We have an economic system that is based entirely upon the presumption that growth will be ongoing, unceasing, and unlimited. This in turn requires ever more extraction from the earth. At this most basic level, our tour of economics must begin with biocapacity, a.k.a. global footprint.
Global footprint is how much raw materials we use and how much waste we generate, compared to how fast the planet can make more resources and clean up the mess in the same time period. Humanity as a whole has been using more resources and generating more waste than the planet can make and clean up. It is called ecological overshoot and we have been moving deeper into this state since the 1970s. Humanity is simultaneously experiencing peak oil, peak natural gas, peak coal, peak copper, peak uranium, peak phosphorus, peak fresh water, peak arable land, and more. Richard Heinberg calls it “peak everything.”
It gets even worse when we look at it by continent. Again, if we take all the “stuff” there is on the planet — all the fresh water, all the arable land, all the fisheries, all the forests, all the energy resources and more — and we divide it up by the number of people we have here today, we get a figure we can call our “fair share.”
Our fair share is 2.1 hecatres (they measure this stuff in an equivalency unit called “bioproductive acres”). Humanity as a whole uses on average 2.23 hecatres. 2.23 world average consumption is bigger than our 2.1 fair share. Right there you can see the ecological overshoot.
Here in North America, we consume at a rate of a whopping 9.4 hecatres. That is nearly five times our fair share. In other words, if everyone on the planet consumed the way we do — the way we tell each other is “normal” — it would take FIVE PLANETS to provide for it all.
This means that we would have to go to six, seven, eight planets-worth-of-consumption in order to “grow” this economy.
It’s quite clear we cannot do that.