This chapter focuses on the environmental discourse of limits and survival and how it set the apocalyptic horizon of environmentalism. Population biologists and ecologists use the concept of ‘carrying capacity’ — the maximum population of a species that an ecosystem can support in perpetuity. When the population of a species grows to the point where carrying capacity is exceeded, the ecosystem is degraded and the population crashes, recovering only if and when natural processes restore the ecosystem to its previous capacity. One complicating factor when it comes to applying population biology to human societies is the possibility of economic growth. The chapter first considers the origins of survivalism before discussing the political philosophy of survival, discourse analysis of limits and survival, and limits and survival in practice. It also examines the challenges confronting the limits discourse, including the lack of international action on climate change.
This edition examines the politics of the Earth through reference to discourses based on the argument that language matters, that the way we construct, interpret, discuss, and analyze environmental problems has all kinds of consequences. The goal is to elucidate the basic structure of the discourses that have dominated recent environmental politics, and to present their history, conflicts, and transformations. The text discusses four basic environmental discourses: environmental problem solving, limits and survival, sustainability, and green radicalism. This introduction provides an overview of the changing terms of environmental politics, questions to ask about discourses, the differences that discourses make, and the uses of discourse analysis.