St. Lawrence University Associate Professor of Environmental Studies David Murphy is among five scholars to establish a network of scholars and researchers to promote the understanding of planetary limits, envision scenarios for humanity to thrive within planetary limits, better educate college students about these challenges and advise government officials and communities in developing effective responses.
The Planetary Limits Academic Network (PLAN) was announced through an essay written by the scholars that will appear in the November 2021 issue of the journal Energy Research & Social Science. Modernity is Incompatible with Planetary Limits: Developing a PLAN for the Future cautions current levels of worldwide economic growth, energy use and resource consumption will overshoot Earth’s finite limits.
In addition to Murphy, authors of the article include Ben McCall, the University of Dayton’s Hanley Sustainability Institute Executive Director; Melody LeHew, a professor of interior design and fashion studies at Kansas State University; Tom Murphy, professor of physics at the University of California at San Diego; and Thomas F. Love, professor emeritus of anthropology at Linfield University.
In their new essay, the authors wrote, “early flying machines invariably crashed despite an exhilarating brief airborne interval mainly because the contraptions were simply not built according to aerodynamic principles of sustainable flight. Likewise, the present economy is not built on principles for sustainable, steady-state operation.”
David Murphy stresses that the authors are advocating prudence, rather than trying to sound alarmist.
“We hope this essay gets people to step back from the familiar, up-close view of their place in the world to see a broader perspective on the challenges modern society faces going forward,” he said. “We are not making predictions of ‘when.’ Our point is there are fundamental limits to our resources on this finite planet, and if we continue using them at this pace, we’ll exhaust our resources and that outcome won’t be good. We need to find ways to power our world without destroying it.”
The authors acknowledge “the thought that growth should come to an end is counter to our culture.” But keeping at this pace, society is not going to get the future it’s been promised, according to McCall.
“We shouldn’t expect a ‘Jetsons’ future with flying cars, but with intentional planning we can hope to do better than a ‘Flintstones’ future,” he said.
“We all are a product of our times, where ‘new,’ ‘shiny,’ ‘better’ seem normal and ‘more, more, more’ seems good, but that is a reflection of the abnormal period of the last century or so," said Tom Murphy. "If humanity keeps growing its impact on the planet, we will overshoot planetary limits, so we need to plan to power down while there’s still time. Even the founders of economics recognized that Earth’s resources are finite and growth is but a transient phase.”
Melody LeHew, a professor of interior design and fashion studies at Kansas State University, said more than just engineers, economists and biologists need to study these and related fields, but others need to get out of their silos to contribute to solutions.
“As someone who studies fashion, I have seen how our current systems can lead to tremendous waste of resources, but also how dedicated scholars working together can make even the fashion industry more sustainable,” she said.
“Our hope is that we might spark debate and deep thinking about how human civilization might thrive for millennia to come, rather than simply survive the bottlenecks of the next few decades,” said Love. “We want scholars to ask what role their current research plays in addressing these issues and contribute to the understanding how human activity might fit within planetary limits.”
Anyone can join the network as a subscriber to receive updates about network activities. Active scholars can join as members to participate in forums or collaborators to receive full access to the network. Visit the PLAN Academic website for more information.