Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Imagining the Future: Strategic Goals

To create an ideal world, we should work toward all of the following strategic goals:

  • Transitioning to entirely renewable energy and reusable materials
  • Eliminating pollution both at the source and in the environment
  • Emphasizing service more than attainment of personal power
  • Re-humanizing our relationships with each other and the rest of Nature

For a healthy, sustainable society, material consumption should be kept to no more than the biocapacity of local ecosystems and no less than the amount required to maintain a functioning society (see “Imagining the Future: Meeting Needs”). This currently translates into an average world average global ecological footprint of between 1.5 and 1.7 global hectares per person. Because the biocapacity per person is inversely proportional to the ecological footprint per person, which itself is proportional to population, increases in consumption and population should be avoided at all costs.

The goals that I listed support meeting this objective. The first two directly reduce the ecological footprint and its growth by reducing waste, and could eventually contribute to increasing biocapacity if we enlist other species in meeting them. The third is based on my analysis of why we are so wasteful (see especially “Fatal Flaw”).

According to Global Footprint Network's “Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity, 2007,” the average person in the United States had an ecological footprint of eight global hectares in 2007, or five times the minimum acceptable amount.  Because the money we spend is roughly proportional to our ecological footprint, then as a first step toward creating an ideal world, we in the United States could try to limit what we spend to one-fifth of our income in 2007. We could then use the rest of our income to pay off our debts, assist people below the minimum to at least be able to live at the minimum, and contribute to pollution-fighting and habitat restoration and preservation.

An overall decrease in the world's per-capita consumption would seem to require a corresponding decrease in the population, which is why I've shied away from proposing it in the past. The broad goal of replacing current consumption with renewable and replaceable resources, without requiring that those resources come at the expense of the biosphere, left open the possibility that technologies might be developed that could do so. I now have little (less) hope that this could happen before the population peaks. One possible alternative is to increase biocapacity enough to compensate, but this too would require time we may not have.

The fourth goal presents a possible way out of this dilemma. Personal relationships with each other and other species have weakened considerably as our population has increased. To the extent such relationships exist, they have become largely transactional and correspondingly abstract, thus more likely to weaken or break if there is less to trade. Strengthening the non-transactional aspects of these relationships, bringing them closer to what our distant ancestors enjoyed, could conceivably deal with this problem. As we become more familiar with other creatures, they might be perceived as a part of our population (similar to how some people view their pets) who could take of themselves, while helping us. The contribution to happiness – the internal experience of approaching our comfort zone that is probably a major motivation behind our consumption – might offset the perception of loss accompanied by the reduction of consumption. Keeping consumption at or above the minimum would assure that changes to life expectancy (also correlated to consumption and happiness) wouldn't be an issue.

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