Posted: June 20th, 2022

Book report

2-3 pages, connect book to the concepts.


Book Review Assignment for Mgt. 405

This assignment is an individual assignment that requires you to read and analyze a book related to International Management topics, write a book review on your book in a format similar to that used for book reviews in leading newspapers and magazines (for example Business Week)

Write a book review of two pages, single-spaced using the two-column format.  After providing a brief overview of the book as a whole, focus on the contribution you feel that your book makes to the skills and/or course topics from Multinational Management: A strategy Approach.
Tie key concepts from your chosen book to the course – How do ideas from your book relate to or augment concepts from the lecture or text or how could ideas from your book have been applied to the course topics/videos we have covered?

State of the World





Still Possible?

th e Wor ldWatch i n Stitute

Advance Praise for
State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?

“ State of the World 2013 cuts through the rhetoric surrounding
sustainability, providing a broad and realistic look at how close
we are to achieving it and outlining practices and policies that can
steer us in the right direction. . . . A must-read for those seeking
authentic sustainability.”

— Hunter Lovins, President, Natural Capital Solutions
and Author of Climate Capitalism

“ This is a book of hope for a world in profound crisis. It gives honest
assessments of the enormous challenges we face and points us
toward institutional and cultural changes that are proportional to
our dire situation. State of the World 2013 reaffirms that we are not
helpless but that we have real choices—and that transformation is
both possible and desirable.”

— Reverend Peter S. Sawtell, Executive Director,
Eco-Justice Ministries

“ State of the World 2013 cuts through ‘sustainababble’ with crisp
coverage that puts the news of the year in context and provides an
expert survey of today’s and tomorrow’s big issues. It’s a perennial
resource for everyone concerned about our common future.”

— Karen Christensen, publisher of the 10-volume Berkshire
Encyclopedia of Sustainability

“ Every elected official in the world needs to read this book. Mass
denial is no longer an option. An ‘all hands on deck’ approach to
transforming our culture and economy is the only path to a safe,
resilient future. This book is the blueprint for that safe path forward.”

— Betsy Taylor, President, Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions
and Founder, Center for a New American Dream

State of the World 2013

Is Sustainability
Still Possible?

Other Worldwatch Books

State of the World 19




(an annual report on progress toward a sustainable society)

Vital Signs 1992 through 2003 and 2005 through 2012
(a report on the trends that are shaping our future)

Saving the Planet
Lester R. Brown
Christopher Flavin

Sandra Postel

How Much Is Enough?
Alan Thein Durning

Last Oasis
Sandra Postel

Full House
Lester R. Brown
Hal Kane

Power Surge
Christopher Flavin
Nicholas Lenssen

Who Will Feed China?
Lester R. Brown

Tough Choices
Lester R. Brown



g for Survival

Michael Renner

The Natural Wealth of Nations
David Malin Roodman

Life Out of Bounds
Chris Bright

Beyond Malthus
Lester R. Brown
Gary Gardner
Brian Halweil

Pillar of Sand
Sandra Postel

Vanishing Borders
Hilary French

Eat Here
Brian Halweil

Inspiring Progress
Gary Gardner

Erik Assadourian and Tom Prugh, Project Directors

Linda Starke, Editor

Washington | Covelo | London

State of the World 2013

Is Sustainability
Still Possible?

Rebecca Adamson
Gar Alperovitz
Olivia Arnow
David Christian
Dwight E. Collins
Robert Costanza
Larry Crowder
Herman Daly

Robert Engelman

Joshua Farley

Carl Folke

Carol Franco

Gary Gardner

Russell M. Genet

Paula Green

Jeff Hohensee

Tim Jackson

Ida Kubiszewski

Melissa Leach

Annie Leonard

Shakuntala Makhijani

Michael Maniates

Jack P. Manno

Brian Martin

Pamela Martin

Laurie Mazur

Jennie Moore
Kathleen Dean Moore
Faith Morgan
Pat Murphy

T. W. Murphy, Jr.

Melissa Nelson
Michael P. Nelson

Simon Nicholson

Danielle Nierenberg

Alexander Ochs

David W. Orr

Sandra Postel
Thomas Princen

Kate Raworth

William E. Rees
Michael Renner

Kim Stanley Robinson

Phillip Saieg
Juliet Schor
Antonia Sohns

Pavan Sukhdev

Bron Taylor

Peter Victor
Eric Zencey

Copyright © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute
1400 16th Street, N.W.
Suite 430
Washington, DC 20036

The State of the World and Worldwatch Institute trademarks are reg is tered in the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Worldwatch
Institute; of its directors, officers, or staff; or of its funders.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book
may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher: Island
Press, 2000 M Street, N.W., Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036.

Island Press is a trademark of the Center for Resource Economics.

ISBN 13: 978-1-61091-449-9

ISBN 10: 1-61091-449-X

The text of this book is composed in Minion, with the display set in Myriad Pro. Book design and
composition by Lyle Rosbotham.

Printed on recycled, acid-free paper

Manufactured in the United States of America

Worldwatch Institute Board of Directors
Ed Groark
united states

Robert Charles Friese
Vice Chairman
united states

L. Russell Bennett
united states

Nancy Hitz
united states

Robert Engelman
united states

Geeta B. Aiyer
united states

Mike Biddle
united states

Cathy Crain
united states

Tom Crain
united states

James Dehlsen
united states

Christopher Flavin
united states

Satu Hassi

Ping He
united states

Jerre Hitz
united states

Izaak van Melle
the netherlands

David W. Orr
united states

John Robbins
united states

Richard Swanson
united states


Øystein Dahle

Abderrahman Khene

Andrew Alesbury
Customer Relations Assistant

Katie Auth
Research Associate, Climate
and Energy Program

Adam Dolezal
Research Associate and Central
America Project Manager,
Climate and Energy Program

Courtney Dotson
Development Associate

Robert Engelman

Barbara Fallin
Director of Finance and

Mark Konold
Research Associate and
Caribbean Program Manager,
Climate and Energy Program

Supriya Kumar
Communications Manager

Worldwatch Institute Staff

Erik Assadourian
Senior Fellow

Christopher Flavin
President Emeritus

Gary Gardner
Senior Fellow

Mia MacDonald
Senior Fellow

Worldwatch Institute Fellows, Advisors, and Consultants

Matt Lucky
Research Associate, Climate and
Energy Program

Haibing Ma
China Program Manager

Shakuntala Makhijani
Research Associate and India
Project Manager, Climate and
Energy Program

Lisa Mastny
Senior Editor

Evan Musolino
Research Associate and Renewable
Energy Indicators Project Manager,
Climate and Energy Program

Alexander Ochs
Director, Climate and Energy

Ramon Palencia
Central America Fellow, Climate
and Energy Program

Grant Potter
Development Associate and
Assistant to the President

Tom Prugh
Codirector, State of the World

Laura Reynolds
Staff Researcher, Food and
Agriculture Program

Mary C. Redfern
Director of Institutional Relations,

Michael Renner
Senior Researcher

Reese Rogers
MAP Sustainable Energy Fellow,
Climate and Energy Program

Cameron Scherer
Marketing and Communications

Michael Weber
Research Coordinator, Climate
and Energy Program

Sophie Wenzlau
Staff Researcher, Food and
Agriculture Program

Bo Normander
Director, Worldwatch Institute

Corey Perkins
Information Technology

Sandra Postel
Senior Fellow

Lyle Rosbotham
Art and Design Consultant

Janet Sawin
Senior Fellow

Linda Starke
State of the World Editor

Each year State of the World comes together due to the efforts of scores of
individuals and organizations that contribute directly or indirectly to the vol-
ume’s theme, direction, support, content, shaping, or publication. Any book
is a collaborative miracle of sorts, but State of the World 2013 reflects the labor
of more contributors than ever appeared in a previous edition, as well as that
of a wide variety of donors, partners, and advisors from around the globe.

None of this would have happened without the support of the Town
Creek Foundation, the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the Victoria and
Roger Sant Founders Fund of the Summit Fund of Washington, and Peter
Seidel—all of whom gave generously to underwrite this edition of State of
the World and the associated outreach work. A special note of thanks goes to
Stuart Clarke and his team at Town Creek, as well as to numerous other sus-
tainability organizations in Maryland, for their help in conducting outreach
events around that state.

In addition, we gratefully recognize the continued support of the Ray
C. Anderson Foundation. Ray, who passed away in 2011, was a sustainable-
business visionary, an active member of the Worldwatch board of directors,
and a steadfast believer in our work. His voice and ideas are sorely missed.
We hope State of the World 2013 will be taken as an expression of the honor
we feel he is due.

We are also deeply appreciative to our many institutional and foundation
supporters, including the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition; Caribbean
Community; Climate and Development Knowledge Network; Compton
Foundation, Inc.; The David B. Gold Foundation; Del Mar Global Trust;
Elion Group; Energy and Environment Partnership with Central America;
Ford Foundation and the Institute of International Education, Inc.; Green
Accord International Secretariat; Hitz Foundation; Inter-American De-
velopment Bank; International Climate Initiative of the German Federal
Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety;
International Renewable Energy Association; MAP Sustainable Energy Fel-
lowship Program; Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland; Renewable En-

  • Acknowledgments
  • x | State of the World 2013

    ergy Policy Network for the 21st Century; Richard and Rhoda Goldman
    Fund and the Goldman Environmental Prize; Shenandoah Foundation;
    Small Planet Fund of RSF Social Finance; Steven C. Leuthold Family Foun-
    dation; Transatlantic Climate Bridge of the German Federal Ministry for
    the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety; United Nations
    Population Fund; Wallace Global Fund; Weeden Foundation; The William
    and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Women Deliver, Inc.

    We are delighted to partner, for our second year, with Island Press to
    publish and distribute State of the World. Island Press is a preeminent pub-
    lisher of sustainability content, and it is a pleasure to continue in the ranks
    of their many estimable titles. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to our
    publishing partners outside of North America; without their indispensable
    input and help in spreading the word, a volume about the state of the world
    would be hollow indeed. Specifically, many thanks to Universidade Livre da
    Mata Atlântica/Worldwatch Brasil; China Social Science Press; Worldwatch
    Institute Europe; Gaudeamus Helsinki University Press; Good Planet Foun-
    dation (France); Germanwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and OEKOM
    Verlag GmbH (Germany); Organization Earth and the University of Crete
    (Greece); Earth Day Foundation (Hungary); Centre for Environment Edu-
    cation (India); WWF-Italia and Edizioni Ambiente; Worldwatch Japan; Ko-
    rea Green Foundation Doyosae (South Korea); FUHEM Ecosocial and Icaria
    Editorial (Spain); Taiwan Watch Institute; and Turkiye Erozyonla Mucadele,
    Agaclandima ve Dogal Varliklari Koruma Vakfi (TEMA), and Kultur Yayin-
    lari Is-Turk Limited Sirketi (Turkey).

    Although not the very first time a cartoon has appeared in State of the
    World, this year i

    s s

    omething of a departure from tradition in that we used
    several of them prominently for illustration and to help introduce the three
    sections. Given the rather sober message of this year’s volume, an occasion
    or two for a laugh, or at least a wry smile, did not seem out of place. Special
    thanks for the cartoons go to Leo Murray, the webcomic, the Jay
    N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, and the Cartoon Movement.

    We would be remiss if we failed to mention John Graham, Alison Singer,
    and all the interns who work so hard to strengthen the Institute’s research.
    Finally, our deepest gratitude goes to the authors of the 34 chapters and
    30 text boxes who contributed so much of their learning, wisdom, time,
    and patience to the long and sometimes laborious production of this book.
    Every one of them has much more of value to say than we could print in
    their individual contributions here, and we wholeheartedly urge readers to
    explore their work further.

    Erik Assadourian and Tom Prugh, Project Directors

    Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix

  • State of the World: A Year in Review
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xv
    Alison Singer

    1 Beyond Sustainababble . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
    Robert Engelman

    THE SUSTAINABILITY METRIC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
    2 Respecting Planetary Boundaries and Reconnecting to the Biosphere . . 19
    Carl Folke

    3 Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
    Kate Raworth

    4 Getting to One-Planet Living . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Jennie Moore and William E. Rees

    5 Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Sandra Postel

    6 Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse . . . . .


    Antonia Sohns and Larry Crowder

    7 Energy as Master Resource . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

    Eric Zencey

    8 Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

    Shakuntala Makhijani and Alexander Ochs

    9 Conserving Nonrenewable Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
    Gary Gardner

    GETTING TO TRUE SUSTAINABILITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
    10 Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization . . . . . .


    Erik Assadourian

    11 Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature . .


    Robert Costanza, Gar Alperovitz, Herman Daly, Joshua Farley, Carol

    Franco, Tim Jackson, Ida Kubiszewski, Juliet Schor, and Peter Victor

    12 Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability . . . . .


    Pavan Sukhdev

    13 Corporate Reporting and Externalities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Jeff Hohensee

    14 Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era . . . . . . . . . . .


    Thomas Princen, Jack P. Manno, and Pamela Martin

  • Contents
  • xii | State of the World 2013

    15 Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    T. W. Murphy, Jr.

    16 Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Phillip Saieg

    17 Agriculture: Growing Food—and Solutions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Danielle Nierenberg

    18 Protecting the Sanctity of Native Foods. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

    Melissa K. Nelson

    19 Valuing Indigenous Peoples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Rebecca Adamson, Danielle Nierenberg, and Olivia Arnow

    20 Crafting a New Narrative to Support Sustainability . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Dwight E. Collins, Russell M. Genet, and David Christian

    21 Moving Toward a Global Moral Consensus on Environmental
    Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson

    22 Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies . . . . . . . . . .


    Melissa Leach

    23 Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Annie Leonard

    OPEN IN CASE OF EMERGENCY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
    24 Teaching for Turbulence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Michael Maniates

    25 Effective Crisis Governance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Brian Martin

    26 Governance in the Long Emergency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    David W. Orr

    27 Building an Enduring Environmental Movement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Erik Assadourian

    28 Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Bron Taylor

    29 The Promises and Perils of Geoengineering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Simon Nicholson

    30 Cuba: Lessons from a Forced Decline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Pat Murphy and Faith Morgan

    31 Climate Change and Displacements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Michael Renner

    32 Cultivating Resilience in a Dangerous World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Laurie Mazur

    33 Shaping Community Responses to Catastrophe. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Paula Green

    34 Is It Too Late? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Notes
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  • Index
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    1–1 Toward a Sustainable Number of Us, by Robert Engelman. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    3–1 Moving Beyond GDP, by Lew Daly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

    4–1 What Is the Ecological Footprint? by Global Footprint Network . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

    5–1 Desalination, by Sandra Postel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

    5–2 Services Provided by Rivers, Wetlands, Floodplains, and Other Freshwater Ecosystems,
    by Sandra Postel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

    8–1 The Role of Efficiency and Conservation, by Shakuntala Makhijani and Alexander Ochs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85

    8–2 Land Use Priorities and Land Rights Considerations, by Shakuntala Makhijani and Alexander Ochs. . . . 98

    9–1 What Is Scarcity? by Gary Gardner. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101

    9–2 Can Landfills Be Mined? by Gary Gardner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107

    10–1 What Would a Culture of Sustainability Look Like? by Erik Assadourian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

    10–2 Shifting Norms with Choice Editing, by Michael Maniates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121

    10–3 Development and Decline, by Wolfgang Sachs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    11–1 The Social Costs of the U.S. Banking System, by James Gustave Speth. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136

    14–1 Fossil Fuels by the Numbers, by Thomas Princen, Jack P. Manno, and Pamela Martin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164

    17–1 Promoting Sustainable Agriculture through Village Banking, by Doug Satre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199

    21–1 Ethics at the End of the World, by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230

    22–1 Multicriteria Mapping of Agricultural Pathways in Dryland Kenya, by Melissa Leach. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237

    24–1 Gaps and Opportunities in Environmental Studies, by Michael Maniates. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265

    26–1 A More Sustainable Democracy, by Tom Prugh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285

    26–2 Resilience from the Bottom Up, by David Orr . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 290

    27–1 The Shakers’ Relevance in a Post-Consumer Era, by Erik Assadourian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 298

    27–2 The Relationship between Ecological and Religious Philosophies, by Erik Assadourian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 302

    29–1 Defining Geoengineering, by Simon Nicholson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318

    29–2 The Oxford Principles: A Code of Conduct for Geoengineering Research, by Simon Nicholson . . . . . . 330

    29–3 Criteria for “Soft Geoengineering” Technologies, by Simon Nicholson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 330

    30–1 Who Was Behind Cuba’s Response in the 1990s? by Pat Murphy and Faith Morgan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 340

    31–1 Displacement and Migration: How Many People Are Affected? by Michael Renner. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 349

    32–1 Saving Plant Varieties to Preserve Resilience, by Danielle Nierenberg . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 355

    32–2 Empower Women, Build Resilience, by Laurie Mazur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 356

    32–3 Resilience Lost: The Coastal Mangroves of Vietnam, by Laurie Mazur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 357

    2–1 The Nine Planetary Boundaries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

    3–1 How Far Below the Social Foundation Is Humanity? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

    4–1 Comparing Fair Earth-Share, World Average, and High-Consumption Countries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

    7–1 Energy Return on Energy Invested, Average and High and Low Estimates, Different Energy Sources . 79

