Beyond Enough

We cannot survive as a species if we don’t understand, acknowledge and act on the impacts human beings are having on the Earth.

Many of us now recognize the critical challenge of adapting society to live within Earth’s limits. How is it that our decision-makers continue as if the world is infinite and aim for continuous Growth?

This question is central to the message delivered by Dr. William Rees* in this webinar.

Governments and big media around the world see reality in conventional economic terms: investment, jobs, production, consumption and the recycling of the money from sales into further investment for more production, and around and around. The growth of this process, they assert, is the source of wellbeing. They overlook the fact that this process has grown from insignificance to a scale that is destabilizing our planet’s life-supporting systems. Official policy is to seek more Growth.

How can this be?

Each of us comes to understand the world from our experiences and from what others explain. If the information one receives does not include the relationship between humans and the environment, an individual will have a very hard time seeing how problems might arise therein.

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, which creates a greenhouse effect that alters the climate. The problem is clear if you understand that human activity takes place entirely within the global environment. If one sees human activity as separate from the environment, climate change remains a mystery.

Dr. Rees explains this with great clarity. I highly recommend that you watch at least the first half.

Our challenge is to get enough people to understand the human / environment relationship for political decision-makers to develop policies that effectively address the root problem – humans are overwhelming the Earth. Without such understanding, many Green Recovery plans are just bandages applied to symptoms while ever greater portions of the Earth are impaired.

How is it that the world looks so different to different people?
There is a vast amount of detail in the world that we can learn about and work with. By the age of thirty, we usually know enough about the world to make our lives work for us. It doesn’t take a large portion of the detail about our complex world to be able to earn a living. The vast differences between people come from the fact that while one person absorbs one set of details, another might collect a largely different set. Because things are working well enough for different people, we are confident that our views of the world are correct. Working from different sets of details, however, produces differing opinions and sometimes conflict.

Ecological Footprint
One clear indication of how extensive human pressure on Earth has become, is the Ecological Footprint. In the 1990s, Dr. Rees, working with graduate student Mathis Wackernagel, developed a tool for measuring human impacts. The footprint idea emerges from the common experience of leaving footprints on soft ground. The Ecological Footprint measures the “footprint” that humanity as a whole leaves on the Earth.

The team now working with the Global Footprint Network has determined that humanity presently uses as many natural resources in eight months as the Earth produces over an entire year. See Earth Overshoot Day.

What humanity extracts over the remaining four months draws down the fish, forests, soils and other natural resources, diminishing their ability to produce as much in the years following.

Anyone seeking a leadership role has to understand that human demands on the Earth must be adjusted to fit within Earth’s carrying capacity.

The history Ecological Footprint is available here.

Cultural adaptation
While there are many technological changes that can be made to reduce human impacts, more can be done by adjusting how we live. Manipulating material things, whether to make sports cars or tools, impacts the Earth. If, instead of consuming more of the Earth's material resources, we choose to enjoy our friends, learn something, or appreciate some portion of the world, we would give the Earth a bit more time to renew itself

Our actions are influenced by ideas and by learned behaviours. More Fun, Less Stuff is a memorable sound-bite which both challenges the material growth ideology and suggests that adapting to our full Earth can be a transformation of joy and celebration. We could be getting so much fulfillment from living that we wouldn’t be inclined, nor have the time, to consume and pollute at a dangerous level. Instead of competing to see who can consume the most stuff, we will try to outdo each other to see who can get the most fulfillment from living with the least disruption of the material world.

This shift of perspective is explored at More Fun, Less Stuff a meme for shifting to sustainability and Getting from Here to There.

If our societies master low-impact lifestyles, we will have the added thrill of knowing that we can pass the world on, intact, to the grandchildren.

Thanks for your interest.

For a life-affirming culture,

Yours, Mike N.

* Biography of William Rees, PhD, FRSC
Dr William Rees is a population ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. His academic research focuses on the biophysical prerequisites for sustainability. This focus led to co-development (with his graduate students) of ‘ecological footprint analysis, a quantitative tool that shows definitively that the human enterprise is in dysfunctional overshoot. (We would need five Earth-like planets to support just the present world population sustainably with existing technologies at North American material standards.) Frustrated by political unresponsiveness to worsening indicators, Dr Rees also studies the biological and psycho-cognitive barriers to environmentally rational behavior and policies. He has authored hundreds of peer reviewed and popular articles on these topics.

Prof Rees is a Fellow of Royal Society of Canada and also a Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute; a founding member and former President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics; a founding Director of the OneEarth Initiative; and a Director of The Real Green New Deal. He was a full member of the Club of Rome from 2013 until 2018. His international awards include the Boulding Memorial Award in Ecological Economics, the Herman Daly Award in Ecological Economics and a Blue Planet Prize (jointly with his former student, Dr Mathis Wackernagel).


Much would improve:

- the economy,
- the environment and
- human relations.

If we loved what is plentiful
as much as what is scarce.