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, the 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. Last year, the poorest half of the global population, 3.7 billion people, achieved 0% increase in wealth (CBC 2018).
This year, earth overshoot day, the day on which humanity’s demand for natural resources exceeds Earth’s ability to generate those resources, falls on July 29 (GFN 2019). It takes only 7 months for the global economy to consume the resources that Earth’s natural systems are able to regenerate sustainably in a year.
Whether it 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 (Ecocity Standards 2019). Whether the focus is on achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, using Doughnut Economics, pursuing One Planet Living, or Moving Earth Overshoot Day, we can build a safe space for humanity in communities that work for everyone.
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