    8–1 Renewable Energy Potentials, Impacts, and Constraints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86

    8–2 Energy Storage and Transmission Technologies and Constraints. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94

    9–1 Relationship between Ore Grade and Water Use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103

    9–2 Innovative Practices That Reduce Consumption of Materials and Energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108

    Contents | xiii

    xiv | State of the World 2013

    11–1 Basic Characteristics of Current Economic Model, Green Economy Model, and Ecological
    Economics Model. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

    19–1 Indigenous Peoples’ Resources: What’s at Stake? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213

    25–1 Outcomes of Violent and Nonviolent Campaigns Aimed at Regime Change, Anti-occupation,
    or Secession, 1900–2006 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 272

    30–1 Annual Energy Consumption and Carbon Dioxide Emissions per Person in Major Regions,
    Cuba, and the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 339

    31–1 Definitions of Different Types of Population Movements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 351

    1–1 The Unsustainability of Sustainable . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

    1–2 1936 Cartoon by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

    1–3 Fossil-Fuel-Based Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 1965–2011 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

    2–1 Temperature Variability over the Last 100,000 Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

    3–1 A Safe and Just Space for Humanity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

    3–2 Falling Far Below the Social Foundation While Exceeding Planetary Boundaries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

    4–1 Summary of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

    4–2 Food Component of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

    5–1 Share of World Irrigated Land, Renewable Water, and Population, Selected Countries, 2010 . . . . . . . . 54

    7–1 GDP per Unit of Energy Use, 2003–09 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

    9–1 World Extraction of Nonrenewable Materials, 1901–2010 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    9–2 Gold Grade, Selected Countries, 1835–2010. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103

    11–1 Happiness and Real Income in the United States, 1972–2008. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129


    Gross Domestic Product

    and Genuine Progress Indicator, United States, 1950–2004 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130

    11–3 Relationship between Income Inequality and Social Problems Score in Selected
    Industrial Countries. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138

    11–4 Relationship between Tax Revenue as a Percent of GDP and Index of Social Justice in Selected
    Industrial Countries. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

    11–5 A Low-/No-Growth Scenario . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

    15–1 The Transient Phenomenon of Fossil Fuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

    15–2 Energy Source Properties: Fossil Fuels. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


    15–3 Energy Source Properties: Alternatives to Fossil Fuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176

    17–1 Number of Undernourished People in the World, 1969–2011 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191

    17–2 Food Price Indices, 1990–2012 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192

    23–1 The Behavior-Impact Gap (BIG) Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 246

    23–2 Source of U.S. Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247

    29–1 Solar Radiation Management Options . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320

    29–2 Carbon Dioxide Removal Options. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 322

    31–1 Climate Change, Livability, and Possible Responses. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 345

    31–2 World Food Price Index, January 1990–September 2012 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 347

    32–1 Number of People Reported Affected by Natural Disasters, 1900–2011 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 354

    Units of measure throughout this book are metric unless common usage dictates otherwise.

    This timeline covers some significant announcements and reports from De-
    cember 2011 through November 2012. It is a mix of progress, setbacks, and
    missed steps around the world that are affecting environmental quality and
    social welfare.

    Timeline events were selected to increase awareness of the connections
    between people and the environmental systems on which they depend.

    State of the World:
    A Year in Review

    Compiled by Alison Singer

    xvi | State of the World 2013

    Study finds that

    global carbon dioxide
    emissions grew by 5.9
    percent in 2010, the
    largest percentage
    increase since 2003.

    Study notes that toxic

    releases in United
    States rose 16 percent
    in 2010, primarily due
    to metal mining and

    the chemical industry.

    Nitrogen fertilizers

    contribute to massive
    global nitrogen pollution:

    while food production
    increases, pollution costs

    are measured in hundreds
    of billions of dollars.

    Bulletin of the Atomic

    Scientists moves
    Doomsday Clock to
    11:55, one minute

    closer to midnight,
    based primarily on
    failures to address
    climate change.

    2011 2012
    D E C E M B E R J A N U A R Y

    2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30










    t C




    747 exhaust

    deforestation in the Mato Grosso

    Texas refinery


    Flooding in

    the Philippines
    kills more than
    1,000 people.

    European Union courts

    uphold legislation
    forcing airlines to pay

    carbon dioxide fee
    when flying in and
    out of EU airports.

    With a total of 6,238 square

    kilometers, Brazil has the
    lowest deforestation rate
    since monitoring began

    in 1988.

    Last-minute talks
    at Durban Global
    Climate Change

    meeting culminate
    in treaty requiring
    all countries to cut
    carbon emissions

    by 2020.

    United States
    becomes net
    exporter of

    products for the
    first time in

    over 60 years.


    Worst drought in
    history devastates
    Mexico’s crops and

    the livelihoods
    of millions.

    State of the World: A Year in Review | xvii

    Study finds atmospheric

    carbon dioxide levels lead
    to the highest rate of ocean

    acidification in 300 million years.


    experiences its

    worst drought in
    30 years.

    F E B R U A R Y M A R C H

    2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 302 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28


















    l D




    Prague snowstorm

    sampling Arctic waters for acidification

    Hundreds die and

    hundreds of thousands
    are trapped in homes
    in Europe’s cold snap.



    n team

    develops strain of
    salt-resistant wheat.

    World Bank

    announces global
    partnership to
    manage and
    protect the

    world’s oceans.

    Millennium Development

    Goal to halve the
    proportion of people with
    no access to safe drinking

    water is met ahead of time.

    First-ever International

    Chiefs of Environmental
    Compliance and

    Enforcement Summit
    results in resolution

    to make cooperation
    and environmental
    security a priority.

    Study finds that cloud

    level is lowering, which
    could increase Earth’s

    cooling ability.

    A new report
    indicates that

    300 children die
    of malnutrition

    every hour.

    xviii | State of the World 2013

    Giant fossilized forest
    in Illinois offers clues
    to climate change.

    A P R I L M A Y

    2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30







    f I






    South Sudanese fighter

    fossilized forest ferns


    Sudan declares state of

    emergency as fighting over oil
    escalates with South Sudan.

    US EPA institutes air
    pollution standards

    for hydraulic
    fracturing used

    in search for energy

    New study finds that
    animals may not be

    able to outrun
    climate change.


    Two planet Earths
    will be needed by
    2030 to provide

    for human society,
    according to the

    Living Planet Report.

    Plastics in the

    Pacific Ocean have
    exponentially increased

    in the past decades.


    Study finds rapid
    acceleration of water
    cycle, which may lead
    to increased episodes
    of extreme weather.

    Study finds

    200 pollutants,
    many of which
    may contribute

    to autism, in
    umbilical cords.

    G8 affirms

    to fight climate

    change, with focus
    on short-lived

    World Trade

    Organization outlaws
    dolphin-safe tuna
    labels as unfair to
    Mexican fishers.

    State of the World: A Year in Review | xix

    Report finds population

    growth is pushing
    world toward ecological

    tipping point, with
    social and economic
    instability to follow.

    J U N E J U L Y

    2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30
















    Wheat and corn prices

    rise as drought and
    high temperatures

    ruin crops.

    Diseases spread
    from livestock
    infect over 2

    billion people
    each year, most

    commonly in
    poorer countries.

    Sustainable ranching
    brings environmental

    protection and
    economic benefits

    to the western
    United States.

    In attempt to
    preserve fish

    stocks, EU plans
    to ban discards
    of healthy and

    edible fish at sea.

    Caffeinated seas show

    that human contaminants
    are invading natural water

    systems, with unknown
    effects on marine life

    and ecosystems.


    Increased traffic
    in whale watching

    and commercial
    shipping threatens
    whale populations.

    Massive heat
    wave breaks
    thousands of

    records across the
    United States.

    Bisphenol A (BPA), a
    chemical commonly

    found in packaging, is
    linked to obesity, cancer,
    reproductive disorders,

    diabetes, and now
    brain tumors.

    Rio+20 Conference

    challenges nations to
    address sustainability

    but makes little
    genuine progress.

    xx | State of the World 2013

    A U G U S T S E P T E M B E R

    2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30





    r S














    European Union

    wind capacity
    reaches 100

    Mutant butterflies

    found near Fukushima
    nuclear plant in Japan.

    Studies find that

    the majority of new
    ingredients entering the

    U.S. food market have
    been approved only by
    the food manufacturers

    themselves, not the

    Study suggests as
    much as 4 billion

    tons of methane may
    be trapped under
    Antarctic ice sheet

    and could be released
    if ice sheet melts.

    Reports note that
    chemical use and

    production is shifting
    to developing

    countries, where
    regulations are weaker.

    clearcutting the pipeline route

    juvenile cod


    Fishery disaster
    declared off New
    England Coast, as

    fish stocks are slow
    to rebuild.

    Study finds that
    100 million will
    die and global

    GDP will fall
    by 3.2 percent
    by 2030 unless
    climate change

    is addressed.


    of ivory trade is
    contributing to
    mass elephant

    killings in Africa.

    A new indicator for
    measuring ocean
    health has been

    developed, taking
    into account variables

    such as fisheries,
    tourism, biodiversity,
    and carbon storage.

    TransCanada begins

    construction on
    southern leg of

    controversial Keystone
    XL Pipeline.

    State of the World: A Year in Review | xxi

    UN report shows that
    “ocean-grabbing” by
    foreign fishing fleets

    threatens food security
    in developing nations.

    International commission

    fails to create any
    protected marine areas

    around Antarctica.

    O C T O B E R N O V E M B E R

    2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30

















    silky sifakas

    result of Katrina storm surge

    orcas in McMurdo Sound


    Study shows
    25 primates

    near extinction,
    primarily due to
    human activities.

    Protests and walkouts by
    Walmart workers attract

    attention and support, but
    the retail giant records its

    best Black Friday ever.

    Rising ocean

    acidity—up 30
    percent since
    the Industrial

    posing new threats

    to marine life.

    Research shows that
    Arctic permafrost is
    melting, releasing

    what could amount
    to billions of tons of
    greenhouse gases.

    Atmospheric concentrations
    of three major greenhouse

    gases—carbon dioxide,
    methane, and nitrous oxide—

    hit record levels in 2011,
    the World Meteorological

    Organization reports.

    Research finds
    that industrial

    pollution in

    countries is as
    harmful as malaria
    and tuberculosis.

    Report on Superstorm

    Sandy finds damages of
    $71 billion in New York

    and New Jersey—millions
    of power outages,

    hundreds of thousands
    of homes destroyed,
    and transportation
    systems crippled.

    Research shows that warmer
    oceans contribute to stronger

    hurricane storm surges.

    State of the World 2013
    Is Sustainability
    Still Possible?

    We live today in an age of sustainababble, a cacophonous profusion of uses
    of the word sustainable to mean anything from environmentally better to
    cool. The original adjective—meaning capable of being maintained in ex-
    istence without interruption or diminution—goes back to the ancient Ro-
    mans. Its use in the environmental field exploded with the 1987 release of
    Our Common Future, the report of the World Commission on Environment
    and Development. Sustainable development, Norwegian Prime Minister
    Gro Harlem Brundtland and the other commissioners declared, “meets the
    needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations
    to meet their own needs.”1

    For many years after the release of the Brundtland Commission’s report,
    environmental analysts debated the value of such complex terms as sustain-
    able, sustainability, and sustainable development. By the turn of the millen-
    nium, however, the terms gained a life of their own—with no assurance
    that this was based on the Commission’s definition. Through increasingly
    frequent vernacular use, it seemed, the word sustainable became a synonym
    for the equally vague and unquantifiable adjective green, suggesting some
    environmental value, as in green growth or green jobs.

    Today the term sustainable more typically lends itself to the corporate
    behavior often called greenwashing. Phrases like sustainable design, sustain-
    able cars, even sustainable underwear litter the media. One airline assures
    passengers that “the cardboard we use is taken from a sustainable source,”
    while another informs them that its new in-flight “sustainability effort”
    saved enough aluminum in 2011 “to build three new airplanes.” Neither use
    sheds any light on whether the airlines’ overall operations—or commercial
    aviation itself—can long be sustained on today’s scale.2

    The United Kingdom was said to be aiming for “the first sustainable
    Olympics” in 2012, perhaps implying an infinitely long future for the qua-
    drennial event no matter what else happens to humanity and the planet.

    c h a p t e r 1

    Beyond Sustainababble

    Robert Engelman

    Robert Engelman is president
    of the Worldwatch Institute.

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_1, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    (If environmental impact is indeed the operable standard, the Olympics
    games in classical Greece or even during the twentieth century were far
    more sustainable than today’s.) The upward trend line of the use of this in-
    creasingly meaningless word led one cartoonist to suggest that in 100 years
    sustainable will be the only word uttered by anyone speaking American
    English. (See Figure 1–1.)3

    By some metrics this might be considered success. To find sustainable in
    such common use indicates that a key environmental concept now enjoys
    general currency in popular culture. But sustainababble has a high cost.
    Through overuse, the words sustainable and sustainability lose meaning
    and impact. Worse, frequent and inappropriate use lulls us into dreamy
    belief that all of us—and everything we do, everything we buy, everything
    we use—are now able to go on forever, world without end, amen. This is
    hardly the case.

    The question of whether civilization can continue on its current path
    without undermining prospects for future well-being is at the core of the
    world’s current environmental predicament. In the wake of failed interna-
    tional environmental and climate summits, when national governments
    take no actions commensurate with the risk of catastrophic environmental
    change, are there ways humanity might still alter current behaviors to make



    f w





    Figure 1–1. the Unsustainability of Sustainable

    4 | State of the World 2013

    Beyond Sustainababble | 5

    them sustainable? Is sustainability still possible? If humanity fails to achieve
    sustainability, when—and how—will unsustainable trends end? And how
    will we live through and beyond such endings? Whatever words we use, we
    need to ask these tough questions. If we fail to do so, we risk self-destruction.

    This year’s State of the World aims to expand and deepen discussion of the
    overused and misunderstood adjective sustainable, which in recent years has
    morphed from its original meaning into something like “a little better for
    the environment than the alternative.” Simply doing “better” environmen-
    tally will not stop the unraveling of ecological relationships we depend on
    for food and health. Improving our act will not stabilize the atmosphere. It
    will not slow the falling of aquifers or the rising of oceans. Nor will it return
    Arctic ice, among Earth’s most visible natural features from space, to its pre-
    industrial extent.

    In order to alter these trends, vastly larger changes are needed than we
    have seen so far. It is essential that we take stock, soberly and in scientifi-
    cally measurable ways, of where we are headed. We desperately need—and
    are running out of time—to learn how to shift direction toward safety for
    ourselves, our descendants, and the other species that are our only known
    companions in the universe. And while we take on these hard tasks, we also
    need to prepare the social sphere for a future that may well offer hardships
    and challenges unlike any that human beings have previously experienced.
    While it is a subset of the biosphere, the social sphere is shaped as well by hu-
    man capacities with few known limits. We can take at least some hope in that.

    Birth of a Concept
    Respect for sustainability may go back far in human cultures. North Ameri-
    ca’s Iroquois expressed concern for the consequences of their decisionmak-
    ing down to the seventh generation from their own. A proverb often attrib-
    uted to Native American indigenous cultures states, “We have not inherited
    the earth from our fathers, we are borrowing it from our children.” In mod-
    ern times, the idea of sustainability took root in the writings of naturalist
    and three-term U.S. Representative George Perkins Marsh in the 1860s and
    1870s. Humans were increasingly competing with, and often outcompeting,
    natural forces in altering the earth itself, Marsh and later writers document-
    ed. This is dangerous in the long run, they argued, even if demographically
    and economically stimulating in the short run.4

    “What we do will affect not only the present but future generations,” Pres-
    ident Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1901 in his first Message to Congress,
    which called for conservation of the nation’s natural resources. The value
    of conserving natural resources for future use—and the dangers of failing
    to do so—even made it into political cartoons in the decades that followed.
    (See Figure 1–2.) The U.S. National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 echoed

    6 | State of the World 2013

    Figure 1–2. 1936 cartoon by Jay N. “Ding” Darling


    f t



    . “
















    r 1


    Beyond Sustainababble | 7

    Roosevelt’s words, affirming that “it is the continuing policy of the Federal
    Government . . . to create and maintain conditions under which man and
    nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and
    other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”5

    Two important points emerge from the definition of sustainable develop-
    ment found in Our Common Future, which is still the most commonly cited
    reference for sustainability and sustainable development. The first is that
    any environmental trend line can at least in theory be analyzed quantitative-
    ly through the lens of its likely impact on the ability of future generations to
    meet their needs. While we cannot predict the precise impacts of trends and
    the responses of future humans, this definition offers the basis for metrics
    of sustainability that can improve with time as knowledge and experience
    accumulate. The two key questions are, What’s going on? And can it keep
    going on in this way, on this scale, at this pace, without reducing the likeli-
    hood that future generations will live as prosperously and comfortably as
    ours has? For sustainability to have any meaning, it must be tied to clear and
    rigorous definitions, metrics, and mileage markers.

