by Jennie Moore, Director, Institute Sustainability at British Columbia Institute of Technology and Director, Ecocity Centre of Excellence at BCIT.
Many people frame economic and ecological progress as trade-offs. The belief that we need economic growth, even at the expense of ecological stability, is put forward as a justified trade-off. The assumption is that economic growth derives sufficient benefit to warrant ecological decline. Increasingly, this is called into question.
Between 1950 and 2015, global human population tripled from 2.5 billion to 7.4 billion. Over that same period, the global economy grew 15 fold from $5 trillion to $74 trillion. Simultaneously, our demand on nature’s services increased, exceeding Earth’s ecological carrying capacity by the late 1970s (WWF 2015).
Although there are more dollars per person today, annual inflation averaged 3.58% (CPI Inflation Calculator) which means that while there are 5 times as many dollars per person in the economy, real buying power has decreased 50%.
In North America, this translates into a phenomenon where two income earners need to earn the equivalent of what a single-income earner brought home 65 years ago. Globally, earning potential polarized such that the top global 1% of income earners account for over 50% of total global wealth. In 2018, this increased to 82% (CBC 2018).
Over this entire period, the bottom billion of the world’s income earners, those earning less than $2 per day, remained unaffected by economic growth. They continue to live in poverty, representing the poorest half of the global population, 3.7 billion people, who achieve 0% increase in wealth (CBC 2018).
Last year, earth overshoot day, the day on which humanity’s demand for natural resources exceeds Earth’s ability to generate those resources, fell on July 29 (GFN 2019). The earliest it has ever been. That means it took 7 months for the global economy to consume the resources that Earth’s natural systems are able to regenerate sustainably in a year. And, we are consuming those resources at an ever accelerating rate.
Whether the goal is to stave-off impacts from global ecological overshoot, or a desire to help half of the world’s human population improve their lot in life, we are not making socio-economic OR socio-ecological progress.
The International Ecocity Standards provides resources and tools to help communities understand the issues and opportunities available to develop local pathways toward socio-economic and socio-ecological progress. Specific Standards that address socio-economic and socio-ecological progress include: “responsible use of materials/resources,” “equitable economy,” “healthy culture,” “living within Earth’s carrying capacity,” and “healthy biodiversity.”
Whether the focus is on achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, using Doughnut Economics, pursuing One Planet Living, or pushing back Earth Overshoot Day, we can build safe spaces for humanity in communities that work for everyone. Use these resources and links to learn more about how you can be part of the solution. And, if you are interested in taking action today, I strongly recommend following the 12 principles of Permaculture as an easy way to make changes in your own life that can spread to create a “permanent culture” through a “permanent agriculture.”
CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation). 2019. “Most wealth gained last year went to richest 1%, Oxfam says.” The Associated Press. Posted: Jan 22, 2018 7:42 AM ET, last updated: January 22, 2018. Available online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/oxfam-davos-world-economic-forum-wealth-inequality-1.4497829 (Accessed June 28, 2019).
CPI Inflation Calculator. 2019. United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Online resource: https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm (Accessed May 15, 2018).
GFN (Global Footprint Network). 2019. “Earth Overshoot Day is July 29.” Available online: https://www.overshootday.org/ (Accessed June 28, 2019).
WWF (World Wildlife Federation). 2016. Living Planet Report 2016. Risk and resilience in a new era. WWF International, Gland, Switzerland. Available online: http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/lpr_living_planet_report_2016.pdf (Accessed on June 28, 2019).