Unsustainable Humanity

Bill Rees, creator of the ecological footprint concept, warns that economic growth needs to slow down greatly if we want to maintain a civilized life on Earth.

"Bill Rees has consumer ennui."

"It isn't fair of me, really, to drop the good professor into this sprawling big-box store like a mouse in a maze. After all, he's not what you might call a retail-therapy kind of guy. In fact, few individuals on the planet have a richer understanding of precisely how $18.99 stewpots-because of the resources they consume in production and the waste they produce in their eventual disposal-are leading us toward a societal collapse. Rees has not only done the math on the true cost of our insatiable consumer appetites, he actually wrote the formula and came up with a simple metaphor-the ecological footprint-in an effort to get it through our thick skulls."

"Unfortunately, Rees's most recent finding-that humanity may be inherently unsustainable, the theme of his upcoming book-isn't earning him many friends in high places. Neither are his recommendations. In effect, he says, we need to do away with all the shopping, yesterday, and pull the emergency brake on runaway economic growth. And if we don't? 'We will trigger or disrupt something on a scale never before imagined, and take the whole system down,' he says matter-of-factly. 'It may not be the end of life on Earth, but it will make it very difficult to have civilized life.'"

"While the underlying science may be sound, these are not terribly marketable ideas. Stop growth? What are you, nuts? Yet deep down, at least a few of our policymakers and business leaders may believe Rees is correct. That said, the required whole-system changes are so profoundly unsellable that they pretty much never hit the ground."

Full Story: Rees's Thesis



Sustainable Growth

We don't need to stop economic growth, we need to stop unsustainable economic growth and dramatically increase sustainable economic growth.

The environmental impact of humanity can be summed up by a simple equation:

Impact = average impact per person X number of people

We can make progress on both these fronts. There is a strong inverse correlation between education and fertility: having more education and fewer children go together. This is a compelling justification for lifting the billions of global poor out of poverty even though it means higher per capita environmental damage in the short run.

Meanwhile we need to get to work reducing the per capita impact of people who are already wealthy: the clean-renewable energy revolution, products made out of non-toxic recyclable materials, cars that can run on clean-renewable energy, and compact mixed-use urban growth are all key components.

We need to take our environmental problems seriously. We are unsustainable now, but that isn't inevitable.

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