We are constantly being reminded by environmentalists that we only have one planet on which to live, a single set of resources which are being depleted at an ever increasing rate…
But our biosphere is not a static pool of resources. The world is constantly changing. All around us life is growing, evolving, renewing itself, becoming a new world in every passing instant… The earth is a dynamic system capable of replenishing itself, as life on this planet recovered and evolved following the Permian extinction where 250 million years ago most life was wiped off the planet.
So what then is the worry over natural resource depletion? Is the logic of ecology a new conservatism aiming to ensure that the world’s poorest people remain impoverished, unable to undergo industrial development due to the alleged environmental costs and leaving the already industrialised nations in a permanent state of technological and military hegemony?
The answer is no. Resource depletion is a very real problem which human civilisation must begin to address. While the earth has the potential to recover from the ecological damage industrialization has wrought – if humanity disappeared then more oil would form, rainforests would regrow, and the unsustainable monocultures of industrial agriculture and urban development would be enveloped by sustainable and varied ecosystems – such ecological renewal would take millenia, a timescale which is of no help to those who wish to reduce human suffering here and now.
At present, humanity is using the Earth’s resources faster than they can replenish themselves. This is the definition of an unsustainable society. The consequences of such a society will be increased poverty and immiseration for many of the world’s poorest people, alongside a decline in the quality of life for many who today enjoy affluent lifestyles, as vital resources become increasingly scarce and therefore expensive if left to the market, essentially pricing the world’s poor out of life.
The current average ecological footprint of a UK citizen is 5.4 hectares of productive land. This means that if everyone were to consume as many natural resources as a Brit, then we would need over three times the resources that the Earth provides, and that would be using all of the world’s resources for humans as a baseline level, which in itself is highly dubious.
Expecting to be able to maintain such an unsustainable level of consumption is insanity. Capitalist economics are predicated on unlimited year on year growth, however the reality of our collective situation is that growth is limited and dependent on the ecological situations within which our social context is embedded. While we should unquestionably allow the poorest nations and peoples on Earth to develop and increase their standard of living, this has to be offset by first world consumers taking a cut to their material consumption.
That 20% of the world’s population currently use 80% of its resources is a telling fact which highlights the massive inequalities which exist between people. A sustainable society requires these inequalities to be phased out, so that every human has access to clean water, food, shelter and health care, while no humans hoard wealth in such a manner that either others must go without, or that future generations suffer for their greed.
Yet in the world today, as the world’s largest conventional oil fields begin to run dry and the rainforests continue to be cut down to grow meat for first world consumers, as global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise and the world’s poorest humans cannot afford food or water, shelter, education, health care, the zombie like acolytes of globalised capitalism continue to consume at ever greater levels.
Can we count on the structures which continue to report record profits from the current system be entrusted to revolutionize our current way of living?
Or has the time come for a more democratic, more sustainable society. Another world is possible. Let’s start building that world today.