Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Fall Of Nauru: A Warning...

This fascinating article concerning the environmental destruction and consequent economic collapse of the tiny island nation offers an instructive lesson on several levels. Briefly, the people of this Pacific island enjoyed a resource-based bounty for a time: phosphate derived from bird guano. The birds were attracted by the rich coral reefs, but changing migratory patterns caused a long anticipated decline in the resource base (it's also quite likely that the resource was mined much faster than replenishment). Islanders had invested in a trust fund intended to provide financial security for leaner times, but corruption and mismanagement depleted the fund prematurely. In addition to leaving the population destitute, the phosphate mining produced vast environmental damage. Sadly, there apparently is still some phosphate to be mined from Nauru's soil, and this time, promises are made that a new trust fund will be properly managed. In the meantime, the island population has shrunk dramatically as those able to leave have departed permanently.

What's equally interesting about this piece is not just the bald facts of resource depletion and devastating environmental damage, but the author's astounding assertion that the fault lies in "failure to invest in economic growth." Here's some key evidence of this flawed logic:

"It's a cautionary lesson in the perils of failing to reinvest in the economy. There is no country in the world, not Nauru and not the United States, that can possibly sustain itself indefinitely on the proceeds of yesterday's economic successes.

There is no substitute for economic growth. Making some really bad investments was clearly one of the Nauruans' big mistakes. But over the long run, neither a big, well-managed trust fund nor a small, badly managed one will survive in the face of a shrinking economy."

Well. Some really amazing editorializing here, mostly just ignoring the undeniable fact that humans cannot exist without natural resources. This is typical of most of the material one reads in the MSM these days...completely clueless and without any context whatsoever. The author describes the overshoot and collapse of a civilization in miniature, without for a moment realizing what is being depicted in this unfortunate scenario or the implications for the rest of the planet. For a more accurate picture, try substituting the words "exploitation of natural resources" for "economic growth." Articles like the one posted should be serving as screaming warnings, but alas, no one pays attention.

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