    The second point is the imperative of development itself. Environmen-
    tal sustainability and economic development, however, are quite different
    objectives that need to be understood separately before they are linked. In
    the Chairman’s Foreword to Our Common Future, Gro Harlem Brundtland
    defined development as “what we all do in attempting to improve our lot.”
    It is no slight to either low- or high-income people to note that as 7.1 bil-
    lion people “do what we all do . . . to improve our lot,” we push more dan-
    gerously into environmentally unsustainable territory. We might imagine
    optimistically that through reforming the global economy we will find ways
    to “grow green” enough to meet everyone’s needs without threatening the
    future. But we will be better served by thinking rigorously about biophysical
    boundaries, how to keep within them, and how—under these unforgiving
    realities—we can best ensure that all human beings have fair and equitable
    access to nourishing food, energy, and other prerequisites of a decent life. It
    will almost certainly take more cooperation and more sharing than we can
    imagine in a world currently driven by competition and individual accumu-
    lation of wealth.6

    What right, we might then ask, do present generations have to improve
    their lot at the cost of making it harder or even impossible for all future gen-
    erations to do the same? Philosophically, that’s a fair question—especially
    from the viewpoint of the future generations—but it is not taken seriously.
    Perhaps if “improving our lot” could somehow be capped at modest levels of
    resource consumption, a fairer distribution of wealth for all would allow de-
    velopment that would take nothing away from future generations. That may
    mean doing without a personal car or living in homes that are unimaginably

    8 | State of the World 2013

    small by today’s standards or being a bit colder inside during the winter and
    hotter during the summer. With a large enough human population, how-
    ever, even modest per capita consumption may be environmentally unsus-
    tainable. (See Box 1–1.)7

    Gro Brundtland, however, made the practical observation that societies
    are unlikely to enact policies and programs that favor the future (or nonhu-
    man life) at the expense of people living in the present, especially the poorer
    among us. Ethically, too, it would be problematic for environmentalists, few
    of us poor ourselves, to argue that prosperity for those in poverty should
    take a back seat to protection of the development prospects of future gen-
    erations. Unless, perhaps, we are willing to take vows of poverty.8

    While sustainability advocates may work to enfranchise future genera-
    tions and other species, we have little choice but to give priority to the
    needs of human beings alive today while trying to preserve conditions
    that allow future generations to meet their needs. It is worth recognizing,
    however, that there is no guarantee that this tension is resolvable and the
    goal achievable.

    If Development Isn’t Sustainable, Is It Development?
    The world is large, yet human beings are many, and our use of the planet’s
    atmosphere, crust, forests, fisheries, waters, and resources is now a force like
    that of nature. On the other hand, we are a smart and adaptive species, to say
    the least. Which perhaps helps explain why so many important economic
    and environmental trends seem headed in conflicting and even opposite di-
    rections. Are things looking up or down?

    On the development side, the world has already met one of the Millen-
    nium Development Goals set for 2015 by the world’s governments in 2000:
    by 2010 the proportion of people lacking access to safe water was cut in half
    from 1990 levels. And the last decade has witnessed so dramatic a reduction
    in global poverty, central to a second development goal, that the London-
    based Overseas Development Institute urged foreign assistance agencies to
    redirect their aid strategies over the next 13 years to a dwindling number
    of the lowest-income nations, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. By some mea-
    sures, it can be argued that economic prosperity is on the rise and basic
    needs in most parts of the world are increasingly being met.9

    On the environment side, indicators of progress are numerous. They in-
    clude rising public awareness of problems such as climate change, rainfor-
    est loss, and declining biological diversity. Dozens of governments on both
    sides of the development divide are taking steps to reduce their countries’
    greenhouse gas emissions—or at least the growth of those emissions. The
    use of renewable energy is growing more rapidly than that of fossil fuels
    (although from a much smaller base). Such trends do not themselves lead

    Beyond Sustainababble | 9

    To link environmental and social sustainability,
    think population. When we consider what
    levels of human activity are environmentally
    sustainable and then, for the sake of equity,
    calculate an equal allocation of such activity for
    all, we are forced to ask how many people are
    in the system.

    Suppose for example, we conclude that 4.9
    billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year
    and its global-warming equivalent in other
    greenhouse gases—one tenth of the 49 billion
    tons emitted in 2010—would be the most that
    humanity could emit annually to avoid further
    increases in the atmospheric concentrations of
    these gases. We then need to divide this number
    by the 7.1 billion human beings currently alive
    to derive an “atmosphere-sustainable” per capita
    emission level. No one responsible for emissions
    greater than the resulting 690 kilograms annually
    could claim that his or her lifestyle is atmo-
    sphere-sustainable. To do so would be to claim a
    greater right than others to use the atmosphere
    as a dump.

    One 1998 study used then-current popu-
    lation and emission levels and a somewhat
    different calculation of global emissions level
    that would lead to safe atmospheric stability. The
    conclusion: Botswana’s 1995 per capita emission
    of 1.54 tons of CO2 (based in this case on com-
    mercial energy and cement consumption only)
    was mathematically climate-sustainable at that
    time. Although population-based calculations
    are not always so informative with every resource
    or system (sustaining biodiversity, for example),
    similar calculations could work to propose sus-
    tainable per capita consumption of water, wood
    products, fish, and potentially even food.

    Once we master such calculations, we begin
    to understand their implications: As population
    rises, so does the bar of per capita sustainable
    behavior. That is, the more of us there are, the
    less of a share of any fixed resource, such as

    the atmosphere, is available for each of us to
    sustainably and equitably transform or consume
    in a closed system. All else being equal, the
    smaller the population in any such system, the
    more likely sustainability can be achieved and
    the more generous the sustainable consump-
    tion level can be for each person. With a large
    enough population there is no guarantee that
    even very low levels of equitable per capita
    greenhouse emissions or resource consumption
    are environmentally sustainable. If Ecological
    Footprint calculations are even roughly accurate,
    humanity is currently consuming the ecologi-
    cal capacity of 1.5 Earths. That suggests that no
    more than 4.7 billion people could live within the
    planet’s ecological boundaries without substan-
    tially reducing average individual consumption.

    Absent catastrophe, sustainable population
    anything like this size will take many decades to
    reach through declines in human fertility that
    reflect parents’ intentions. There is good reason to
    believe, however, that a population peak below 9
    billion might occur before mid-century if societ-
    ies succeed in offering near-universal access to
    family planning services for all who want them
    along with near-universal secondary educa-
    tion for everyone. Also helpful would be greatly
    increased autonomy for women and girls and the
    elimination of fertility-boosting programs such as
    birth dividends and per child tax credits.

    In the meantime, while population remains
    in the range of 7 billion, individual levels of
    greenhouse gas emissions and natural resource
    consumption will have to come way, way down
    to even begin to approach environmental
    sustainability. Consumption levels that would
    bring those of us in high-consuming countries
    into a sustainable relation with the planet and an
    equitable relation with all who live on it would
    undoubtedly be small fractions of what we take
    for granted today.

    Source: See endnote 7.

    Box 1–1. toward a Sustainable Number of Us

    10 | State of the World 2013

    directly in any measurable way to true sustainability (fossil fuel use is climb-
    ing fast as China and India industrialize, for example), but they may help
    create conditions for it. One important trend, however, is both measurable
    and sustainable by strict definition: thanks to a 1987 international treaty, the
    global use of ozone-depleting substances has declined to the point where the
    atmosphere’s sun-screening ozone layer is considered likely to repair itself,
    after sizable human-caused damage, by the end of this century.10

    It is not clear, however, that any of these development and environ-
    mental trends demonstrate that truly sustainable development is occur-
    ring. Safe water may be reaching more people, but potentially at the ex-
    pense of maintaining stable supplies of renewable freshwater in rivers or
    underground aquifers for future generations. Reducing the proportion of
    people in poverty is especially encouraging, but what if the instruments of
    development—intense application of fossil fuels to industrial growth, for
    example—contribute significantly to increasing proportions of people in
    poverty in the future?

    Moreover, economic development itself is running into constraints in
    many countries, as population and consumption growth inflate demand
    for food, energy, and natural resources beyond what supply—or at least the
    simple economics of price or the logistics of distribution—can provide.
    The price of resources has climbed for most of the last 10 years after sliding
    during the previous several decades. Results of rising prices for food, fos-
    sil fuels, minerals, and necessities that rely on nonrenewable resources for
    their production include food riots like those of 2008 and crippling power
    blackouts like the one in India that affected nearly a tenth of the world’s
    population in 2012.11

    Yet even as economic growth seems to be bumping into its own limit-
    ing constraints in much of the world, the most important environmental
    trends are discouraging and in many cases alarming. Human-caused climate
    change, in particular, shows no signs of slowing or beginning any soft land-
    ing toward sustainability, with global emissions of greenhouse gases con-
    tinuing to climb in the upper range of past projections. The rise is slowed, on
    occasion and in some countries, mostly by recession or happenstance shifts
    in fossil-fuel economics (such as the recent ascendance of shale gas produc-
    tion in the United States) rather than any strategic intention or policy.

    Despite all international efforts to rein in emissions of fossil-fuel-based
    carbon dioxide, for example, these emissions are today larger than ever and
    may be increasing at an accelerating pace. (See Figure 1–3.) A brief down-
    ward blip in 2009 was unrelated to coordinated government action but
    stemmed from global economic decline. The global increase in fossil-fuel-
    based CO

    was estimated at 3 percent in 2011 compared with 2010—nearly

    three times the pace of population growth—despite a still sluggish global

    Beyond Sustainababble | 11

    economy and absolute emissions
    reductions in the United States that
    year. This trend leads some scien-
    tists to suggest it may be too late to
    stop future warming in a safe tem-
    perature range for humanity.12

    Demographic and economic
    growth drives growth in green-
    house gas emissions and natural
    resource use. Aspirations over the
    past few decades that economic
    growth can be “decoupled” from
    energy and natural resource use,
    thus allowing the growth to con-
    tinue indefinitely, have proved
    overly optimistic. An earlier trend
    toward energy decoupling reversed course during the global economic
    downturn that began in late 2007. This was partly because governments
    of industrial countries attempted to stimulate their sluggish economies
    through energy-intensive public works programs, but it was mostly due to
    massive industrialization in the emerging economies of China and India.
    Until the combined power of population and economic growth is reversed
    or a strong climate pact transforms the global economy, there seems to be
    little prospect for either true sustainability or truly sustainable development
    through ever-greater efficiency and decoupling.13

    This logic is especially worrisome because we have already dug ourselves
    so deeply into unsustainability, based on the assessment of many scien-
    tists, that we are now passing critical environmental thresholds or “tipping
    points.” We are starting to feel the weight of what was once balanced on
    Earth’s seesaw now sliding down upon us. In 2009, a group of 30 scientists
    identified nine planetary boundaries where sustainability could be roughly
    measured and monitored. Human beings had already, by their calculation,
    crashed through two such boundaries and part of a third: in greenhouse gas
    loading of the atmosphere, in nitrogen pollution, and in the loss of biologi-
    cal diversity.14

    Three years later, in the run-up to the U.N. Rio+20 Conference on sustain-
    able development, another group of scientists, led by Anthony D. Barnofsky
    of the University of California, Berkeley, warned that based on land use and
    other indicators of human domination of natural systems, the planet may
    already be poised to undergo an imminent, human-induced state shift. That
    phrase refers to an abrupt and irreversible shift from an existing state to a
    new one. In this case, the shift would compare in magnitude (though not in



    s C



    Source: BP

    Figure 1–3. Fossil-Fuel-Based Carbon Dioxide Emissions,

    1965 1971 1977 1983 1989 1995 2001 2007 2012


    12 | State of the World 2013

    comfort) to the rapid transition that ended the last Ice Age and ushered in
    the more temperate climate in which human civilization evolved.15

    What the scientists found in physical and biological systems, U.N. Envi-
    ronment Programme analysts found in political ones. Rooting among the 90
    most important international environmental commitments made by govern-
    ments, the analysts could identify significant progress only in four, including
    halting further damage to the ozone layer and improving access to safe water.16

    Other signs are positive, however, as noted earlier. The rapid growth of
    renewable energy, growing acceptance that human activities are warming
    the world, new efforts among many corporations to improve their environ-
    mental behavior and reputations (although sometimes this is more sustain-
    ababble than real), the seriousness with which Mexico and China are trying
    to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions, a recent slowdown in deforesta-
    tion in Brazil—all these trends signal the possibility of shifts in unsustain-
    able trends in the near future.17

    But absent far more progress, the basic trends themselves remain clear-
    ly, measurably unsustainable: the shrinking of aquifers around the world
    as farmers are called on to produce more food while competing with other
    water users, the global declines of fisheries and of all biodiversity, the ac-
    celerating emergence of new infectious diseases over the last few decades,
    and—of course—the relentless march of warmer temperatures, higher
    oceans, and ever-more-intense downpours and droughts. People who sur-
    vive in leadership roles at some point develop realistic strategies for likely
    eventualities. And it now seems pretty obvious that the time has arrived to
    prepare for the consequences of unsustainability, even while we refuse to
    give up the effort, however quixotic, to shift to true sustainability on some
    reasonable schedule.

    Predicament and Possibility
    Why has it proved so hard to conform human behavior to the needs of a life-
    supporting future? A major reason is simply the unprecedented scale that
    humanity has reached in the twenty-first century: We are 7.1 billion sizable
    individual organisms, each requiring thousands of kilocalories of food en-
    ergy and several liters of water per day. The vast majority of us are unwilling
    to share our private living space with wild plants and animals. We like to live
    in a temperature range far narrower than that of the outdoors, and we like
    to be mobile. As we carve out land to grow our food, we fully convert it from
    wild nature to humanized territory.

    In all these needs and wants, we are helped by the fact that much of the
    stored energy that living things gained from the sun over hundreds of mil-
    lions of years has been unleashed for our enjoyment—to fuel our globe-
    spanning travel, to control the climates of our homes and workplaces, to al-

    Beyond Sustainababble | 13

    low many of us to enjoy pleasures and comforts unknown even to monarchs
    in the past. Our political and economic institutions evolved before anyone
    imagined the need to restrain human behavior out of concern for the future.
    An estimated 2.8 trillion tons of carbon dioxide emissions sleep in fossil fuel
    reserves—more than enough to guarantee climate catastrophe from a CO


    saturated atmosphere—that companies and governments would gladly sell
    tomorrow for immediate combustion if they could bring the buried carbon
    to the surface and get the right price for it.18

    With exceptions in a few countries, growing human populations are
    eating more meat, using more carbon-based energy, shouldering aside
    more natural landscapes, and tapping into more renewable and nonre-
    newable commodities than ever before in history. The momentum of a
    still-young global population all but guarantees demographic growth for
    decades to come. The momentum of the world’s transportation networks,
    infrastructure, and built environment all but guarantees that shifts toward
    low-carbon energy will take decades. Individual aspirations for wealth and
    comfort all but guarantee increasing per capita global consumption, at
    least to the extent the world economy will support it. But ever-greater en-
    ergy investments are needed to tap fossil fuels and other critical nonrenew-
    able resources, raising the likelihood that these will become increasingly
    expensive with time.

    Our predicament at least presents us with opportunity. In the words of
    poet W. H. Auden, “We must love one another or die.” In order to survive,
    we may find ourselves dragged kicking and screaming into ways of relating
    to each other and the world around us that humanity has been aspiring
    to achieve since the emergence of the great ethical and spiritual traditions
    many centuries ago.19

    Asking the Difficult Questions
    In asking “Is Sustainability Still Possible?” we realized several other ques-
    tions would also need to be grappled with in this report. The first section,

  • The Sustainability Metric
  • , explores what a rigorous definition of sustain-
    ability would entail, helping to make this critical concept measurable and
    hence meaningful. Though such measurement is often challenging to design
    and agree on, much less carry out, the objective would be to continually
    improve on it, for scientific measurement has always improved over time.

    The first step toward survival is to define environmentally sustainable and
    to use this definition to measure and monitor whether current trends are
    heading toward or away from trajectories that could continue indefinitely
    without threatening future life. The second is to use these sustainability
    metrics to develop practical measures, whether politically feasible at the mo-
    ment or not, that can bend the curve of current trends toward sustainability.

    14 | State of the World 2013

    To help with measurement, we should look without blinking at what is
    unsustainable—at practices and patterns that, if we don’t stop them, will
    stop us. The rarely voiced reality of environmental unsustainability is that
    we may have not just less prosperous and comfortable lives in the future but
    shorter and fewer lives altogether. If it proves too challenging to feed the
    projected 2050 world population of more than 9 billion people, for example,
    it is quite possible we will not have to—for the worst of reasons. The same
    can be said of “business-as-usual” greenhouse gas emission scenarios: by the
    time global thermometers register a hike of 4 degrees Celsius, business-as-
    usual will have ended a long time ago.20

    Raising the specter of rising death rates and civilizational collapse un-
    derlines the need for rigor in assessing what true sustainability is and how
    to measure if we are heading there. In doing so we must accept that true
    sustainability may not arrive for decades or even centuries, yet we’ll need
    to be vigilant about making progress toward it now and at each point along
    the way. The objective will then be to build popular support, make such
    measures feasible, and eventually transform them into effective policies and
    programs worldwide.

