There are three ways in which North Americans have managed to live at five-planets-worth-of-consumption. I am indebted to Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande for an explanation in the Transition Training here in Los Angeles in 2008, which really broadened my understanding.
“Ghost acres” – taking from others. We have raped and pillaged the raw materials of other continents (leaving the people who live on those continents with far less than their fair share). We’ve consumed those goods here and persuaded each other that they were rightfully ours.
“Draw down” — taking from the future. As we desecrate ancient forests and deplete fisheries, we are consuming today that which should be our children’s inheritance.
“Ancient sunlight” – taking from the past. Fossil fuels – oil, gas, coal – are captured ancient sunlight. In the space of a mere 150 or so years out of the entire history of humanity, we are gobbling up the entire planetary supply.
We have an economic system that is entirely dependent upon taking from others, taking from the future, and taking from the ancient past. This economic system is built upon the presumption of everlasting growth. Thus in order to keep it going (keep it growing) we must take more from others, take more from the future, and take more from the ancient past.
Peak oil is the laws of physics telling us it is no longer possible to take more from the ancient past. Biocapacity is the laws of physics telling us it won’t be possible for much longer to take from the future. “War that will not end in our lifetimes” is a sign that taking from others has maxed out. No amount of “stimulus”, “green jobs” or changing political representatives is going to alter (or “fix”) this basic reality.
We are at the end of growth. We’re actually beyond the end of growth into the very beginning of economic contraction.
The task ahead is to manage that contraction so that it unfolds with as little Mad Max, civil unrest, and additional war as possible — as peacefully as possible.