Photo credit: Supreme Court Pediment by Flickr.com user Kevin Harber

7 Steps Toward a Sustainable Society - #2

Here is the second step we should take toward a sustainable society (Click here for step one). Two: Put conserving on a par with consuming. At any given level of technology, there is a trade-off between how many people can be born into a society and the level of per capita physical affluence that can be sustainably supported. The more people there are, the smaller each one's share of the pie. One way of dealing with this trade-off would be a cultural shift away from creating ever more gadgets to creating more appreciation and better stewardship for Earth's aesthetic assets. A high priority should be rethinking how we use the resources available to us - as individuals and societies - manage manufactured and natural capital (our ecological assets) carefully, and distribute their benefits more equitably. Success there, if it were combined with a decline in numbers, should eventually permit most people to live satisfactory lives. Of course, success would require abandoning the insane idea that growth in consumption is automatically good and can continue forever, No physical quantity can do that, including the total bulk of the human population (which at recent exponential growth rates would equal the total mass of the universe in less than 10,000 years). What do you think? Leave us a comment. Check back next week for the third step we should take toward a sustainable society. ———- Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. He is the author of hundreds of scientific papers, and numerous books including The Population Bomb and Betrayal of Science and Reason (Island Press, 1997). His latest book is The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, which he co-authored with his wife Anne.