    The second section of the book,

  • Getting to True Sustainability
  • , explores
    the implications of the gaps that remain between present realities and a truly
    sustainable future. What would it take—what actions, policies, institutional

    and behavioral changes, and reductions in
    the scale of human activity—to arrive at
    a truly sustainable society? In a world far
    more preoccupied with present economic
    and security conditions than with its own
    future capacity to support life, how can
    those who care about these issues help move
    societies in the right direction? How can we
    spur a sufficiently rapid transition toward
    a world in which humanity and the nature
    that supports it can thrive indefinitely?

    Equipped with clearer definitions of
    true sustainability and clearer indicators
    of where we stand in relation to it, we can
    begin to “get real”—that is, more practical
    and ambitious—about making our actions
    and behaviors truly sustainable. Straight-

    forward objectives of where we need to be can help us separate marginal
    action, political showmanship, and feel-good aspirations from measurable
    progress. The danger of rigorous definition and measurement is, of course,
    the psychological impact of the awareness of how distant the goal of true





    Beyond Sustainababble | 15

    sustainability is. The momentum and weight of that distance can be over-
    whelming and debilitating. But the fool’s gold that sustainababble offers is
    poor medicine; far better to know where we stand—and to stop standing in
    a space in which we will not survive.

    Are there really policy options for forging toward true sustainability?
    There are at least some good candidates, and attention to the sustainabil-
    ity metric will help us identify which ones are worth making a priority—
    whether relating to climate change, population growth, nitrogen runoff, or
    biodiversity loss. Detailed and productive policy proposals can emerge when
    we focus more on sustainability metrics and how to manage them to pro-
    duce equitable outcomes. It will take time; as current environmental politics
    makes clear, not much is achievable with today’s governments. Those who
    care about these issues need to think like eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
    abolitionists, who worked tirelessly on their cause for generations before legal
    slavery disappeared from the world. While time is in most ways the scarcest
    resource of all, achieving true sustainability will need a political movement
    that grows and gains power over time to make its influence decisive.

    Centuries of human experience amid hardship do nonetheless suggest
    the possibility that we will muddle through whatever lies before us on the
    home planet. We have no way of knowing what inventions will arise to revo-
    lutionize our lives and maybe minimize our impacts. Perhaps ocean currents
    or cold fusion will offer supplies of energy that are safe, climate-neutral, and
    effectively inexhaustible. There is no basis for smug certainty that we face
    catastrophe. Yet based on what we have done and are doing ever-more inten-
    sively to the atmosphere, oceans, soils, forests, fisheries, and life itself, it takes
    an almost religious conviction to be confident that such sunny outcomes
    will unfold all over the environmental stage.

    History also shows that even human resilience can have its downside. By
    adapting so well to past environmental losses (the extinction of large mam-
    mals in the Pleistocene, for example), we humans have been able to keep ex-
    panding our population, leading to ever-wider ripples and denser layers of
    long-term unsustainability. Unless scientists are way off track in their under-
    standing of the biophysical world, we would be wise today to look to dramatic
    and rapid “demand contraction”—call it degrowth or simply an adaptive re-
    sponse to an overused planet—to shift toward a truly environmentally sus-
    tainable world that meets human needs. We need to understand the bound-
    aries we face—and then craft ways to fairly share the burden of living within
    them so that the poor bear the least and the wealthy the most. That’s only fair.

    The stakes by their nature are higher the younger someone is—and
    highest still for those who are not yet but will be born. We are talking about
    the survival of human civilization as we know it, and possibly of the spe-
    cies itself. “There is . . . no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is pos-

    16 | State of the World 2013

    sible,” a recent World Bank report conceded, referring to a global average
    temperature increase of 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit from pre-industrial times
    that is considered likely by 2100 without policy change. And so the book’s
    third section—

  • Open in Case of Emergency
  • —takes on a topic that most
    discussions of sustainability leave unsaid: whether and how to prepare for
    the possibility of a catastrophic global environmental disruption. We could
    define this as a sharp break with the past that reverses the long advance
    of human creature comforts, health, and life expectancy—and from which
    recovery might take centuries.21

    In many parts of the world, the emergency has already arrived. There are
    places where violence is routine—and routinely unpunished—and where
    creature comforts are as distant as personal safety. Sustainability is a mean-
    ingless concept in such places, but scholars of sustainability could profitably
    study how people survive there. How do they adapt and stay resilient in the
    face of their struggles? How did cultures and societies survive during and af-
    ter one of the worst civilizational reversals in history, the fourteenth-century
    Black Death, which may have cut European population by half?

    It is through just such an exploration that the environmental movement
    enters fully into the social sphere, after a long history in which the objective
    was to protect nature from human influence. We are living in the Anthro-
    pocene now, the era in which humans are the main force shaping the future
    of life. And it is too late to wall off nature from human influence. Even if
    we could somehow cork all the world’s tailpipes and smokestacks, quench
    all fires, and cap all other greenhouse gas emission sources, Earth will keep
    warming for decades and the oceans will rise for centuries to come. We need
    to focus on adapting to a dramatically changing climate and environment
    while simultaneously pressing ever harder to head off further change. If we
    fail to constrain the ways we are changing the planet, the planet will eventu-
    ally overwhelm all our efforts to adapt.22

    Such speculation may sound pessimistic, but neither fear of pessimism
    nor a dogged determination to remain optimistic are reasons for understat-
    ing our predicament. Optimism and pessimism are equal distractions from
    what we need in our current circumstance: realism, a commitment to nature
    and to each other, and a determination not to waste more time. There seems
    little point in determining your gut feeling about the future when you can
    put your shoulder to the wheel to make sure the world will keep sustaining
    life. “Feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out,” eco-philoso-
    pher Joanna Macy said in a recent interview with the wisdom of her 81 years.
    “Just be present. . . . When you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or
    hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you
    are showing up, that you’re here, and that you’re finding ever more capacity
    to love this world, because it will not be healed without that.”23

    The Sustainability Metric

    “You cannot manage what you do not measure.” So runs the business adage.
    Immeasurables, too, often need managing, but the point remains that metrics
    matter. Marketers and many of the rest of us blithely dub products, cities, ac-
    tivities, and almost anything else under the sun “sustainable” with no quantifi-
    cation that might allow independent verification. If we are to manage our way
    to a sound environment and a durable civilization, we’ll need to weigh rigor-
    ously our progress in ways scientists can support and the rest of us agree on.

    Some sustainability metrics are straightforward. The atmosphere will
    stabilize when the mass of greenhouse gases that humanity emits is no
    greater than the mass the earth reabsorbs. Global progress toward emissions
    sustainability can be tracked, leaving only the harder task of devising ways
    to mark individual and national sustainability. Since we emit more almost
    every year, we know we are less “emissions-sustainable” with each passing
    hour. How, though, do we track progress in sustaining biological diversity?
    With so much uncertainty about causes and rates of extinction, it is much
    harder to find the set point for “biodiversity-sustainable.”

    Developing sustainability metrics will be an evolutionary process, an ob-
    jective to work toward and use for accountability in the long conversation
    ahead. The authors in this section ponder the task and its implications in a
    variety of environmental systems and natural resources. Carl Folke opens
    with an assessment of perhaps the broadest and most critical range of sus-
    tainability metrics: those defining literal boundary points on the planet

    The Sustainability Metric | 17










    18 | State of the World 2013

    that we pass only at peril to our future. Among these are the two systems
    just mentioned—climate and biodiversity—but also key mineral cycles and
    changes in land, oceans, and air. Marking these boundaries and our position
    relative to them sometimes requires subjective judgment, yet the process
    nonetheless contributes to better metrics. The concepts of planetary bound-
    aries and of the Ecological Footprint, discussed here by Jennie Moore and
    William E. Rees, offer among the most influential sustainability metrics yet
    devised, and their implications are daunting.

    Renewable freshwater especially lends itself to sustainability quantifica-
    tion. Hydrologists have carefully measured much of Earth’s water cycle. We
    will never run out of water, but some societies drive themselves into scarcity
    by using so much water that precipitation fails to maintain levels in rivers,
    lakes, and aquifers. Sandra Postel explores these metrics—and finds hope for
    future sustainability in the fact that so much freshwater is wasted through
    inefficient use. Covering 71 percent of Earth’s surface, salt water offers wide
    scope for sustainability metrics. As Antonia Sohns and Larry Crowder note,
    unsustainable human behaviors of many kinds ultimately leave their mark on
    the seas—in acidification, rising temperatures, declining oxygen content, the
    onset of red tides, and the ongoing decline of fisheries. More challenging is
    the task of connecting each of these trends and others with the metrics of the
    human activities that lead to them, but that too is part of our task.

    On renewable energy, Shakuntala Makhijani and Alexander Ochs ap-
    proach quantification from a different perspective, measuring the potential
    to expand access to “sustainable energy” to the point that this all-important
    sector no longer adds to the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases. Eric
    Zencey develops metrics for energy-related principles such as Energy Return
    on Energy Invested (EROI), which like unforgiving physical laws may limit
    how much energy humanity can mobilize and for how long. Gary Gard-
    ner takes up EROI as well, in addressing quantification of natural resources
    that perhaps can only be used sustainably with perfect recycling—which of
    course excludes fossil fuels and other resources consumed entirely by use.

    Kate Raworth tackles another kind of sustainability, that of the social
    sphere. She takes inspiration from the planetary boundaries work to explore
    metrics that might help us understand when our treatment of our fellow
    human beings exceeds the bounds of what is needed for long-term societal
    survival. Social sustainability may be the hardest type to submit to mea-
    surement, but without enduring societies, a supportive natural environment
    will matter to few human beings. The question of how we live together on
    a crowded planet that unravels even as we work to hold its strands in place
    may call forth the most important sustainability metric of all.

    —Robert Engelman

    c h a p t e r 2

    Respecting Planetary Boundaries
    and Reconnecting to the Biosphere

    Carl Folke

    Carl Folke is a professor at and
    director of the Beijer Institute
    of Ecological Economics, Royal
    Swedish Academy of Sciences,
    and the founder and science
    director of the Stockholm
    Resilience Centre, Stockholm

    The biosphere—the sphere of life—is the living part of the outermost shell
    of our rocky planet, the part of the Earth’s crust, waters, and atmosphere
    where life dwells. It is the global ecological system integrating all living be-
    ings and their relationships. People and societies depend on its functioning
    and life support while also shaping it globally. Life on Earth interacts with
    the chemistry of the atmosphere, the circulation of the oceans, the water
    cycle (including the solid water in polar and permafrost regions), and geo-
    logical processes to form favorable conditions on Earth.

    The issue at stake for humanity with respect to the biosphere is broader
    than the climate change that is beginning to gain needed attention. It is
    about a whole spectrum of global environmental changes that interact with
    interdependent and rapidly globalizing human societies. A key challenge for
    humanity in this situation is to understand its new role as a dominant force
    in the operation of the biosphere, start accounting for and governing natu-
    ral capital (the resources and services derived from and produced by ecosys-
    tems), and actively shape societal development in tune with the planet that
    we are part of. It is time to reconnect to the biosphere.1

    During the last couple of generations there has been an amazing expan-
    sion of human activities into a converging globalized society, enhancing the
    material standard of living for most people and narrowing many gaps be-
    tween rich and poor. The expansion, which predominantly benefited the
    industrialized world, has pushed humanity into a new geological era, the
    Anthropocene—the age in which human actions are a powerful planetary
    force shaping the biosphere—and has generated the bulk of the global en-
    vironmental challenges confronting the future well-being of the human
    population on Earth.2

    The Anthropocene is a manifestation of what could be called the Great Ac-
    celeration of human activity, in particular since the 1950s. It took humanity
    close to 200,000 years to reach a population of 1 billion in the early 1800s, and

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?, 19
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_2, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute

    20 | State of the World 2013

    now that population is beyond 7 billion. A central factor behind the shift from
    a human-empty to a human-full world (see Chapter 11) was the discovery of
    fossil fuels, a major source of additional energy, which allowed humanity to
    take off into a truly globalized world. It is a remarkable achievement for a
    single species to become this dominant and, although there are conflicts, still
    exist in relative peace—with a stunning capacity for ingenuity, innovation,
    collaboration, and collective action. To a large extent this has been enabled by
    the human ability to draw on the functioning of the biosphere.3

    Societies are now interconnected globally not only through political,
    economic, and technical systems but also through Earth’s biophysical life-
    support systems. The increasingly urbanized global society—cities already
    accommodate more than 50 percent of the world’s population—depends on
    the capacity of ecosystems of all kinds worldwide to support urban life with
    such essential ecosystem services as fertile soils, storm protection, and sinks
    for greenhouse gases and other wastes, even though people may not perceive
    this support or believe it valuable. For example, shrimp farmed in ponds in
    Thailand for export to cities in industrial countries are fed with fish meal
    derived from the harvests of fish in marine ecosystems worldwide. Or con-
    sider evolving changes in the variability of rainfall patterns that will likely
    trigger changes in the frequency, magnitude, and duration of droughts, fires,
    storms, floods, and other shocks and surprises, affecting food production,
    trade, migration, and possibly sociopolitical stability. And it has been sug-
    gested that the wildfires in Russia in 2010—fueled by record temperatures
    and a summer drought—burned away much of Russia’s wheat harvest and
    halted exports, contributing to the rising food prices that are seen as one of
    the triggers of the Arab Spring.4

    Such novel interactions play out in all corners of the world. Surprises,
    both positive and negative, are inevitable. And now, new forces are ap-
    pearing on stage to accelerate the pace. Most of the world’s population has
    started to move decisively out of poverty, leading to the rise of an affluent
    middle class aiming for material growth, new diets, and increased income.
    Simultaneously, information technology, nano-technology, and molecular
    science are accelerating with unknown potentials, while the speed of con-
    nectivity and the interactions of globalization create complex new dynamics
    across sectors, areas, and societies in yet unknown ways.5

    Increases in connectivity, speed, and scale are by no means only bad
    news; they may enhance the capacity of societies to adapt and transform
    with changing circumstances. If globalization operates as if disconnected
    from the biosphere, however, it may undermine the capacity of the life-
    supporting ecosystems to sustain such adaptations and provide the essential
    ecosystem services that human well-being ultimately depends on. Shifting
    from managing natural resources one by one and treating the environment

    Respecting Planetary Boundaries and Reconnecting to the Biosphere | 21

    as an externality to stewardship of interdependent social-ecological systems
    is a prerequisite for long-term human well-being.6

    The Human Expansion in a Planetary Context
    At the global level there are so-called Earth System services operating on large
    temporal and spatial scales without the major direct influence of living or-
    ganisms (unlike ecosystem services). These include the provision of fertile
    soils through glacial action, the upwelling of ocean circulation that brings
    nutrients from the deep ocean to support many of the marine ecosystems
    that provide protein-rich food, and glaciers that act as giant water storage
    facilities. Storage of carbon through the dissolving of atmospheric carbon
    dioxide into the ocean is also part of a larger Earth System regulatory service.
    Others include the chemical reactions in the atmosphere that continually
    form ozone (essential for filtering out ultraviolet radiation from the sun) and
    the role of large polar ice sheets in regulating temperature on Earth.7

    During the last 10,000 years, these and other forces have allowed Earth to
    provide humanity with favorable environmental conditions and have—un-
    til recently—been resilient to human actions. This epoch, the Holocene (see
    Figure 2–1), has proved to be most accommodating for the development of
    human civilizations. It has allowed agriculture, villages, and cities to develop
    and thrive. Before the Holocene period, conditions on Earth were likely too
    unpredictable, with fluctuating temperatures, for humans to settle down
    and develop in one place. The much more stable environment of the Holo-








    Source: Young and Ste�en

    Figure 2–1. Temperature Variability over the Last 100,000 Years

    100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0


    Greek and


    Beginning of




    Age before Present (thousand years)
    *Figure shows deviation from Holocene average (arbitrarily set at zero), not actual temperature.

    22 | State of the World 2013

    cene made it possible for people to invest in the capital of the biosphere and
    start to domesticate nature. Modern globalized society has developed within
    these unusually stable conditions, which are generally taken for granted in
    investment decisions, political actions, and international agreements.8

    But it seems that humanity is prospering from an exception in the history
    of Earth and has become critically dependent on the support of the Holo-
    cene biosphere’s natural capital. For the sake of future human development,
    it would be helpful if the planet remained in a Holocene-like state. As the
    Anthropocene unfolds, it is important to understand the envelope of vari-
    ability that characterizes the Holocene as a baseline to interpret the global
    changes that are now under way.

    The Envelope for Sustainability
    The planetary boundaries framework is an approach that sheds light on
    the significance of the biosphere and how it operates in support of social
    and economic development. It is an attempt to make visible the biophysical
    preconditions of a Holocene-like state, the only state that we can be sure
    provides an accommodating environment for the further development of
    human societies.9

    Nine planetary boundaries for critical biophysical processes in the Earth’s
    system have been identified. (See Table 2–1.) Together, they describe an en-
    velope for a safe operating space for humanity that, if respected, would likely
    ensure that Earth remains in a Holocene-like state. The safe operating space
    means avoiding moving into a zone of uncertainty where there may be large-
    scale and critical thresholds. The boundaries are set at the lower level of these
    zones and illuminate Earth’s “rules of the game” for prosperous human de-
    velopment. (See also Chapter 3.) The proposed boundaries are rough first
    estimates only, marked by large uncertainties and knowledge gaps.10

    Preliminary analyses have estimated quantitative planetary boundaries
    for seven of the nine processes or elements: climate change, stratospheric
    ozone, ocean acidification, the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, biodiver-
    sity loss, land use change, and freshwater use. For some of these, this was
    the first attempt at quantifying boundaries of any kind. There was insuffi-
    cient knowledge to propose quantitative boundaries for aerosol loading and
    chemical pollution. Three of the boundaries may already have been trans-
    gressed: those for climate change, changes of the global nitrogen cycle, and
    the rate of biodiversity loss.

