The Ecology of Exchange

A torrent of clichés prescribing the end is already here.  Our ecological society has formed around the possibility of the collapse, through pollution, various floods, the greenhouse effect, overpopulation, etc. Hence, alarming criteria makes up the roots of an environmentalist debate. Now, the gravity of industrial errors and mishaps renders the appearance of a new society.  This is the eschatological society, a society of the collapsed.

Paul Virilio suggests this raises primary philosophical questions.  His raison d‘être is; “to invent the ship is to invent the shipwreck; to invent the airplane is to invent the crash”.  Any valuation of scientific progress implies reciprocal accident progress. Designers converse about inventing airplanes with a thousand seats, which then imply a possible thousand deaths. Aristotle said, “The accident reveals the substance,” which is to say that one cannot separate the innovation of an object, technique, or place from its devalued negative side.  Therefore, if tomorrow’s humankind is to flourish, what then constitutes the magnitude of our failure?

We do not know when a surplus of food first allowed the establishment of a community based on the division of labour in large, self- contained development. Exactly when the first city came into being lies hidden in the depth of history. The early cities that have been discovered by archeologists show signs of already being fully developed. There seems to be hardly any difference between the problems they experienced and those of today´s big cities- waste disposal, drinking-water supply, epidemics, traffic noise, street fights after sport events, environmental pollution.

The city is an expression of the „human quality“. Civil liberty, science and the rule of law arose in cities. Cities have always had a magnetic pull. For over 5,000 years people have been streaming into cities in the hope of finding freedom and better future. New york, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Mumbai have come to represent a promise of salvation for many people-they are places full of hope. In 2050 more than 75% of the world´s population will live in cities. All problems become more concentrated in the close confines of urban areas, yet cities are poised for unlimited growth. Today there is not enough energy and water for everyone, and in many places security is only available to those who can pay for it. If a city´s economic srength starts to wane-if it migrates to other, more attractive, cities- the country will become poor. If cities become ungovernable due to their sheer size, new seondary powers will start to emerge that could ignite a general and apparently aimless revolution. The superficially fantastic new megacities seem to embraced unrestricted growth, but where are the extra supplies of energy and food to come from a safeguard that growth? How much environmental destruction can they withstand?

Cities are the great common task of all nation states, they are threatend by scarce resources, environmental problems, new diseases, uncontrolled growth and migration, and by the ethnic and reliogoius conflicts stemming from the despair of dissapointed immigrants. Half the world’s 6 billion people are now living in cities and the rate of urban growth is over one million per week. Disproportionately, this burgeoning population is in the developing world and the vast majority of these new city dwellers are very poor. By the most conservative estimates, at least a billion people are currently in slums, possibly as many as twice that. In 2020 a predictable 1.4 billion people will be living in slums. How can this be reconciled with an intended future of prosperity and positive human interaction? If we want the city to remain the driving force behind human development, we must reinvent it now; otherwise there is the risk, that it will become the final stage of human civilization in the 21st century.

Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, population growth and increases in consumption in many parts of the world have increased humanity‘s ecological burden on the planet, even though there has not been an equal corresponding increase in the Earth‘s bounty of natural resources. As stated in World Wildlife Fund: Living Planet Report 2006, total global consumption of natural resources has risen by fifty percent since 1970, while Earth‘s natural wealth has decreased by over thirty percent.

At the same time, although  global environmental problems are typically considered part of national and international decision-making, it is now much more important to consider the environmental impacts of urban areas, because a rapidly growing proportion of the world‘s population lives in cities. According to the United Nations Population Division, 2.9 billion people or 47 percent of the earth‘s population lived in urban areas in 2000. In 2008, it is projected that the global urbanization rate will reach 50 percent, and in 2030 it should reach 60 percent. In other words, the world‘s population could increase by 2.2 billion people in 2030, with 2.1 billion of these people living in cities. Nearly all of this additional population growth is expected to occur in developing nations, and practically all of it will be concentrated in urban areas.

Humanity‘s demands exceed our planet’s capacity to sustain us by about 25%. The Question raises: How many do we have? How many have we got?

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