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In any case, Ausubel doesn't think that carbon dioxide is a long-term problem because the world's energy system has been inexorably decarbonizing for the past two centuries. His research traces humanity's steady progress from wood to coal to oil to natural gas and, eventually, to hydrogen. At each stage, consumers, without being commanded to do so by regulators, have chosen fuels containing more hydrogen over fuels containing more carbon.
Ausubel sees that trend continuing until carbon-based fuels are eliminated by the end of the century. He expects that carbon dioxide concentrations, now about 360 parts per million (ppm), will peak at 450 ppm. That is 100 ppm less than the U.N.'s sometimes stated goal of "stabilizing" carbon dioxide at 550 ppm, and it would happen without draconian increases in energy prices or the creation of global bureaucracies aimed at regulating the atmosphere.
So Wackernagel et al. are wrong on every measure they chose to analyze with regard to the future sustainability of the human enterprise. How could they get it so wrong?
"Biologists and ecologists tend to overlook the power of technical progress compounded over the years," says Ausubel. "If you're trained in ecology and botany, you think of technology as a bulldozer, but what it really is, is efficiency, using less to do more."
Technological progress has already dramatically expanded the carrying capacity of the earth. In the 21st century it will so outpace the increasing demands of a growing and wealthier population that more and more land will revert to nature.
"It looks like over the next 100 years, for most environmental concerns, we will do better," concludes Ausubel. "You get smarter as you get richer."
Ausubel's own article in the June 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes, "An annual 2-3% progress in consumption and technology over many decades and sectors provides a benchmark for sustainability." In other words, economic growth and technological progress are sustainable in the long run and make it less and less likely that humanity will overshoot any limits the biosphere may have.
Let the Great Restoration begin!