    The boundary estimates are based on an effort to synthesize current sci-
    entific understanding. They and the scientific analyses behind them were
    presented and discussed in two papers by Johan Rockström and colleagues
    in 2009. The following brief summary of the boundaries is derived from
    that work.11

    Respecting Planetary Boundaries and Reconnecting to the Biosphere | 23

    Climate Change. The suggested climate change boundary of 350 parts
    per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere aims at minimizing the
    risk of getting into zones of uncertainty and crossing thresholds that could
    lead to major changes in regional climates, alter climate-dynamics patterns

    table 2–1. the Nine planetary Boundaries*

    Earth System Process





    Climate change (i) Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration
    (parts per million by volume)

    (ii) Change in radiative forcing (watts per meter







    Rate of biodiversity

    Extinction rate (number of species per million
    species per year)

    10 >100 0.1–1

    Nitrogen cycle (part
    of a boundary with
    the phosphorus cycle)

    Amount of N2 removed from the atmosphere
    for human use (millions of tons per year)

    35 121 0

    Phosphorus cycle (part
    of a boundary with
    the nitrogen cycle)

    Quantity of P flowing into the oceans (millions
    of tons per year)

    11 8.5–9.5 –1

    Stratospheric ozone

    Concentration of ozone (Dobson unit) 276 283 290

    Ocean acidification Global mean saturation state of aragonite in
    surface seawater

    2.75 2.90 3.44

    Global freshwater use Consumption of freshwater by humans (km3
    per year)

    4,000 2,600 415

    Change in land use Percentage of global land cover converted to

    15 11.7 low

    Atmospheric aerosol

    Overall particulate concentration in the
    atmosphere, on a regional basis

    To be determined

    Chemical pollution For example, amount emitted to, or concentra-
    tion in, the global environment of persistent
    organic pollutants, plastics, endocrine disrup-
    tors, heavy metals, and nuclear waste, or their
    effects on the functioning of ecosystems and
    the Earth System

    To be determined

    *Boundaries of processes in gray have been crossed.
    Source: See endnote 10.

    24 | State of the World 2013

    such as the oceanic thermohaline circulation, or cause rapid sea level rise.
    Current observations of a possible climate transition include the retreat of
    summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, retreat of mountain glaciers around the
    world, loss of mass from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, and
    weakening of the oceanic carbon sink.

    Biological Diversity. Biological diversity plays a significant role in eco-
    system dynamics and functioning and in sustaining a flow of critical ecosys-
    tem services. The planetary boundaries work used species extinction rates
    as a first proxy of diversity loss. Accelerated species loss is likely to compro-
    mise the biotic capacity of ecosystems to sustain their current functioning
    under novel environmental and biotic circumstances. Since the advent of
    the Anthropocene, humans have increased the rate of species extinction by
    100–1,000 times the background rates that were typical over Earth’s history.
    The biodiversity boundary, still under considerable debate, was suggested
    at 10 extinctions per million species per year. This boundary of biodiversity
    loss is currently exceeded by two orders of magnitude or more.

    Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Nitrogen and phosphorus are critical nutri-
    ents for life and are instrumental in enhancing food production through

    fertilization, but their use also has
    impacts on forests and landscapes
    and leads to pollution of water-
    ways and coastal zones. Human
    activities now convert more ni-
    trogen from the atmosphere into
    reactive forms than all of Earth’s
    terrestrial processes combined.
    The nitrogen boundary is tenta-
    tively set at 35 million tons of in-
    dustrially and agriculturally fixed
    reactive nitrogen per year flowing
    into the biosphere, which is 25
    percent of the total amount now
    fixed naturally by terrestrial eco-

    systems. This is a first guess only, and new estimates are needed to enable a
    more informed boundary.

    Phosphorus is mined for human use and also added through weathering
    processes. Inflow of phosphorus to the oceans has been suggested as a key
    driver behind global-scale ocean anoxic events (depletion of oxygen below
    the surface). The phosphorus boundary was proposed not to exceed approxi-
    mately 10 times the natural background rate for human-derived phosphorus
    inflow to the ocean. New estimates of the phosphorus boundary that incor-
    porate estimates for both freshwater eutrophication and phosphorus flows to

    Eutrophication under way with algal growth in a pond in Lille, France.




    Respecting Planetary Boundaries and Reconnecting to the Biosphere | 25

    the sea conclude that current conditions exceed a proposed planetary bound-
    ary for phosphorus in relation to global freshwater eutrophication.12

    Stratospheric Ozone. Stratospheric ozone filters ultraviolet radiation
    from the sun and thereby protects humans and other organisms. The sug-
    gested ozone boundary is set at a decrease of less than 5 percent in column
    ozone levels for any particular latitude compared with 1964–80 values. For-
    tunately, because of the actions taken as a result of the Montreal Protocol
    and its subsequent amendments, humanity appears to be on a path that
    avoids exceeding this boundary.

    Ocean Acidification. Addition of carbon dioxide to the oceans increases
    the acidity (lowers the pH) of the surface seawater. The current rate of ocean
    acidification is much higher than at any other time in the last 20 million
    years. Many marine organisms are acidity-sensitive, especially those that
    use calcium carbonate dissolved in the seawater to form shells or skeletal
    structures (such as corals and marine plankton). Globally, the surface ocean
    saturation of the aragonite form of carbonate is declining with rising ocean
    acidity. To avoid possible thresholds, the suggested oceanic acidification
    boundary is to maintain aragonite saturation in surface waters at a mini-
    mum of 80 percent of the average global pre-industrial level.

    Global Freshwater Use. Humans alter river flows and the spatial patterns
    and seasonal timing of other freshwater flows all over the globe. A planetary
    boundary for freshwater resources needs to secure water flows to regenerate
    precipitation, support terrestrial ecosystem functioning and services (such
    as carbon sequestration, biomass growth, food production, and biological
    diversity), and also ensure the availability of water for aquatic ecosystems.
    Transgressing a freshwater boundary of roughly 4,000 cubic kilometers
    per year of consumptive use of runoff may push humanity toward water-
    induced thresholds at regional to continental scales. Currently, consumptive
    use is about 2,600 cubic kilometers per year.

    Land Use Changes. Land use change, driven primarily by agricultural
    expansion and intensification, contributes to global environmental change.
    It is proposed that the boundary for change be set at no more than 15 per-
    cent of the global ice-free land surface converted to cropland. Currently that
    share is about 12 percent. The suggested allowance for expanding agricul-
    tural land by three percentage points will likely be used up over the com-
    ing decades and includes suitable land that is not currently cultivated or is
    under forest cover, such as abandoned cropland in Europe, North America,
    and the former Soviet Union as well as some areas of Africa’s savannas and
    South America’s cerrado.

    Atmospheric Aerosol Loading. Aerosol loading adds particulates such
    as dust, soot, and liquid droplets to the atmosphere, and on a regional
    basis it disrupts monsoon systems and has human health effects. Global

    26 | State of the World 2013

    threshold behavior is still poorly understood, and no aerosol boundary is
    yet suggested.

    Chemical Pollution. Chemical pollution includes radioactive com-
    pounds, heavy metals, and a wide range of organic compounds of human
    origin that adversely affect human and ecosystem health and are now pres-
    ent in the environment all over the planet. Potential thresholds are largely
    unknown, and although there is ample scientific evidence on individual
    chemicals, there is lack of aggregate, global-level analysis, so it is too early to
    suggest a chemical pollution boundary.

    Interdependent Boundaries. Transgressing one or more planetary
    boundaries may have serious consequences for human well-being due to
    the risk of crossing thresholds that can trigger non-linear, abrupt environ-
    mental change within continental- to planetary-scale systems. Planetary
    boundaries are interdependent, because crossing one of them may shift the
    position of other boundaries or cause them to be transgressed. Such interac-
    tions between the boundaries are not accounted for in the current estimates.
    Moreover, the existence of these thresholds in key Earth System processes is
    independent of peoples’ preferences and values or of compromises based on
    political and socioeconomic feasibility. How far we are willing to move into
    the uncertainty zones and risk crossing critical thresholds is a reflection of
    worldviews, choices, and actions—hence the urgent need to reconnect hu-
    man actions to the biosphere.13

    Innovation and Transformation for Global Resilience
    Humans have changed the way the world works, and now we must change
    the way we think about it too. Society must seriously consider new ways
    to support Earth System resilience and explore options for the deliberate
    transformation of unsustainable trends and practices that undermine it.
    The future is uncertain, with surprises and shocks in store—and also oppor-
    tunities. Incremental tweaking is not likely to be sufficient for the new An-
    thropocene era to remain in a state as favorable for humans as the Holocene.
    Preventing dangerous transitions at the regional and global levels will re-
    quire innovation and novelty. It is increasingly clear that development goals
    and efforts need to relate to the safe operating spaces and create opportuni-
    ties for prosperous societal development within those dynamic limits.14

    Large-scale developments in information technology, nano- and bio-
    technology, and new energy systems have the potential to significantly im-
    prove our lives. But if, in framing them, society fails to consider the adaptive
    capacity of the biosphere and the safe operating spaces for humanity, there
    is a risk that unsustainable development may be reinforced by technological
    innovations and policies that are successful in the short term.

    Can we innovate sufficiently rapidly and with sufficient intelligence to

    Respecting Planetary Boundaries and Reconnecting to the Biosphere | 27

    steer our system out of a destructive pathway and onto one that leads to
    long-term social and ecological resilience? Whatever forms a transition to
    sustainability might take, it implies finding the institutional frameworks to
    stimulate the kinds of innovation that solve rather than aggravate our envi-
    ronmental challenges.15

    The environment has for too long been looked on as an externality for
    economic progress—a handy and limitless stock of resources for human
    economic exploitation. Many even continue to view it as a sector of society
    rather than the other way around and are truly ignorant about its dynamics
    and significance.

    But it has become crystal clear that people and societies are integral com-
    ponents of the biosphere, depending on the functioning and services of life-
    supporting ecosystems. It is urgent to start accounting for and governing
    natural capital and ecosystem services, not just for saving the environment
    but for the sake of our own development. The question is about responsibil-
    ity—whether humanity has the understanding, wisdom, and maturity as a
    species to become wise stewards of the living planet, instead of treating it as
    an inexhaustible collection of raw materials.

    At the core of the global sustainability challenge is extending the period
    of relative stability of the last 10,000 years that has allowed our species to
    flourish and create civilizations. It represents a globally desirable social-eco-
    logical state. A significant part of this challenge is to make the work of the
    biosphere visible in the minds of people, in financial and economic transac-
    tions and in society as a whole.

    In a globalized society, there are no ecosystems without people and no
    people who do not depend on ecosystem functioning. They are inextricably
    intertwined. Ecosystem services therefore are not really generated by na-
    ture but by social-ecological systems. Social-ecological systems are dynamic
    and connected, from the local to the global, in complex webs of interac-
    tions subject to both gradual and abrupt changes. Dynamic and complex
    social-ecological systems require strategies that build resilience rather than
    attempt to control for optimal production and short-term gain in environ-
    ments assumed to be relatively stable.

    The planetary boundaries approach sheds light on the crucial signifi-
    cance of a functioning Earth and its biosphere for human well-being. It
    inspires stewardship of our critical natural capital at all levels. The shift
    from perceiving people and nature as separate actors to seeing them as
    interdependent social-ecological systems creates exciting opportunities for
    societal development in tune with the biosphere: a global sustainability
    agenda for humanity.

    Kate Raworth is a senior re-
    searcher at Oxfam and teaches
    at Oxford University’s Envi-
    ronmental Change Institute.
    This chapter is written in her
    personal capacity. Lisa Dittmar
    provided research assistance.

    c h a p t e r 3

    Defining a Safe and Just Space
    for Humanity

    Kate Raworth

    Every pilot knows the importance of flying with a compass: without one,
    they would be in danger of straying far from course. No wonder that mod-
    ern airplane cockpits are equipped with an array of dials and indicators—
    from compass and fuel gauge to altimeter and speedometer. Pity, then, that
    economic policymakers have used nothing close to that for charting the
    course of the whole economy.

    The excessive attention given to gross domestic product (GDP) in recent
    decades as an indicator of a nation’s economic performance is like trying
    to fly a plane by its altimeter alone: it tells you if you are going up or down,
    but nothing of where you are headed or how much fuel you have left in the
    tank. Such a focus on monetized economic output has failed to reflect the
    growing degradation of natural resources, the invaluable but unpaid work
    of carers and volunteers, and the inequalities of income that leave people in
    every society facing poverty and social exclusion. GDP’s dominance has long
    passed its legitimacy: it is clearly time to create a better dashboard for navi-
    gating the twenty-first century’s journey toward equity and sustainability.
    The good news is that better metrics are on the way.

    In 2009, Nobel prize–winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya
    Sen led a commission of economic thinkers to reassess how best to measure
    economic performance and social progress. They concluded, “We are almost
    blind when the metrics on which action is based are ill-designed or when they
    are not well understood. For many purposes, we need better metrics. Fortu-
    nately, research in recent years has enabled us to improve our metrics, and it
    is time to incorporate in our measurement system some of these advances.”1

    Metrics for assessing environmental sustainability are under develop-
    ment—from calculating ecological footprints (see Chapter 4) to quantify-
    ing natural capital. But a new measurement framework that focused only on
    bringing environmental sustainability into the picture would fail to reflect
    social outcomes and would overlook the equity implications of pursuing

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_3, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity | 29

    sustainability. For where there is a limit on resource availability, there is al-
    ways a question of how those limited resources are to be distributed and
    used. If that question is left unspoken, it can lead to political stalemate, in-
    justice, and suffering. So in any discussion of what it will take to achieve
    global environmental sustainability, it is crucial to bring the issue of inter-
    national social justice in resource distribution explicitly into the framework,
    including into the metrics to be used. The concept of planetary boundaries
    offers a powerful starting point for doing just that.

    Between Social Boundaries and Planetary Boundaries
    In 2009, a group of leading Earth-system scientists brought together by Jo-
    han Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre put forward the concept
    of planetary boundaries. (See Chapter 2.) They proposed a set of nine in-
    terrelated Earth System processes—such as climate regulation, the freshwa-
    ter cycle, and the nitrogen cycle—that are critical for keeping the planet in
    the relatively stable state known as the Holocene, a state that has been so
    beneficial to humanity over the past 10,000 years. Under too much pres-
    sure from human activity, these processes could be pushed over biophysical
    thresholds—some on global scales, others on regional scales—into abrupt
    and even irreversible change, dangerously undermining the natural resource
    base on which humanity depends for well-being. To avoid this, the scientists
    made a first proposition of a set of boundaries below these danger zones,
    such as a boundary of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO

    ) in the

    atmosphere to prevent dangerous climate change.2
    Together the nine boundaries can be depicted as forming a circle, and

    Rockström’s group called the area within it “a safe operating space for hu-
    manity.” Their first estimates indicated that at least three of the nine bound-
    aries have already been crossed—for climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and
    biodiversity loss—and that resource pressures are moving rapidly toward
    the estimated global boundary for several others too.3

    The concept of nine planetary boundaries powerfully communicates
    complex scientific issues to a broad audience, and it challenges traditional
    understandings of economy and environment. While mainstream econom-
    ics treats environmental degradation as an “externality” that largely falls
    outside of the monetized economy, natural scientists have effectively turned
    that approach on its head and proposed a quantified set of resource-use
    boundaries within which the global economy should operate if we are to
    avoid critical Earth System tipping points. These boundaries are described
    not in monetary metrics but in natural metrics fundamental to ensuring the
    planet’s resilience for remaining in a Holocene-like state.

    Further work is needed—and is under way—to refine the planetary
    boundaries approach, both in terms of clarifying the different scales (from

    30 | State of the World 2013

    local to global) of the critical biophysical thresholds and in terms of under-
    standing their dynamic interactions. Yet even while the nuances of defining
    the nature and scale of boundaries are being debated, a critical part of the
    picture is still missing.4

    Yes, human well-being depends on keeping total resource use below criti-
    cal natural thresholds, but it equally depends upon every person having a
    claim on the resources they need to lead a life of dignity and opportunity.
    International human rights norms have long asserted the fundamental mor-
    al claim each person has to life’s essentials—such as food, water, basic health
    care, education, freedom of expression, political participation, and personal
    security—no matter how much or how little money or power they have. Just
    as there is an outer boundary of resource use, an “environmental ceiling”
    beyond which lies unacceptable environmental degradation, so too there is
    an inner boundary of resource use, a “social foundation” below which lies
    unacceptable human deprivation.

    Of course, a social foundation of this kind provides only for the mini-
    mum of every human’s needs. But given the current extent of poverty and
    extreme inequality in the world, ensuring that this social foundation of hu-
    man rights is achieved for all must be a first focus.

