Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment

By Paul R. Ehrlich; Anne H. Ehrlich et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
Changing
American Institutions

The ecological constraints on population and technological growth will inevitably lead to social and economic system different from the ones in which we live today.

In order to survive, mankind will have to develop what might be called a steady state.

The steady state formula is so different from the philosophy of endless quantitative growth, which has so far governed Western civilization, that it may cause widespread public alarm.

--René Dubos, 1969

Mistrust of technology is an attitude that ought to be taken seriously. It has positive value in avoiding grave disasters.

--Roberto Vacca, 1974

Changing individual attitudes on population size in general and family size in particular is only part of the problem facing humanity today. This chapter and the next examine the need for institutional changes to meet the population-resource-environment crisis. Here we focus primarily on the institutions of the most influential country in the world. It is the United States that in the past few decades has been the leader in humanity's reckless exploitation of Earth; it was also in the United States that the resistance to that exploitation first became well organized. It seems unlikely to us that disaster can be averted without dramatic changes in the structure of many American institutions -- changes that could support and consolidate gains in such areas as family size, resource conservation and environmental awareness that have already been made on the basis of transformed individual attitudes.

Many of the institutional problems discussed here also have relevance to other nations, especially other DCs that since World War II have emulated the United States in many respects. Readers in other countries, therefore, may find some of this text directly relevant, even though the focus is on the United States. In Chapter 15 we expand our outlook to examine international institutions. All these institutions must be altered -- and soon -- or they and society as we know it will not survive. Whether significant changes in attitudes can occur fast enough to affect humanity's destiny is an open question. In our discussion we have held to one overriding principle: today's problems cannot be solved by destroying the

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