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2.3.1 Do We Face Global Limits?

Two of the Discourses Dryzek (2005) identified deal with global limits: survivalism and the Promethean response. The survivalism Discourse is concerned with the Earth's carrying capacity, which is the maximum population of a species that an ecosystem can support in perpetuity. Populations crash when their environment's carrying capacity is exceeded. In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), Diamond argued this happened to the inhabitants of Easter Island, the Anasazi of southwestern North America, and the Maya of Central America. We see a similar warning in Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Carrying capacity was addressed in Garrett Hardin's (1968) influential essay “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Hardin, a professor of human ecology, described that when faced with a decision about whether or not to put an extra cow to graze on the village commons [shared green space], a villager will rationalize that if he or she puts a cow on the commons he or she will benefit, whereas the costs [environmental stress due to overgrazing] will be shared with the other villagers. Each individual villager quickly places another cow on the commons, which is subsequently destroyed by overgrazing. Computer simulations sponsored by the Club of Rome in the early 1970s and published in The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972) established that exponential growth cannot go on forever in a finite system. Concern for limits permeated the Brundtland Commission's report which sparked growth in the sustainable development Discourse.

Many organizations recognize that resource limits exist and proceed accordingly. For several years Sam's Club periodically hosted private sustainability lectures at their Bentonville, AR, headquarters where representatives of their vendor companies spoke about their sustainability initiatives. I attended when Bruce Karas, Vice President for Environment and Sustainability at Coca-Cola, spoke. He described his company's 2020 goal to replenish 100 % of all the water it uses to make its products and to reduce water consumption used in manufacturing by 25 % (from 2010 levels). Coca-Cola is working with the US Department of Agriculture to restore damaged watersheds in our national forests, watersheds which supply drinking water to over 60 million people. They worked with DEKA to develop a low-energy water purification system called a slingshot to deploy in poor Third World communities so people have access to clean water. One slingshot unit can purify up to 300,000 L of water each year—enough daily drinking water for roughly 300 people—producing 10 gallons of clean water an hour while consuming less power than it takes to run a handheld hair dryer. Karas said:

Coca-Cola has been in business for more than 125 years and we want to make sure we are here for the next 125, and strike a balance between business and being sustainable. An essential part of business is that, if sustainability is not a part of your business model, you won't be around. If our community is healthy, then our business will be healthy, representing a key balance. (Crognale 2012)

In contrast, those who adopt the Promethean response deny that there are limits to resources and to growth. They argue that market pricing and technology will stimulate creativity which will result in the identification or creation of alternative raw materials once one set of resources is depleted. Pollution is “just matter in the wrong place in the wrong form, and with enough skilled application of energy, that can be corrected” (Dryzek 2005, p. 57). The business-as-usual approach taken by many organizations suggests this Discourse, which is closely aligned with the DSP, remains strong in Western organizations.

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