    Since 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have provided
    an important international focus for social priorities in development and
    have addressed many deprivations—of income, nutrition, gender equality,
    health, education, and water and sanitation—whose urgency has not reced-
    ed. The emerging international debate about what should follow the MDGs
    after 2015, and simultaneously what should underpin a set of Sustainable
    Development Goals, is bringing attention to additional social concerns such
    as resilience, access to energy, and social equity.

    These major initiatives to generate a new set of global development goals
    could result in an international consensus about priority social issues to
    be tackled in coming decades, effectively setting an internationally agreed-
    upon social foundation. In advance of such agreement, one indication of
    shared international concerns comes from the social priorities most raised
    by governments in the run-up to the Rio+20 Conference, as set out in their
    national and regional submissions before the meeting. Analysis of these sub-
    missions reveals that 11 social priorities were raised in over half of them: de-
    privations in food, water, health care, income, education, energy, jobs, voice,
    gender equality, social equity, and resilience to shocks. These 11 are taken
    here as an illustrative social foundation.5

    Between the social foundation of human rights and the environmental
    ceiling of planetary boundaries lies a space—shaped like a doughnut—that
    is both an environmentally safe and a socially just space for humanity. (See
    Figure 3–1.)6

    Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity | 31

    Combining planetary and social boundaries in this way creates a new
    perspective on sustainable development. Human-rights advocates have
    long highlighted the imperative of ensuring every person’s claim to life’s
    essentials, while ecological economists have emphasized the need to situ-
    ate the global economy within environmental limits. This framework
    brings the two together, creating a space that is bounded by both human
    rights and environmental sustainability, while acknowledging that there
    are many complex and dynamic interactions across and between the mul-
    tiple boundaries.7

    Just as Rockström and the other scientists in 2009 estimated that hu-
    manity has already transgressed at least three planetary boundaries, so too
    it is possible to quantify human outcomes against the social foundation.
    A first assessment, based on international data, indicates that humanity
    is falling far below the social foundation on eight dimensions for which
    comparable indicators are available. Around 13 percent of the world’s

    Source: Raworth; Rockström et al.

    Figure 3–1. a Safe and Just Space for humanity

    32 | State of the World 2013

    population is undernourished, for example, 19 percent of people have no
    access to electricity, and 21 percent live in extreme income poverty. (See
    Table 3–1.)8

    Quantifying social boundaries alongside planetary boundaries in this
    way makes plain humanity’s extraordinary situation. (See Figure 3–2.)
    Many millions of people still live in appalling deprivation, far below the
    social foundation. Yet collectively humanity has already transgressed sev-
    eral of the planetary boundaries. This is a powerful indication of just how
    deeply unequal and unsustainable the path of global development has been
    to date.9

    table 3–1. how Far Below the Social Foundation Is humanity?


    Illustrative Indicators of Global Deprivation

    Share of



    Food security Population undernourished 13 2010–12

    Income Population living below $1.25 (purchasing power parity) per day 21 2005

    Water and

    Population without access to an improved drinking water source

    Population without access to improved sanitation




    Health care Population without regular access to essential medicines 30 2004

    Education Children not enrolled in primary school

    Illiteracy among 15–24 year olds




    Energy Population lacking access to electricity

    Population lacking access to clean cooking facilities


    Gender equality Employment gap between women and men in waged work (exclud-
    ing agriculture)

    Representation gap between women and men in national parliaments



    Social equity Population living in countries with significant income inequality 33 1995–

    Voice Population living in countries perceived (in surveys) not to permit
    political participation or freedom of expression

    To be determined

    Jobs Labor force not employed in decent work To be determined

    Resilience Population facing multiple dimensions of poverty To be determined

    Source: See endnote 8.

    Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity | 33

    Source: Raworth; Rockström et al.

    Figure 3–2. Falling Far Below the Social Foundation While
    exceeding planetary Boundaries

    34 | State of the World 2013

    Dynamics and Distribution between the Boundaries

    One striking implication from this initial attempt to quantify both social
    and planetary boundaries is that ending poverty for all 7 billion people alive
    today need not be a source of significant stress on planetary boundaries.
    According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, pro-
    viding the additional calories needed by the 13 percent of the world who are
    facing hunger would require just 3 percent of the current global food supply.

    Consider that against the fact that around 30 percent of the world’s food
    supply is lost in post-harvest processing, wasted in retail supply chains, or
    thrown away by consumers. Likewise, according to the International Energy
    Agency, bringing electricity to the 19 percent of the world who currently
    lack it could be achieved, using a mix of technologies, for as little as a 1 per-
    cent increase in global CO

    emissions—making it clear that tackling climate

    change and ending energy poverty are essentially distinct challenges. And
    according to researchers at the Brookings Institute, ending extreme income
    poverty for the 21 percent of people who live on less than $1.25 a day would
    require just 0.2 percent of current global income.10

    What, then, is the biggest source of stress on planetary boundaries today?
    It is the excessive consumption levels of roughly the wealthiest 10 percent
    of people in the world and the resource-intensive production patterns of
    companies producing the goods and services that they buy. The richest 10
    percent of people in the world hold 57 percent of global income. Just 11 per-
    cent of the global population generates about half of global CO


    And one third of the world’s “sustainable budget” for reactive nitrogen use
    is used to produce meat for people in the European Union, just 7 percent of
    the world’s population.11

    Cutting the resource intensity of the most affluent lifestyles is essential
    for both equity of and sustainability in global resource use. The global mid-
    dle class is projected to grow from 2 billion today to nearly 5 billion by 2030,
    with global demand for water expected to rise by 30 percent, and demand
    for food and energy each by 50 percent. Families moving into the lower
    end of the global middle class (spending around $10 per person a day) will
    be able to afford meat in their diets, electric power at home, and the use of
    public or private motor transport. As a result, lifelong prospects for many
    of these families will be transformed. Production patterns that are far more
    resource-efficient—including resource-saving technologies, investments,
    and infrastructure in key sectors—are essential to make this possible.12

    As other families move up to the higher-income end of the global middle
    class, however, spending $50–100 per person a day, their expectations, aspi-
    rations, and hence resource use will be strongly influenced by the consump-
    tion and production patterns underpinning the lifestyles of today’s most

    Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity | 35

    affluent consumers. Achieving more-equitable and more-efficient resource
    use within and between countries and transforming today’s resource-inten-
    sive lifestyles will clearly be crucial if humanity is to move onto development
    pathways that operate in the space between social and planetary boundaries.

    Creating Metrics for a New Economic Dashboard
    There is wide agreement that it is time to get beyond GDP and toward a far
    richer conception of what constitutes economic development. The global
    crises of environmental degradation and extreme human deprivation, cou-
    pled with the projected growth of the global middle class, urgently demand
    a better tool kit for economic policymaking.

    What are the implications, then, of this framework of social and plan-
    etary boundaries for rethinking the metrics needed to govern economies?
    The overriding aim of global economic development must surely be to en-
    able humanity to thrive in the safe and just space, ending human depriva-
    tion while keeping within safe boundaries of natural resource use locally,
    regionally, and globally. Traditional economic growth policies have largely
    failed to deliver on both accounts: far too few benefits of economic growth
    have gone to people living in poverty, and far too much of GDP’s rise has
    been at the cost of degrading natural resources. And the focus on monetized
    exchange in the economy overlooks the enormous value for human well-
    being of unpaid work in terms of both caring for and nurturing others and
    stewarding natural resources.

    Imagine if the doughnut-shaped diagram of social and planetary bound-
    aries found its way onto the opening page of every macroeconomics text-
    book. So you want to be an economist? Then first, there are a few facts you
    should know about this planet, how it sustains us, how it responds to exces-
    sive pressure from human activity, and how that undermines our own well-
    being. You should also know about the human rights of its people and about
    the human, social, and natural resources that it will take to fulfill those. With
    these fundamental concepts of planetary and social boundaries in place,
    your task as an economist is clear and crucial: to design economic policies
    and regulations that help bring humanity into the safe and just space be-
    tween the boundaries and that enable us all to thrive there.

    Of course, redefining the economist’s mandate cannot get us there alone.
    We also need deeper knowledge of Earth System processes at multiple scales
    and far wider use of resource-efficient technologies and techniques. We
    need breakthroughs in understanding consumer psychology, in promoting
    empathy and long-term decisionmaking, and in governing for collective in-
    terests. But given that economics is the dominant language and currency of
    policymaking, we stand little chance of getting there without having that
    discipline on our side.

    36 | State of the World 2013

    Under this framing of what successful economic policymaking looks like,
    the metrics for assessing the journey toward sustainable and equitable de-
    velopment must widen significantly. In line with the recommendations of
    the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social
    Progress, at least four broad shifts are needed—and are under way (see Box
    3–1)—for creating a better dashboard of economic and social progress.13

    The first shift is from measuring just what is sold to what is provided
    for free too. Many of the goods and services that are essential for well-be-
    ing are provided for free—by parents, by volunteers, and by nature—and
    have significant value. One 2003 study of the unpaid care economy in Basel,
    Switzerland, found that the imputed value of housework, unpaid care, and
    volunteer services was 50 percent greater than the city’s public spending on
    hospitals and schools. Likewise, a recent U.S. study found that accounting
    for unpaid household production, such as housework, child care, and cook-
    ing, effectively increased the country’s GDP by 26 percent in 2010.14

    Assessments of the contribution made by unpriced ecosystem functions
    are also under way. The United Kingdom’s National Ecosystem Assessment
    in 2011 found that 30 percent of the country’s ecosystems were in decline
    but that ecosystem functioning—such as inland wetlands and pollination by
    bees—was of high economic value to the economy. Measures such as these
    that better reflect the value of the unpaid care economy and unpriced eco-
    system functions are essential for broadening concepts of what contributes
    to economic and social development.15

    Second, we need to shift from a focus on the flow of goods and services
    to monitoring changes in underlying stocks as well. The flow of goods and
    services is only half the economic story, as any company knows. Indeed,
    companies that only published their profit and loss accounts would be
    laughed off the stock exchange. It is also critical to know what is happen-
    ing to a company’s assets and liabilities. And nations should be held to the
    same standard.

    The physical and financial assets of countries have been measured for
    some time, but attention is now turning to better accounting of every na-
    tion’s fundamental wealth: its natural, human, and social assets. Creating
    metrics that help to assess, value, restore, and expand these assets is at the
    heart of creating long-term prosperity. The Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI)
    prepared by the United Nations sets out to do just that, assessing changes
    in countries’ manufactured, human, and natural capital stocks—with the
    initial finding that 6 out of 20 countries assessed have seen their IWI per
    capita fall since 1990.16

    The third shift needed is from a focus on aggregates and averages to
    monitoring distribution too. Many economic indicators are either aggre-
    gates (national GDP, for example) or averages (GDP per capita). But it is the

    Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity | 37

    actual distribution of incomes, wealth, and outcomes across a society that
    determines how inclusive its path of development is. In 17 out of 22 coun-
    tries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
    (OECD), income inequality has risen since 1985. In OECD countries today,
    the richest 10 percent of people have, on average, nine times the income of
    the poorest 10 percent.17

    Just as there are striking inequalities of income, there are striking in-
    equalities of resource use as well. In the United Kingdom, the richest 10
    percent of people produce twice the carbon emissions of the poorest 10 per-
    cent; in


    , it’s four times as much; in China, 18 times as much. Data on
    income distribution and resource use also need to be disaggregated by sex

    Beginning in the early 1970s, and initially focusing on
    the problem of pollution costs and other environmental
    externalities, economists have been working to develop
    alternatives to GDP that better capture the full scope of
    our economy. These include the Measure of Economic
    Welfare developed by William Nordhaus and James
    Tobin and a later, better- known derivation, the Genuine
    Progress Indicator.

    More recently, and particularly in the wake of the
    recession, interest among policymakers has surged and
    we are now in the early phases of major implementa-
    tion efforts in multilateral institutions and government.
    The Beyond GDP movement has entered a new phase,
    toward the goal of widespread implementation of alter-
    native measurement frameworks in national account-
    ing systems, other levels of governance, and concrete
    policy settings. Identifiable, large-scale impacts on
    policy and social outcomes, however, remain a good
    way off in the face of many technical, institutional, and
    political challenges.

    One major stepping-stone was France’s high-
    profile Commission on the Measurement of Economic
    Performance and Social Progress. With the widely
    noted release of its groundbreaking report in 2009, the
    Commission set a high bar for national implementation
    of comprehensive accounting reforms, incorporating
    principles of equity, quality of life, and sustainability.
    Other important institutional developments include a
    2011 U.N. resolution calling for member states to reform

    national accounting systems based on the principles of
    well-being and sustainability. Led by Bhutan, the resolu-
    tion was affirmed by more than 60 countries, including
    most of Europe as well as India and Brazil.

    Government efforts to implement alternative indica-
    tors are multiplying. The World Bank’s WAVES partner-
    ship—Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosys-
    tem Services—is currently developing implementation
    plans for environmental accounting in Botswana,
    Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar, and the Philippines.
    Twenty-four countries, mostly in the developing world,
    are engaged in some form of environmental account-
    ing, particularly around resource management, accord-
    ing to a recent World Bank study.

    Industrial countries are also moving forward in
    certain areas. The United Kingdom has adopted “hap-
    piness accounting,” incorporating measures of subjec-
    tive well-being into its national accounts, and Australia
    and Canada are developing alternative dashboards of
    well-being indicators. There is also progress in the United
    States, including high-level federal research programs
    on nonmarket accounting and happiness measures, a
    programmatic blueprint for GDP and Beyond mea-
    sures issued by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the
    Department of Commerce, and adoption of the Genuine
    Progress Indicator in the states of Maryland and Vermont.

    —Lew Daly
    Director, Sustainable Progress Initiative, Demos

    Source: See endnote 13.

    Box 3–1. Moving Beyond GDp

    38 | State of the World 2013

    and by ethnicity in order to ensure that economic policies and their social
    outcomes are equitable.18

    The final shift to create a better dashboard of economic and social prog-
    ress is from monetary metrics to natural and social metrics too. Not every-
    thing that matters can be monetized, nor should it be. “Social metrics,” such
    as the number of hours of unpaid caring work provided by women and
    by men, and “natural metrics,” such as per capita footprint calculations for
    carbon, water, nitrogen, and land, must be given more visibility and weight
    in policy assessments.

    Natural metrics such as these are relatively new but fast improving. More
    and better data of this kind are essential, most urgently in high-income and
    resource-intensive countries, for assessing whether a nation’s GDP growth is
    being decoupled from natural resource use—and not just in relative terms
    (with GDP rising faster than resource use) but in absolute terms (with GDP
    rising while total resource use falls), since this reveals whether or not “green
    growth” is taking place and, ultimately, whether it is possible.

    What difference are these four shifts making? Gone are the days of GDP
    as the lone altimeter guiding the economic journey. The interest and prog-
    ress in creating new metrics is starting to generate a dashboard of indica-
    tors that places the monetized economy in a much broader context of what
    constitutes, and contributes to, equitable and sustainable development. For
    sure, the direction of GDP still matters—indeed, its growth is absolutely
    crucial in low-income countries—but it matters alongside other important
    dimensions of development.

    This creation of metrics beyond GDP is crucial, but of course it brings
    new complexities and controversies. There is an ongoing dance (or a battle)
    back and forth between the metrics of economics and ecology to determine
    whose language, concepts, and measurements will define the emerging par-
    adigm of development. Will economics subsume ecology, assigning a mon-
    etary value to all natural resources, complete with assumptions of shadow
    prices, substitutability, and market exchange? Will ecology predominate,
    proscribing a space for economic activity within safe boundaries designed
    to avoid critical natural thresholds, expressed and governed only through
    the evolving natural metrics of the planet? Or will it be possible to create a
    dashboard of indicators that incorporates the realities and insights brought
    by both approaches?

    If such holistic metrics can be created, they must be compiled and re-
    ported in ways that empower people around the world to hold policymakers
    to account. This change alone would provide governments, civil society,
    citizens, and companies alike with a far better dashboard for navigating hu-
    manity into a safe and just space in which we all can thrive.

    c h a p t e r 4

    Getting to One-Planet Living

    Jennie Moore and William E. Rees

    Jennie Moore is the director of
    sustainable development and
    environmental stewardship in
    the School of Construction and
    the Environment at the British
    Columbia Institute of Technol-
    ogy. William E. Rees is Professor
    Emeritus in the School of
    Community and Regional Plan-
    ning at the University of British

    In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond asks the
    obvious question of a forest-dependent society: “What was the Easter Is-
    lander who cut down the last tree thinking?” For those familiar with the
    human tendency to habituate to virtually any conditions, the answer might
    very well be “nothing much.” The individual who cut down Easter Island’s
    last significant tree probably did not noticeably alter a familiar landscape.
    True, that person was likely standing in a scrubby woodland with vastly di-
    minished biodiversity compared with the dense forest of earlier generations.
    Nevertheless, the incremental encroachments that eventually precipitated
    the collapse of Easter Island society were likely insufficient in the course of
    any one islander’s life to raise general alarm. Some of the tribal elders might
    have worried about the shrinking forest, but there is no evidence that they
    did—or could have done—much to reverse the inexorable decline of the
    island’s ecosystem.1

    Too bad. With the felling of the last “old-growth” trees on the island,
    the forest passed a no-return threshold beyond which collapse of the en-
    tire socio-ecosystem was inevitable. No doubt several factors contributed
    to this tragic implosion—perhaps a combination of natural stresses cou-
    pled with rat predation of palm nuts, human “predation” of adult trees,
    overpopulation of both rats and humans, the misallocation of resources
    to an intertribal competition to construct ever bigger moai (the famous
    sacred monolithic stone heads), or perhaps even some tribal invincibility
    myth. But there is little doubt that human overexploitation of the limited
    resources of a finite island was a major driver. The wiser members of the
    community probably saw what was coming. In slightly different circum-
    stances the islanders could conceivably have responded to reverse the de-
    cline, but in the end Easter Island society was unable to organize effectively
    to save itself.

