**Update: A unified and condensed version of "The Problem of Growth" is now up at The Oil Drum--readers may find the comments there of interest.
The fifth and final essay in "The Problem of Growth" is published (see links to all five essays below). This summary post is intended to place the series within the context of the problem it addresses, and will serve as an introduction to those who are getting to the party a bit late:
"The Problem of Growth" addresses what I see as the critical problem facing humanity: the structure of our civilization, its inherent need to grow (and therefore its unsustainability), and how we can fix the problem realistically. My proposed solution is, by definition, quite radical, because it rejects the prevalent problem-solving mechanism of modern technology: that we can use technology to continually mitigate the symptoms, rather than take the difficult (but, as I will argue, necessary) step of actually identifying and addressing the underlying problem.
Of course, it is certainly possible to "fix" the problem by continually developing more and better high technology "solutions" to each symptom of the underlying problem as it arises. This is what I call the "Roddenberry" solution, after the Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. It consists of addressing symptoms through high-tech fixes, though it often claims to be addressing causes--in fact, it fails to either identify the underlying cause, or to address that underlying cause in any fundamental way.
It may be possible to successfully mitigate every symptom of our civilization's greatest problem as it arises through newer and shinier technology--we can, by definition, never know the truth of this proposition. I submit, however, that anyone who "believes" that it can or cannot happen is acting on faith, not reason. I personally view the potential for success of this "Roddenberry" proposition as very unlikely, primarily because success requires an unending streak of successes while failure simply requires failing to address any one key symptom; secondarily, I see this approach failing because I see most of the attempted "solutions" under the "Roddenberry" approach as actually contributing to the underlying problem; finally, I dislike this approach because the requisite faith in the technological solution necessary to believe that it will continue to work indefinitely, and not merely pass on a truly insurmountable problem to our grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren, seems eerily akin to some talking-sky-god religion. As Arthur C. Clarke noted in his Third Law, any sufficiently advanced technology [here, one that could continue to solve our problems indefinitely] is indistinguishable from magic.
That said, if we continually rely on technology to facilitate infinite growth on a finite planet, I think we're quite likely to be disappointed. I won't go so far as to say that "I know we'll fail" because that would rejecting the possibility that I'm wrong. Anyone who takes a position on this topic on faith--that is, anyone who "knows" that they're right or that I'm wrong--is, I suggest, acting irrationally. Even if you think it's very, very likely that technology and human innovation will continue to solve our problems, if you can't admit that there is a possibility that you're wrong, then you're just not being rational. If we can get people to rationally discuss the problems facing civilization (tall order, I admit), then I think we have a decent chance of solving them.
Below are links to each of the five essays in "The Problem of Growth" series:
Part 1: Hierarchy Must Grow, and is Therefore Unsustainable
Part 2: Hierarchy is the Result of Dependency
Part 3: Building an Alternative to Hierarchy: Rhizome
Part 4: Implementing Rhizome at the Personal Level
Part 5: Implementing Rhizome at the Community Level