July 14, 2010

Does pollution reflect environmental limits?

Yes, it's crucial to realize that there are limits to the ability of the earth to absorb pollutants, such as CO2. On the other hand, I'd draw a distinction between pollution, and the kind of limits to growth discussed by the Club of Rome.

Sometimes pollution problems are framed as a "limit to environmental sinks" problem - in which the earth is thought to provide environmental services which have a limit. This is accurate, but it's not a "limit to growth".

Commodity resource consumption is different from pollution:

Pollution is a destructive and undesired side effect. It's magnitude isn't necessarily related to the size of the polluting activity (pollutants can be extremely destructive or only mildly destructive, like the warming effects of methane vs CO2); and pollution can and should be eliminated, while resource consumption generally is intended, and has value.

CO2 in particular is difficult to separate from energy production, but it's very doable, by electrifying energy consumption and producing renewable electricity.