    Fast forward. We might well ask ourselves what the Canadian govern-

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_4, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    40 | State of the World 2013

    ment was thinking in the early 1990s when it ignored scientists’ warnings
    and a well-documented 30-year decline in spawning stock biomass and al-
    lowed commercial fishers to drive the Atlantic Cod stock to collapse. What
    are North Americans thinking today as they strip the boreal forest to get at
    tar-sands crude or jeopardize already shrinking water supplies by “frack-
    ing” oil-shales for natural gas and petroleum, even as burning the stuff
    threatens to push the global climate system over the brink? And what are
    Brazilians, Congolese, Malaysians, and Indonesians thinking as they har-
    vest the world’s great rainforests for short-term economic gain (through
    rare tropical hardwoods, cattle farms, soy production, or oil-palm planta-
    tions, for instance)?

    Certainly the governments and corporate leaders of these nations know
    that their actions are destroying the world’s greatest deposits of biodiversity,
    increasing the atmosphere’s carbon burden, and accelerating long-term cli-
    mate change. Nevertheless, as the U.N. Department of Economic and Social
    Affairs notes, because “so many of the components of existing economic
    systems are ‘locked into’ the use of non-green and non-sustainable tech-
    nologies, much is at stake in terms of the high cost of moving out of those
    technologies.” Result? A world in policy paralysis. 2

    System collapse is a complicated process. Ecosystem thresholds are not
    marked with signs warning of impending danger. We may actually pass
    through a tipping point unaware because nothing much happens at first.
    However, positive feedback ensures that accelerating changes in key vari-
    ables eventually trigger a chain reaction: critical functions fail and the sys-
    tem can implode like a house of cards. Complexity theory and ecosystems
    dynamics warn of the dangers of overexploitation and explain observed
    cycles of climax and collapse. Yet the world community is in effect running a
    massive unplanned experiment on the only planet we have to see how far we
    can push the ecosphere before it “flips” into an alternative stability domain
    that may not be amenable to human civilization. Examples of inexorable
    trends include the loss of topsoil, atmospheric greenhouse gas accumula-
    tion, acidification of oceans with negative impacts on fisheries, coastal ero-
    sion, and the flooding of cities.3

    We can illustrate the human pressure on nature using Ecological Foot-
    print accounting. (See Box 4–1.) Ecological Footprints estimate the produc-
    tive ecosystem area required, on a continuous basis, by any specified popu-
    lation to produce the renewable resources it consumes and to assimilate its
    (mostly carbon) wastes. There are only 11.9 billion hectares of productive
    ecosystem area on the planet. If this area were distributed equally among
    the 7 billion people on Earth today, each person would be allocated just 1.7
    global hectares (gha) per capita. (A global hectare represents a hectare of
    global average biological productivity.)4

    Getting to One-Planet Living | 41

    The Ecological Footprint compares a population’s
    demand on productive ecosystems—its footprint—
    with biocapacity, the ability of those ecosystems
    to keep up with this demand. The Global Footprint
    Network’s National Footprint Accounts tracks the foot-
    prints of countries by measuring the area of cropland,
    grazing land, forest, and fisheries required to produce
    the food, fiber, and timber resources being consumed
    and to absorb the carbon dioxide (CO2) waste emitted
    when burning fossil fuels. When humanity’s Ecological
    Footprint exceeds the planet’s biocapacity, harvests are
    exceeding yields, causing a depletion of existing stocks
    or the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmo-
    sphere and oceans. Such overuse potentially damages
    ecosystems’ regenerative capacity. Locally, demand can
    exceed biocapacity without depletion if resources can
    be imported.

    In 1961, humanity’s Ecological Footprint was at
    about two thirds of global biocapacity; today humanity
    is in ecological overshoot—requiring the equivalent of
    1.5 planets to provide the renewable resources we use
    and to absorb our carbon waste. Local overshoot has
    occurred all through history, but global overshoot only
    began in the mid-1970s. Overshoot cannot continue
    indefinitely; ultimately, productive ecosystems will

    become depleted. Global productivity is further at risk
    because of potential climate change, ocean acidifica-
    tion, and other consequences of the buildup of CO2 in
    the biosphere.

    Most nations demand more biocapacity than they
    have available within their own borders. This means
    they are liquidating their national ecological wealth,
    relying through trade on the biocapacity of others,
    or using the global commons as a carbon sink. This
    increases the risk of volatile costs or supply disrup-
    tions. For example, the Mediterranean region has a
    rapidly widening ecological deficit: in less than 50
    years, demand for ecological resources and services has
    nearly tripled, expanding its ecological deficit by 230
    percent. But it is not just high-income countries where
    Ecological Footprints exceed biocapacity. The Philip-
    pines has been in ecological deficit since the 1960s. In
    2008, people there demanded from nature twice the
    country’s capacity to provide biological resources and
    sequester carbon emissions.

    The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Denmark,
    and the United States have the largest per capita
    footprints among countries with populations over 1
    million. If everybody consumed like residents of these
    countries, we would need more than four Earths. Other

    nations, such as China, have lower
    per capita footprints but are rapidly
    pursuing consumption habits that
    are trending in the direction of high-
    income, high-footprint nations. And
    although China’s footprint per person
    is low, we would still need slightly
    more than one Earth if everyone in
    the world consumed at that level.
    Despite relatively small per capita
    Ecological Footprints, countries with
    large populations, like India and China,
    have significant biocapacity deficits
    and large total Ecological Footprints,
    similar to that of the United States.

    —Global Footprint Network

    Source: See endnote 4.

    Box 4–1. What Is the ecological Footprint?


    r o
    f E


    s D



    Global Ecological Footprint by Component, 1961–2008

    1960 1970 1980 1990 20102000




    World Biocapacity


    Fishing Grounds
    Built-Up LandCropland


    Grazing Land

    42 | State of the World 2013

    Comparing Fair Earth-Share and High-Consumption

    Ecological Footprint studies reveal that the world is in ecological overshoot
    by as much as 50 percent. The growth of the human enterprise today is
    fueled in large part by the liquidation of natural capital, including essential
    ecosystems, and the overfilling of waste sinks. In short, the human enter-
    prise is exploiting natural systems faster than they can regenerate. Would a
    truly intelligent species risk permanently disabling the very ecosystems that
    sustain it for the increasingly questionable benefits of unequal growth?5

    Ironically, the main perpetrators of this global experiment are the rela-
    tively well educated 20 percent of the human population who live in high-
    income consumer societies, including most of North America, Europe, Japan,
    and Australia, along with consumer elites of low-income countries. Densely
    populated, high-income countries typically exceed their domestic carrying
    capacities by a factor of three to six or more and thus impose a growing bur-
    den on other countries and the global commons. This wealthy minority of
    the human family appropriates almost 80 percent of the world’s resources and
    generates most of its carbon emissions from fossil fuels.6

    To achieve sustainability—that is, to live within the ecological carrying
    capacity of Earth—on average, people would have to live on the biologically
    productive and assimilative capacity of just 1.7 gha per capita. (If, as good
    stewards, we reserved more biocapacity solely for wild species, our Earth-
    shares per person would be even smaller.) In this chapter we use this amount
    of globally available per capita biocapacity as a starting point to consider the
    implications of living with a more equitable distribution of Earth’s resourc-
    es. In short, for policy and planning purposes, we consider 1.7 gha/per cap-
    ita to be each person’s equitable or “fair Earth-share” of global biocapacity.

    More than half the world’s population lives at or below a fair Earth-share.
    These people are mostly in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. As Table 4–1
    shows, such fair Earth-share societies enjoy comparable longevity but have
    somewhat larger households and lower per capita calorie intake, meat con-
    sumption, household energy use, vehicle ownership, and carbon dioxide
    emissions than average world citizens. The differences between people living
    at a fair Earth-share and those in high-income countries (which typically
    need three planets) are much greater.7

    The data for fair Earth-share societies used in this analysis are based on
    Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Mali, the Philippines,
    Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. While some of these countries stay within the
    one-planet parameter due to low socioeconomic development (which also
    explains lower life expectancy than in the high-consumption societies), oth-
    ers—like Cuba and Ecuador—have high levels of development even with

    Getting to One-Planet Living | 43

    their modest incomes and ecological footprints. In fact, an average Cuban’s
    life expectancy is equivalent to that of an average American (at 78 years).
    (See Chapter 30.)8

    The high-consumption societies used in this analysis are Australia,
    Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Norway, Rus-
    sia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While these
    countries enjoy comparable levels of longevity, education, and quality of
    life, people in North America, Australia, and the oil-producing states in the
    Middle East tend to consume twice as much as their three-planet counter-
    parts in other parts of the world. These comparisons show that beyond a
    certain point, income and consumption have little effect on quality-of-life
    outcomes compared with other sociocultural factors.

    Learning to Live within the (Natural) Law
    What might life look like for a high-income consumer society that decided
    to get serious about sustainability and implement strategies to live on its
    equitable share of Earth’s resources? While this answer will depend on spe-
    cific geographic, climatic, and cultural realities, a sense of the magnitude of
    change is available by looking at how one city could make this transition—
    Vancouver, Canada, which has aspirations to be the “world’s greenest city.”

    The City of Vancouver proper (not the broader metropolitan area), in

    table 4–1. comparing Fair earth-Share, World average, and high-consumption countries

    Consumption Measures
    Fair Earth-Share:

    1 Planet
    World Average:

    1.5 Planets

    3 Planets

    (per person)

    Daily calorie supply 2,424 2,809 3,383

    Meat consumption (kilograms per year) 20 40 100

    Living space (square meters) 8 10 34

    People per household 5 4 3

    Home energy use in gigajoules (per year) 8.4 12.6 33.5

    Home energy use in kilowatt-hours (per year) 2,300 3,




    Motor vehicle ownership 0.004 0.1 0.5

    Motor vehicle travel (kilometers per year) 582 2,600 6,


    Air travel (kilometers per year) 125 564 2,943

    Carbon dioxide emissions (tons per year) 2 4 14

    Life expectancy (years) 66 67 79

    Source: See endnote 7.

    44 | State of the World 2013

    British Columbia, is home to approximately 600,000 people and covers
    11,467 hectares. Using data compiled by the city, by the Metro-Vancouver
    region, and by provincial, national, and international statistical agencies, the
    city’s Ecological Footprint is conservatively estimated at 2,352,627 global
    hectares, or 4.2 gha per person.9

    The average Vancouver Ecological Footprint can be attributed to various
    sectors as follows (see Figure 4–1): food (2.13 gha per person) accounts for
    51 percent of the footprint, buildings (0.67 gha per person) account for 16
    percent, transportation (0.81 gha per person) is 19 percent, consumables
    (0.58 gha per person) are 14 percent of the footprint, and water use is less
    than 1 percent.10

    These data do not include con-
    tributions from provincial and na-
    tional government public services
    (such as the treasury and military)
    that take place outside the city
    for the benefit of all Canadians.
    Vancouver city staff estimate that
    these services add an additional
    18 percent to the per person eco-
    footprint. This would be equiva-
    lent to approximately 0.76 gha per
    person, bringing Vancouver’s total
    Ecological Footprint per person
    to 4.96 global hectares. To achieve
    one-planet living, the average Van-
    couverite would need to reduce
    his or her Ecological Footprint by

    66 percent. Note, however, that this is still a minimum number. Ecological
    Footprint estimates err on the side of caution because they cannot account
    for elements of consumption and waste assimilation for which data are un-
    available or for such things as the fact that much “appropriated” ecosystem
    area is being degraded.11

    Food represents half the footprint and includes cropland as well as car-
    bon-sink land associated with processing, distribution, retailing, and con-
    sumption. Although many people are concerned about the carbon emis-
    sions associated with “food miles” (transporting food from farm to plate),
    this accounts for less than 3 percent of the food-footprint component and is
    mostly associated with imported fruits and vegetables. Animal protein pro-
    duction, however, constitutes most of the food footprint (see Figure 4–2),
    due mostly to cropland used to produce livestock feed.12

    Transportation is the next largest contributor to the average Vancouver-

    Figure 4–1. Summary of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint

    Figure 4–2. Food Component of Vancouver’s Ecological

    Water, <1%

    Consumables, 14%

    Buildings, 16%

    Source: Moore



    Source: Moore

    Fish, Meat,
    and Eggs


    Oils, Nuts,
    and Legumes



    Grains, 10%

    Fruits and Vegetables, 10%

    Stimulants, 2%
    (co�ee, tea, sugar, cocoa)

    Beverages, 1%

    Getting to One-Planet Living | 45

    ite’s Ecolocial Footprint at 19 percent; personal automobile use accounts for
    55 percent of this, followed by air travel at 17 percent. Buildings contrib-
    ute 16 percent to the total Ecological Footprint. Operating energy (mostly
    natural gas used for water heating and space conditioning) accounts for 80
    percent of the buildings footprint and is split equally between the residential
    and commercial-institutional sectors. The buildings component is smaller
    than might be expected because 80 percent of Vancouver’s electricity is hy-
    droelectric. Moreover, British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in North
    America to introduce a carbon tax and require all public institutions to be
    greenhouse-gas neutral in their operations.13

    Fourteen percent of the Vancouver Ecological Footprint is attributable
    to consumer products, with paper
    accounting for 53 percent of this.
    Fortunately, Vancouverites recycle
    most of the paper they use (78
    percent), reducing its potential
    Ecological Footprint by almost
    half. The material content of con-
    sumer goods accounts for only 7
    percent of the total quantity of en-
    ergy and material used to produce
    them; 91 percent of the Ecological
    Footprint of consumer goods is
    associated with the manufacturing
    process and another 2 percent with
    managing the products as wastes
    at the end of their life cycle.14

    Clearly, lifestyle choices have a
    significant impact on our Ecologi-
    cal Footprint. However, even if average Vancouverites followed a vegan diet;
    avoided driving or flying and only walked, cycled, or used public transit;
    lived in a passive solar house that used almost no fossil-based energy; and
    cut their personal consumption by half, they could only reduce their per
    capita Ecological Footprint by 44 percent (from 4.96 to 2.8 gha per capita).
    That seems like an impossible challenge already—and yet it is still a full
    global hectare beyond the one-planet threshold.15

    That said, the City of Vancouver is willing to wrestle with this chal-
    lenge, and in 2011 it launched its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, including
    a goal to reduce the city’s Ecological Footprint 33 percent by 2020 and 66
    percent by 2050. Actions in the plan span 10 areas: food, transportation,
    buildings, economy, waste, climate change, water, access to nature, clean
    air, and the Ecological Footprint. Indeed, almost all the planned actions

    Figure 4–2. Food Component of Vancouver’s Ecological
    Water, <1% Consumables, 14% Buildings, 16% Source: Moore Transportation 19% Food 51% Source: Moore Fish, Meat, and Eggs 48% Oils, Nuts, and Legumes 15% Dairy Products 14% Grains, 10% Fruits and Vegetables, 10% Stimulants, 2% (co�ee, tea, sugar, cocoa) Beverages, 1%

    46 | State of the World 2013

    contribute to the lighter footprint objective. Nevertheless, the plan falls
    short of what would be required to achieve stated Ecological Footprint
    reduction targets.16

    Through the planning process, city staff explored various approaches,
    including reducing consumption of high-impact foods (such as meat and
    dairy products) by up to 20 percent, lowering consumption of new products
    by up to 30 percent, and cutting the amount of waste sent to landfills and
    incinerators in half. Note that Vancouver already recycles more than 50 per-
    cent of its wastes, so Greenest City 2020 would achieve a total waste diversion
    rate of up to 75 percent. Vehicle kilometers travelled would be reduced by

    up to 20 percent and air travel by
    up to 30 percent. Building energy
    efficiency would be improved by
    up to 30 percent, and all new con-
    struction would be zero emissions
    starting in 2020.17

    Implementation of these ac-
    tions is estimated to reduce Van-
    couverites’ Ecological Footprints
    by 20 percent. Even though the
    changes in consumption and
    waste production are substantial
    (ranging from 20 to 50 percent),
    this does not directly translate into
    equivalent reductions in Ecologi-
    cal Footprint. Take the following
    comparison, for example. Meat
    and dairy consumption accounts

    for nearly 23 percent of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint (and 21 percent
    of food consumed by weight). Reducing that by 20 percent translates into
    an approximate 4.5 percent reduction in the total Ecological Footprint. In-
    deed, this is one of the most effective actions that could be taken to achieve
    one-planet living. Municipal solid waste, on the other hand, only accounts
    for 1 percent of Vancouver’s total Ecological Footprint. So cutting the total
    tonnage of municipal waste in half has an almost insignificant impact on
    the Ecological Footprint (assuming there are no upstream impacts on the
    supply chain of energy and materials used to produce consumer products).18

    Getting to one-planet living therefore requires strategic consideration
    of which lifestyle changes can have the most significant impacts. Unfortu-
    nately, in the final Action Plan some of the actions that would have the great-
    est impact—such as reducing meat and dairy consumption—were omitted,
    largely because their implementation relied on people’s voluntary actions




    Bicycling infrastructure on Clark Street in Vancouver.

