Why we need to move to a steady state economy

Earth: a beautiful but finite planet

We live on a finite planet. The photo, Earthrise, taken from near the moon in 1968, poignantly illustrates this fact.

Our non-renewable resources, such as minerals, are therefore finite. Earth can also only replenish its renewable resources, such as plants and animals, at finite rates. And our natural systems have only a limited capacity to remediate our wastes. These facts are obvious, but most of us lose track of them day-to-day.

This disconnect is also apparent in the paramount priority governments worldwide give to economic growth. With ongoing economic growth comes ever-increasing extraction of resources and pollution. On a finite planet, there are necessarily limits to how large we can grow the ‘economic pie’.

We are already living beyond our ‘planetary means’

We are already beyond those limits. Globally, humans use 70% more resources each year than our natural systems can replenish. This is particularly the case in wealthy countries, whereas many developing countries need to increase their consumption to enable a decent standard of living. In the 20th Century alone, industrial pollution increased 40-fold. As a result, we are eating into and degrading our ‘natural capital’.

  • Globally, 12 million hectares of farmland are lost each year due to soil degradation.
  • Extinction rates are at least 1000 times above ‘normal’ rates.
  • The populations of Earth’s wild mammals, birds, amphibians, fish and other vertebrates declined by more than half between 1970 and 2012.
  • Insect populations are in global decline.
  • 25% of coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% are degraded.
  • 35% of mangroves were lost in two decades.
  • Land temperatures have increased by 1.1 degrees since the late 19th century.
  • Climate change is perhaps the most important crisis humanity currently faces. But it needs to be understood as just one example of how we are beyond Earth’s limits to growth. We will not solve climate change while we remain committed to ongoing economic growth.

What needs to be done?

  • We collectively need to understand and acknowledge the crisis we are facing.
  • We need to give up on our obsession with economic growth, particularly in wealthy countries.
  • We need to move quickly to a steady-state economy – a society operating in balance with the capacities of our beautiful planet.

What can I do?

  • Read up on how economic growth is degrading our planet.
  • Contact your local chapter of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE), and get involved. If you are in Canberra, contact Steady State ACT.
  • Join the likes of Jane Goodall and David Suzuki in signing the CASSE position statement.