Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Human Race is Living Beyond Its Means

"Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so." -- Theodore Roosevelt, Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1907

Published on Monday, October 9, 2006 by the Independent / UK
The Human Race is Living Beyond Its Means
by Andrew Simms

In a market economy, the only constraints on what we consume are what we may legally buy and what we can afford.
The result is, as the great environmental economist Herman Daly warned, that we end up treating the planet as if it were a business in liquidation. If you were managing a business, you would be considered grossly negligent if you had no idea of your assets or cash flow. Yet this is how we manage our environmental resources.

When we deplete oil in the North Sea and push fish stocks to the edge of collapse, it is treated as free income to the economy. It is shockingly easy for politicians, economists and planners to forget that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. And, on our island planet, that Earth itself is subject to fuzzy but very real limits.

One of the defining features of life in the UK, the world's fourth-largest economy, is the sheer scale of our material consumption, and the ease with which we ignore the burden that it exports around the globe.

Our high-consuming lifestyle is only possible because the rest of the world supports us with large supplies of their own natural resources.

No individual country has to be self-reliant. We trade what we can't produce locally, and positively enjoy exotic goods that come from all around the globe.

The world as a whole is living beyond its ecosystems' capacity to regenerate, and, looked at in terms of a calendar year, starts living beyond its environmental means on 9 October. Looking back, if the whole world had wanted to share UK lifestyles in 1961, the Earth would just have managed with its available resources - one planet would have been enough. Today we would need 3.1 planets to support them. To live within our overall environmental budget, the UK will have to reduce the burden its lifestyles create; such as the massive growth of leisure flights and subsequent CO2 emissions.

And while our consumption grows, with everything from 4x4s to energy hungry wide-screen TVs, all the academic research shows that consuming more will not make us happier. The same research shows that getting-off the consumption treadmill, finding more time for friends and family, reflection and creative pastimes, can.

Mainstream economics says that nothing must get in the way of economic growth and competitiveness. But in doing so we are inadvertently waging war on the environment, forgetting that, if we win, we will find ourselves on the losing side.

Andrew Simms is policy director at the New Economics Foundation

This article may be about the UK, but it obviously can be used to describe the U.S. Why is it that those that push the free market as being perfect don't recognize how closely it is tied with our environment? How is it good business to be making withdrawels from a bank in which you've never made any deposits? You don't get something for nothing. We'll all be paying for the hubris of the last 100 years. Come on people. Learn the lessons of our past.

"Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the 'the game belongs to the people.' So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." -- Theodore Roosevelt, A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open, 1916


Sadie Lou said...

This mentality is the direct contributer of our recent housing bubble busting wide open. So many banks just stood there handing out loans to people that culdn't afford them and housing prices were skyrocketing--not the bubble has popped and my husband and I can't sell our house.
It's a scary place to be.

Sadie Lou said...

lots of typos--in a hurry--sorry.

dbackdad said...

Very good point Sadie. There was a nice article in the latest Mother Jones that talks about how predatory lending and sub-prime loans to people who have no business getting loans has destroyed neighborhoods in Cleveland:

Prime Suspect

CyberKitten said...

It's the same over here too. We are bombarded with load adverts & junk mail. The result is spiralling debt. The 'answer'... getting a "consolidation loan" to help you pay it all off - at high interest of course - which also allows you to spend even more money.

I got a loan recently to buy a TV... the loan company then gave my phone details to other loan companies who have been calling me ever since in the hope that I'll borrow money from them. They even called me at work. I was ever so slightly annoyed.

Consumerism and greed will be the end of us.

greatwhitebear said...

great post! And I love the quotes from my favorite president, TR