Adapted from remarks delivered to the York Model United Nations in February 2009, and recently rescued from my drafts folder.
In the film The Dark Knight, there’s an exchange between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth about limits. Specifically, Alfred warns Bruce that he needs to “know his limits.” Bruce first rejects this idea, claiming that “Batman has no limits.” When Alfred points out that, while that may be true, Bruce Wayne does have limits, Bruce counters that he “can’t afford to know them.”
“And what’s going to happen on the day that you find out,” Alfred asks.
“We all know how much you like to say ‘I told you so,'” Bruce says.
“On that day, Master Wayne,” Alfred says, “even I won’t want to.”
People within the green movement have been talking about limits for years. On a finite planet like ours, there are limits to growth, whether you’re talking about energy generation, the economy, or how much we can squeeze out of the environment. In fact, the recognition of limits has often been used as the key distinction between the Green party and other political parties. In 2004 David Suzuki was the keynote speaker at a federal Green party convention in Bragg Creek, Alberta where he told us that the Green party was the only party that understood limits to growth.
Contrary to popular belief, and despite the party’s own messaging and positioning, most Greens I know have been very concerned about an impending economic collapse for years, and have been focused on it as the core challenge we should be addressing. We have recognized that the environmental, economic and energy crises are interrelated and must be dealt with in a coordinated fashion.
The response from most people to these realities, including our political leaders, has first been one of denial (“we have no limits”) then one of inconvenience (“we have limits but we can’t afford to know them”). The first goal of the green movement was to convince people that it was better to understand our limits and discover them on our own terms rather than encounter them unexpectedly in a way that would have disastrous consequences.
By many measures, that objective was not met. I don’t mean to say I’ve lost hope for a better future, because I have not. But realistically, many of the things we should and could have prevented will now come to pass. There were limits to how far we could push destructive economic growth, and we have learned (some of) them. There are limits to how much we can abuse and take for granted our environment, and we are beginning to learn them. There are limits to how long we can continue to exploit our current sources of energy at current rates, and we are rushing towards them. We are stumbling towards the triple E crisis instead of meeting it on our own terms.
The day has arrived where we can now say “I told you so.” And on this day, we don’t want to. Nor should we waste our breath. The fact that we’ve allowed the great challenges of our time to become even greater only means that we must focus more than ever, and work harder than ever, on solving them. Every time we miss the mark, we will redouble our efforts and start anew.
2 thoughts on “Knowing limits”
What environmental, economic and energy crises?
Certainly we are in a down economic cycle, but not one that we will not recover from. And environmentally, never has there been more environment friendly government policies, and we have never been in such a population beneficial energy supply demand equation.
To “limit growth” as DS puts it, is to limit the prospects for well being of the world’s poorest people. When Suzuki and his ilk (Gore, Hanson, et al)reduce their consumption of goods and resources (and “carbon”) then perhaps other humans should do the same.
Until they do, there is obvious proof that there is not a crisis. Only, for them, a financial opportunity to make tons of money.
BLF, would you agree that our planet is a sphere (and thus has a limited surface and volume), that it isn’t flat and does not extend into infinity?