Tenet 6

Humanity can choose to live within
Nature’s limits

This is the “good news” tenet for we can do something about our unsustainable ways if we choose to do so. The key word here is “choose” for make no mistake about it, it is a choice. We can choose to live within the physical and ecological limits of the biosphere, which we’re not now doing, or we can choose to continue with business as usual and suffer the consequences.

If you believe, because of our ingenuity and technological advances, that we can continue with business as usual, consider this: today we have more technological advances than ever before, concurrent with significant declines in biodiversity, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, collapsing fisheries, and other environmental calamities. When is this technology going to kick in?

No, the only way humanity will survive given our current trajectory, is by living within the physical and ecological limits of the biosphere, that is, by becoming a sustainable culture.

The following are but a few of the significant changes we must choose to make if we wish to become sustainable:

  1. First and foremost we must begin to deal with the causes of our environmental dilemma rather than just the symptoms. For example, climate change is simply a symptom and will never be stopped by placing all our efforts on addressing climate change alone. In fact, this was the conclusion of a group of over 80 British MPs, members of an All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group.1 The group discovered that, although government policies in Britain were actually lowering carbon emissions, more and more industrial plants, cars on the road, and increasing consumption resulting from economic growth were swamping the reductions. The group called for the abandonment of the two hundred year old, business-as-usual pursuit of economic growth.
  2. Move from the fatally flawed, ever-growing, neoclassical economic model to a sustainable, steady state economic model, which would strive to maintain constant stocks of natural capital and people “at levels that are sufficient for a long and good life.”2 A steady state economy would also consider just distribution of resources, which would help alleviate the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Since economic growth is facilitated by population growth and growth in per-capita consumption both of these would have to be addressed, given that our current population has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the biosphere.
  3. Protect the remaining ecosystems and their biodiversity and rehabilitate and restore damaged ecosystems.

So, we can choose to live within the physical and ecological limits of the biosphere, or we can choose business as usual and suffer the consequences; that is, we can choose to be sustainable or Nature will make the choice for us. And while Nature can be very beautiful, serene, and bountiful, we should keep in mind that she can also be repulsive, turbulent and meagre…and she always bats last!.


1 McCarthy, M. 2006. Global warming: your chance to change the climate. The Independent. (Accessed 20 November 2007). Note: this link opens a new window.
2 Daly, H.E., and J. Farley. 2004. Ecological economics: Principles and applications. Island Press. Washington.

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