversation. Some have already begun. Local governments must become more involved and make their resiliency plans readily available to the public. A sense of urgency commensurate to the problem at hand is sorely lacking.  We are way out of balance and nature always seeks a new equilibrium. We can take an active approach or not. Either way, the consequences are inevitable.

Is civilization itself the core of the problem? Some think so. Derrick Jensen’s End Game: The Problem of Civilization is as passionate as it is thought-provoking. Reading both volumes will permanently change your view of the world. Here’s a short primer from National Geographic on the beginning of it all:


  1. Jane Feldman says

    I love the idea of village-sized micro-grids. Let’s make it happen! Local energy independence would be a reality. Our utility will become our micro-grid manager, making this happen for all the micro-grids in the region.

  2. I am in the midst of getting a Superadobe (earthbag)/Earthship hybrid home permitted in the City of Las Vegas in order to open up this type of sustainable (and affordable!) building to others. I envision villages of beautiful earth domes in our city! To follow our progress, please go to Open Arms Domes on Facebook and request access. Thanks for your support!

  3. Also, for local currency, see and the book “Hometown Money”, available at Lots of great info!