|Stanford Daily, 11/03/2003|
In the Op-ed letter in the Friday, Oct. 31 Daily, Terry Anderson and Laura Huggins appear to try to dispel the "myth" that there are actual, finite limits to resources. They imply that a decreased rate of consumption brought about by conservation is equivalent to a decrease in scarcity. Although I'm not an economist, in the universe with which I am familiar, a decreasing rate of consumption does not create new resources. Perhaps it will take a generation or two longer to run out, but there is still the same limit on consumable materials. An economy based on growth will sooner or later be unable to continue growth, either from a scarcity of raw materials or a limit to the number of possible consumers.
Sustainability is not some ethereal concept. Populations of bacteria grow until they reach the limits of the least-available nutrient and then their population levels off. The population will then remain in equilibrium with their environment. Anderson and Huggins' proposed definition of sustainability, "a call to maximize human welfare" misses the point entirely. Sustainability is a function of the ability to maintain an equilibrium between available resources and the rate of consumption. It is not solely a question of human welfare, but rather a function of the ability to maintain a population indefinitely. Even if we decrease the rate of consumption we will eventually reach the end of supply if resources are non-renewable.
To scoff at the idea of sustainability belies an underlying agenda which I perceive in many writings from the Hoover Institution: economic growth is the appropriate goal of our economic and political system. Then they throw in a dose of "respect for the rule of law and property rights". These will only apply if the laws and distribution of property are fair and just. They do not in and of themselves guarantee a system that allows all members an equal chance at prosperity.