A SEDI White Paper: SEDI Board President Ron Hubert has written a new White Paper that outlines the major trends in our future economy and challenges our way of thinking about economic growth. Sustainable economic development is important to our region, now more than ever before.
The exponential growth of global population and our economic system threaten the foundations of our way of life. Many analysts claim this exponential growth has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth. If this is accurate, we have little time to reduce our growth and resource use to a level below the earth’s carrying capacity. If we do not act quickly and decisively we risk the collapse of our environment as well as our economic and social systems, just as happened to all the previous 18 complex societies in the earth’s history.
This transition will be difficult because of the resistance of wishful thinkers who hope the science isn’t accurate, and those who believe we can rely on innovation to grow our economy without limits. What makes it even harder to bring economic activity below the earth’s carrying capacity is that capacity is declining due to the reduced availability of cheap carbon based fuel, the climate changes that are already baked into the system, species losses, and many other factors. If we are not successful in reversing our path, natural systems will do whatever is necessary to reduce our impact on the earth’s resources whether we like it or not.
What does sustainable economic development mean if we face a prolonged period of no net economic growth? First, qualitative economic development can continue even if quantitative growth does not. We can focus on making our lives qualitatively better and reduce material consumption at the same time. Second, the best strategy for mitigating the risks of the transition to a steady-state economy, and adapting to the changes we cannot control, is to make our communities more resilient to economic, environmental and social shocks. We can increase our resilience by focusing on local self-reliance, diversity, environmental responsibility, economic vitality, meaningful work, social justice, collaboration, and cooperation.
Fortunately, many organizations are working on these challenges. For example, all of the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative’s (SEDI’s) projects advance these objectives in one way or another. Success will require generative leadership as well as the willingness to undertake the transition of outmoded attitudes, values and behaviors to ones more appropriate to a dynamic equilibrium economy. The challenges are monumental, but we are living in a time in which growing complexity and approaching tipping points make it possible for the relatively small actions of a few to trigger significant changes in our economic, environmental, and social systems. In this situation, we find ourselves committed not because we “ought to”, but because we are compelled to do so.