EcoIQ Magazine Features
Living Beyond Our Means
 

By Dennis Church

Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save CivilizationThe idea that we humans may be growing beyond – or overshooting – the capacity of the natural resources we depend upon to sustain us has a long history. It has proven premature when previously asserted, but now appears increasingly realistic.

“Overshoot” is a very common natural process. When a species multiplies past the food and other resources available from its environment, it then suffers through a population decline – often large and abrupt. In nature this is not a special case. It happens all the time.

We humans have escaped this outcome in the modern era because new technologies and techniques have expanded the resources available, because we have learned to substitute one resource for another, and because we have increased our ability to secure what we need from a given quantity of resources. Logic would suggest that such escapes cannot continue indefinitely as at some point physical limits will be reached. That point is now arriving for us.

Many people still believe that what is good for the environment more often than not represents a net cost to the economy. Some have understood that costs incurred to benefit the environment are sometimes a benefit to the economy, but only a minority has fully grasped the fact that a healthy economy is utterly dependent on a healthy natural environment. If the environment is damaged, that drags the economy down. If the environment is deteriorating, the economy will follow a similar downward path.

Without living and non-living natural resources drawn from the environment, there would be no economy. Damaging the environment means that these natural resources will become more difficult and more expensive to secure, and this in turn will hurt the economy. One way to say this is simply to point out that the economy is the wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. As we move forward, it will become ever more apparent that protecting and restoring the natural environment is the most important first step in any plan to maintain a healthy economy over time. Eco is the prefix for both ecology and economy. Green is the color of life and the color of money. Economic and environmental health should be understood as one integrated concept. As one reality.

The question is in the air. Is it too late to save ourselves? It is impossible to know, of course, but it seems clear that at the very least we are nearing the point where it could become too late to prevent a horrible tragedy. The health of oceans and forests is in rapid decline. Irrigation water supplies are threatened, and the food supply seems precarious. A consensus is slowly emerging that we are at or near the peak in the global supply of easily extracted conventional oil. And underlying all of this, the drivers of climate change are getting stronger, and some of the critical accelerating feedbacks that could propel continuing climate change no matter what we do are beginning to kick in.

It is clear to anyone who is paying attention that the necessity for urgent action is upon us, and that failure to move decisively imperils our civilization and the lives and safety of billions of people.
 
 

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