Posted by: Michael George Daniel | December 4, 2007


The question of sustainability can be approached from many different directions. Jim Merkel, in his book Radical Simplicity references Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy and states that there are 28.2 billion acres of bioproductive land on the surface of the Earth. He divides by 6 billion people to calculate the average acre per share. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s World POPClock, as of today, November 21, 2007, the world population is estimated to be 6,632,619,724. Merkel calculates a 4.7 acre share, but using the latest estimates of population, it is 4.25 acres per share. This doesn’t leave anything though for other species. That’s a mistake. This is still an illuminating approach to understanding our relationship with the capacity of the Earth to sustain us. Merkel develops an intricate method for calculating an equivalent land area needed to support different lifestyles. It is not surprising that the America lifestyle requires by far the most land area to sustain itself. The average American footprint is twenty-four acres.

Merkel points out related data that considers the total carrying capacity of the Earth. He states that in 1978 the Earth exceeded its capacity to regenerate that which it needs to support human beings. Since then, some of what we consume has been literally taken from future generations. If we look at our energy consumption, we recognize the vast amounts of stored energy being consumed currently. While the solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface far exceeds all of our current needs, there is a technical issue with capturing and making this energy useful for our various needs. However, the big picture is encouraging. But what is a reasonable human population that we can expect that Earth to support? How might we move toward agreement on his number and if so, then what?

We have been searching for a philosophical/moral/spiritual angle to the issue of sustainability. Recognize that it requires a reasonable consensus that first there is a problem, and second, on an approach to alleviating the problem. It may very well be that we are too late, that the devastation is irreversible and the significant shift in the geobiological make up of the Earth is unfolding. What then? There is no way to predict the outcome, but there are some general conclusions one might draw. First, that the diversity of species will be greatly reduced. As a result, the outlook for human survival will be greatly diminished. A large-scale reduction in the human population can be expected. Moreover, regardless of who is able to survive, those currently with control of the resources, or those that have a living knowledge of how to survive in partnership with the natural world, the result will be far less human diversity as well.

Some believe the answers will be forthcoming from the current state of thinking or institutions around the world today; that we can chip away at the problem by solving global warming or increased agriculture yields or energy depletion. To study the politics of the situation is to assume that politics has the ability to promulgate a solution. It does not. The solutions will come, as we have discussed, from a significant shift in human thinking. This shift will accommodate a much different method of living that will depend on a dropping away of fear in the culture of the world. Everyone person has a role to play in helping this happen. To the extent that we free ourselves from fear-based activities, we heal the world and move it toward sustainability.

These fear-based activities include our striving for money and all of the many reasons why we do it. We strive for money for security. Security will come from abundant interdependence. We strive for money for emergencies. Emergency care will come from abundant community. We strive for money to support our defense system. Our defense will not be needed when peace is the basis of our culture. We strive for money to retire. We will not need to retire when we reach our human potential as individuals. We strive for money to buy things that produce sensations we enjoy. We will not need to hide from the experience of being alive by seeking sensations when we drop our fears and protections from our emotion, including shielding ourself from the grief, sorrow and anger we hold for past and present transgressions. These transgression include what we have done to the continent of North America, including its indigenous peoples. They include our wars for oil including the present situation in Iraq and the build up toward Iran. They include our own complicity in the erosion of democracy including the 2004 election fiasco, the passing of the Military Commissions act, and on and on.

The problem is unsolvable. The landsphere can not support the nearly 7 billion people on the Earth. This is exceeding the carrying capacity of the Earth. It is overshoot, that which will only end badly. All of this is extremely bad news. Meanwhile, we are encouraged to stay in the dark and not acknowledge this reality. So what if we do? What will happen if we really open up to the incredible sadness and anger that these facts bring? What will we feel about war in the face of this insurmountable burden? The task before us is to bridge spiritual solutions with the pragmatic, urgent global problems. This entail allowing for magic. It means opening up to the knowledge that we imagine our selves all of the time. If we can accept that we imagine our selves, we can imaging something better than where all of this seems to be going. This is the process: moving the collective consciousness to allow for magic, to imagine the way the world can be in such numbers that a tipping point is reached.


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