2½ Planets: Implications of Our Way of Life

September 17, 2007 at 6:56 pm Leave a comment

What are the implications of scientists’ verdict that we currently consume the equivalent of 2 and half planets? Well, begin by imagining the Earth is a cruise ship with all 6.6 billion of us on board. If we consume the ship’s resources of food, water and fuel at the same rate humanity does today, by itself our ship will run out of food, fuel and water. In order to sustain the supply of resources, there would need to be at least another cruise ship and a half to keep up with our demands. And, since the ship represents our reality and not our ideals, half of all the available food, water and fuel is consumed by only 10% of the passengers.

Now, in order to include all 6.6 billion passengers equitably into our western standard of living, how many planets would we need? Five planets? Seven planets? The specific number is unimportant because any number larger than one is arguably suicidal. It also implies that in an already over-productive system we permit a constant underclass because our system cannot support 100% of us. Our system of providing for ourselves and our families does work for a percentage of the population, but it has not proven itself capable of providing for the entire population. So our faith in the system to rid the world of poverty by offering a job to everyone is a myth. Indeed, the world is mostly divvied up among a few and their successors will live comfortably. For the remainder, our fate is predetermined. And, what does this imply for our projected population of 9 billion by 2050? Poverty will grow and only a very small percentage will live in the comfort many of us do today. Is that fair? Is that the future we want?

Maybe the issue comes down to what we believe the purpose of life is. Does that mean treating others “humanly”? At a minimum that would suggest offering food to the hungry, water to the thirsty and shelter to the homeless. While this form of social security exists in small doses, it does not exist in the abundance necessary to meet current humanitarian needs. And, if it is as simple as “getting along with others” then with the growing intolerance of religious and political extremism we are headed in the opposite direction. What if our “success” in this life is not determined by what we have accumulated, but in how we treat others? We like to evangelize our ideals that we value life above all else, but our actions sadly reveal another story.

The future we dread of rampant poverty and wars over water and oil is rapidly approaching and quick action is needed to thwart it off. With every plan there is a time component of preparation and implementation. And, as time creeps by, so does the population continue to grow, resources continue to be over-consumed, the problems compound in complexity. And, if addressing the issues begin with a 10 year plan, that’s 10 years after the decision to implement and after we develop consensus to take action. But, remember, in a court of law, ignorance is not a defense — to not choose is by default our choice.

One of the profound implications of sustainable systems is that among the many options and choices that are possible, we are choosing to limit our choices to only sustainable ones. In the United States which was founded on the ideas of liberty and personal freedom, this will be a tough pill for the American ego to swallow because it implies that we are limiting the scope of our freedom. But, isn’t that just another definition of responsibility? Maybe sustainable choices are part of an evolving civilization. Maybe the challenge we face is simply to grow up.

On The Web

Consumer Consequences
Play this game sponsored by American Public Media & see how many planets are needed to sustain 6.6 billion people that live like you!

Global Footprint Network
Read about global footprints and ecological overshoot!


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Economics, Environment, People, Philosophy, Population, Sustainability.

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