    Getting to One-Planet Living | 47

    that could not, and perhaps should not, be regulated by government.19
    The question remains: even if citizens were willing to do all they could,

    how would Vancouver shave another global hectare off the average Ecologi-
    cal Footprint? Recall that senior government services from which all Cana-
    dians benefit account for an estimated 0.76 gha per capita of Vancouver’s
    Ecological Footprint. Changes in senior government policy and practice
    are therefore also needed and could include efforts toward demilitariza-
    tion, an emphasis on population health through disease prevention, and a
    careful public examination of existing rules, regulations, tax incentives, and
    assumptions about whether the current administration of public funds is
    aligned with the goals of a sustainable society.

    These are bold measures that move past the current emphasis on effi-
    ciency gains across society. The latter would, of course, still be needed—in-
    deed, there is considerable room for additional energy/material efficiency
    gains across the entire building stock and in manufacturing; farmers and
    food processors could also greatly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and
    inputs (fertilizers and pesticides, for instance). One way to induce effi-
    ciency gains is to eliminate “perverse subsidies” (including tax breaks to
    highly profitable oil and gas producers and subsidies to farmers to produce
    certain food products, such as corn) that facilitate unsustainable industrial
    practices and generate false price signals in consumer markets. If neces-
    sary, this should be accompanied by pollution charges or taxes to address
    market failures (that is, to internalize negative externalities) and to ensure
    that market prices reflect the true social costs of production. Policy align-
    ment at the national and provincial government levels to support all such
    initiatives is essential.20

    A second challenge involves engaging civil society with political leaders
    to advance a paradigm of sufficiency, meaning a shared social commitment
    to consuming enough for a good life but not so much that total throughput
    exceeds critical biophysical limits. Such a new consumer paradigm is also
    necessary to avoid the “rebound effect,” in which people spend savings from
    efficiency on other things—canceling the gains. A survey of 65 studies in
    North America found that this rebound is responsible for 10–30 percent
    of expenditures in sectors that account for most energy and material con-
    sumption: food, transportation, and buildings. Indeed, total resource and
    energy demand in most of the world’s industrial countries has increased in
    absolute terms over the past 40 years despite efficiency gains of 50 percent in
    materials and 30 percent in energy use.21

    Different people will make different lifestyle choices and changes as re-
    quired. If one-planet living is the goal, these choices will obviously have to
    entail more than recycling programs and stay-at-home vacations. For suc-
    cess, the world’s nations will have to commit to whole new development

    48 | State of the World 2013

    strategies with elements ranging from public re-education to ecological fis-
    cal reform, all within a negotiated global sustainability treaty.22

    While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to detail elements of such
    an economic transformation, others have tried. In Factor Five, for example,
    Ernst von Weizsäcker and colleagues attempt numerous sector studies to

    demonstrate how an 80 percent re-
    duction in resource intensity could
    be achieved in agriculture, trans-
    portation, buildings, and selected
    manufacturing industries. They
    show that many of the technolo-
    gies needed for one-planet living
    already exist, but in the absence of
    global agreements and enforceable
    regulations, there is insufficient
    incentive for corporate, govern-
    ment, and consumer uptake. In a
    global economy, states will not act
    alone for fear of losing competitive
    ground. And even international
    cooperation or agreements do not
    ensure success: although some

    global initiatives (such as the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion) have
    succeeded, others (such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change) have suc-
    cumbed to shorter-term economic considerations.23

    What Lies Ahead
    Despite the pressing need for cultural transformation, prospects for real
    progress toward socially just ecological sustainability are not encourag-
    ing. Global society remains committed to the progress myth and to un-
    constrained economic growth. Indeed, the international community views
    sheer material growth rather than income redistribution as the only feasible
    solution to chronic poverty.

    In Our Common Future, the World Commission on Environment and
    Development recognized peoples’ reticence to contemplate serious mea-
    sures for wealth redistribution. Such an approach might follow a strategy
    of contraction and convergence, during which industrial countries reduced
    their energy and material throughput to allow room for developing coun-
    tries to grow. Instead, the Commission advocated for “more rapid econom-
    ic growth in both industrial and developing countries,” albeit predicated
    on global cooperation to develop more equitable trade relationships and
    noting that “rapid growth combined with deteriorating income distribu-


    A parking lot adapted for use as an urban farm, Vancouver.

    Getting to One-Planet Living | 49

    tion may be worse than slower growth combined with redistribution in
    favour of the poor.”24

    Since that report came out in 1987, economic growth has far outpaced
    population growth, so there are more dollars per person circulating in the
    world today than ever before. But while some developing states have pros-
    pered in the increasingly global economy—such as Singapore, South Korea,
    China, and India—others have not. Moreover, income disparity is increas-
    ing both among and within countries; even in the richest nations, lower-
    income groups have seen real wages stagnate or decline. It is now apparent
    that growth alone is failing as a solution to poverty. Most of the human
    family is still materially deprived, consuming less than its just share of eco-
    nomic output. This has led to renewed recognition—at least in progres-
    sive circles—that policy measures explicitly designed to spread the benefits
    of economic prosperity are more effective than increasing gross domestic
    product for alleviating material poverty.25

    Overall, the combined evidence of widening income gaps and accelerat-
    ing ecological change suggests that the mainstream global community still
    pays little more than lip service to the sustainability ideal. The growth econ-
    omy, now dressed in green, remains the dominant social construct. Rio+20,
    the latest U.N. conference on economy and development, essentially equated
    sustainable development with sustained economic growth and produced no
    binding commitments for anyone to do anything. So it is that 40 years after
    the first global conference on humanity and the environment (Stockholm
    in 1972) and 20 years after the first world summit on the environment and
    development (Rio in 1992), the policy focus remains on economic growth—
    while ecological decline accelerates and social disparity worsens.

    Discouraging, yes, but let us recognize that the notion of perpetual
    growth is just a social construct, initiated as a transition strategy to reboot
    the economy after World War II. It has now run its course. What society has
    constructed it can theoretically deconstruct and replace. The time has come
    for a new social contract that recognizes humanity’s collective interest in
    designing a better form of prosperity for a world in which ecological limits
    are all too apparent and the growing gap between rich and poor is morally
    unconscionable. Our individual interests have converged with our collective
    interests. What more motivation should civil society need to get on with the
    task at hand?26

    The major challenges to sustainability are in the social and cultural do-
    mains. The global task requires nothing less than a rewrite of our prevailing
    growth-oriented cultural narrative. As Jared Diamond emphasized in Col-
    lapse, societies can consciously “choose to fail or succeed,” and global society
    today is in the unique position of knowing the dismal fates of earlier cultures
    that made unfortunate choices. We can also consider the prospects of those

    50 | State of the World 2013

    who acted differently. Indeed, in contrast to the fate of Easter Islanders, the
    people of Tikopia—living on a small South Pacific island—made successful
    choices to reduce their livestock populations when confronted with signs of
    ecological deterioration. Today the Tikopian culture serves as an example
    of conscious self-management in the face of limited resources. Of course,
    Tikopia has the advantage of being a small population with a homogenous
    culture on a tiny island where the crises were evident to all and affected
    everyone. Contrast that with today’s heterogeneous global culture charac-
    terized by various disparities (tribal, national, linguistic, religious, political,
    and so on) and the anticipation of uneven impacts.27

    Meanwhile, our best science is telling us that we are doing no better than
    previous failures: staying our present course means potential catastrophe.
    The (un)sustainability conundrum therefore creates a clear choice for peo-
    ple to exercise their remaining democratic freedoms in the name of societal
    survival. Difficult though it may be, ordinary citizens owe it to themselves
    and the future to engage with their leaders and insist that they begin the
    national planning processes and draft the international accords needed to
    implement options and choices for an economically secure, ecologically
    stable, socially just future.

    Sandra Postel is director of
    the Global Water Policy Project
    and Freshwater Fellow of the
    National Geographic Society.

    c h a p t e r 5

    Sustaining Freshwater
    and Its Dependents

    Sandra Postel

    Access to water is essential for human survival, much less human advance-
    ment. The great early human civilizations—from the ancient Egyptians to
    the Mesopotamians to the early Chinese—sprung up and flourished along-
    side rivers. Without sufficient water to drink and to grow food, no society—
    however advanced—can last.

    So here’s the conundrum. Water is finite. The volume of freshwater on
    Earth today is the same as when Caesar ruled ancient Rome. Yet in those
    intervening 2,000 years, the human population has risen from 250 million
    to more than 7 billion. The annual production of global goods and services,
    now valued at $70 trillion, has expanded even faster.1

    Water is needed to produce nearly everything—from electricity and
    paper to burgers and blue jeans. As consumer demands have risen, the
    limits of accessible water supplies have become increasingly apparent. An
    unsettling number of large rivers are now so overtapped that they dis-
    charge little or no water to the sea for months, or years, at a time. Lakes
    and wetlands are shrinking, and crucial aquifers are being depleted. Some
    10 percent of the global food supply today depends on the unsustainable
    use of groundwater.2

    At the same time, basic human needs for water continue to go unmet.
    Nearly 800 million people—about 11 percent of humanity—lack access to
    safe drinking water. An even larger number of people are hungry and mal-
    nourished. Many live on farms but lack access to water to irrigate their crops
    during droughts and yearly dry seasons, which keeps them mired in poverty
    and chronically malnourished.3

    Is there hope of achieving a sustainable balance with freshwater? The
    answer is yes. But to envision how it can be achieved we must dig a little
    deeper into what sustainable water use means, assess where we stand to-
    day, and then develop a vision and a set of practical actions for moving
    toward it.

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_5, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    52 | State of the World 2013

    Freshwater by the Numbers

    Images from space show Earth to be a strikingly blue planet harboring great
    stores of water. Some 97.5 percent of that water is ocean, which provides a
    vast array of benefits but is too salty to drink or irrigate crops. Nor is there
    great scope to tap this salty water for human use through desalination. (See
    Box 5–1.) Most of the remaining 2.5 percent is locked up in glaciers and
    ice caps or resides deep under the surface. Only a tiny fraction of all the

    water on Earth—less than one one-hundredth of
    1 percent—is fresh and renewed each year by the
    sun-powered hydrological cycle.4

    At first glance, even this small share of the
    planet’s water—the renewable freshwater sup-
    ply—would seem to be more than ample to satisfy
    human needs now and for generations to come.
    Each year, the global water cycle delivers 110,000
    cubic kilometers of water over land in the form of
    rain, sleet, and snow. (These values are approxi-
    mate; various models have produced different
    estimates.) About 64 percent of that precipitation
    returns to the atmosphere through evaporation or
    transpiration (the use of water by plants, crops,
    grasses, and trees). The remaining 36 percent flows
    toward the sea in rivers, streams, or underground
    aquifers. This “runoff” is the water supply we tap
    for irrigation, drinking water, electricity produc-
    tion, and manufacturing.5

    But when we account for the share of runoff that
    is too remote to get to (about 19 percent) or that
    runs off in floods (about 42 percent), the picture
    darkens a bit. Even taking into account the flood-
    waters captured by dams, only about 15,600 cubic

    kilometers of global runoff—39 percent of the total—is accessible. Today,
    worldwide water demands use about 30 percent of that accessible supply.
    (Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the global demand, industries for 20
    percent, cities and towns for about 10 percent.)6

    Humanity’s impact on Earth’s water, however, is greater than these fig-
    ures would suggest. First, we not only use water, we often pollute it. For
    example, many rivers, streams, aquifers, and coastal zones receive harmful
    levels of nitrogen fertilizers and chemical pesticides carried by runoff from
    farms and suburban lawns.

    Second, we not only tap into rivers, lakes, and aquifers, we also rely on

    With so much water in the oceans, desalting seawater
    would seem to provide the ultimate solution to the
    world’s water problems. Desalination is indeed a viable
    water-supply option, and the process has steadily
    improved. With new membrane technologies and
    other developments, the energy required to desalinate
    seawater has fallen by 60–80 percent over the last
    two decades.

    Nevertheless, the process remains energy-intensive,
    expensive, and potentially harmful to coastal marine
    environments. Currently, the roughly 15,000 desalina-
    tion plants worldwide have the capacity to produce
    15.3 cubic kilometers of water per year—less than half
    of 1 percent of global water demand. Moreover, most
    de-salting plants run on fossil fuels, which means they
    contribute to climate change while attempting to
    “solve” water shortage problems—a Faustian bargain at
    best. While it provides a lifeline for some island nations
    and desert regions, desalination is no silver bullet for
    solving the world’s water problems.

    Source: See endnote 4.

    Box 5–1. Desalination

    Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents | 53

    natural rainfall, especially to grow crops. Some 82 percent of cropland
    worldwide is watered solely by natural precipitation; it gets no supplemental
    irrigation. This direct use of precipitation is typically excluded from esti-
    mates of water demand.7

    One other distinction is important. About half of the water we use is
    “consumed” (or depleted) through evaporation or transpiration, which
    means it returns to the atmosphere and resides there as vapor until it falls
    to the earth again. Since it may not return as rain during the same season
    or in the same location, water is effectively “depleted” from any particular
    watershed. On the other hand, water used but not consumed is available to
    use again. The water we use to shower or flush toilets, for example, typically
    returns to a local river or aquifer, where it can be reused. This distinction
    between use and consumption is crucial for assessing how much water is
    actually available to meet the demands in a given watershed.

    Researchers Arjen Hoekstra and Mesfin Mekonnen of the University of
    Twente in the Netherlands have made the most detailed estimates to date
    of the scale and patterns of humanity’s water consumption. They tabulated
    all the water from both rainfall and irrigation that is consumed in making
    goods and services for everyone in the world. To complete the picture, they
    added in the volume of water needed to assimilate the pollution generated
    along the way. They then calculated the annual average global water “foot-
    print” for 1996–2005, the most recent 10-year period with the data they
    needed. The upshot: humanity’s water footprint totals an estimated 9,087
    cubic kilometers per year—a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow
    of 500 Colorado Rivers.8

    Whether looking at use, consumption, or “footprints,” these global num-
    bers tell only a small part of the story. A large share of the world’s people
    and irrigated farms are located where renewable water is not very abundant.
    (See Figure 5–1.) China, for instance, has nearly 20 percent of the world’s
    population and 21 percent of total irrigated area but only 6.5 percent of the
    world’s renewable freshwater—and most of that supply is in the southern
    part of the country. The United States, by contrast, has 4.5 percent of the
    world’s people and 7 percent of the renewable water supply. But most of that
    nation’s irrigated land and recent population growth are found in the drier
    West: hence the depletion of rivers and aquifers in that region.9

    In addition to this geographic mismatch there is a timing mismatch: na-
    ture does not deliver water evenly or predictably throughout the year. Much
    of India, for instance, gets most of its water during the summer monsoons,
    often in just a few intense storms. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, rainfall is
    highly variable and unreliable. Fourteen countries in that region each expe-
    rienced at least 10 droughts between 1970 and 2004.10

    With human-induced climate change likely to make many dry areas drier

    54 | State of the World 2013

    and wet areas wetter, hydrologic variability will become more extreme. In
    2008, seven top water scientists argued persuasively in Science that “station-
    arity”—the concept that natural variability remains within a known set of
    boundaries—is no longer valid. We have moved outside that known en-
    velope of variability into new territory. When it comes to water, in other
    words, the past is no longer a reliable guide to the future.11

    How Sustainable Is Our Water Use Today?
    Three critical attributes distinguish freshwater from other “resources”: it is
    essential to life, there are no substitutes for it, and because we cannot ship it
    around the world in large quantities, how it is used and managed locally or
    regionally is what matters. A working definition of freshwater sustainability
    that is true to these attributes might be this: in any watershed, ensure that
    basic water needs are met for all people; preserve ecological infrastructure
    so as to provide the quantity, quality, and timing of water flows needed to
    sustain ecosystem services; and where groundwater is tapped, ensure that
    extraction does not deplete the water in storage or degrade connected eco-
    systems. Judged according to these criteria, our use and management of wa-
    ter fails the sustainability test on multiple fronts.12

    Drinking Water for All. The failure to provide universal access to safe
    drinking water ranks among the greatest shortcomings of human develop-
    ment. As of 2010, some 780 million people—more than 1 in 10—lacked ac-
    cess to a safe supply of water to meet their basic needs for drinking, cooking,
    and washing. Most live in poor parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where

    Source: FAO

    Figure 5–1. Share of World Irrigated Land, Renewable Water, and
    Population, Selected Countries, 2010

    0 5 10 15 20 25

    Share of world irrigated land
    Share of world renewable water
    Share of world population


    United States









    Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents | 55

    women and girls often spend hours each day trekking to a water source,
    lifting what water they can carry home to their families, and then hoping it
    does not sicken or kill themselves or a family member. The issue is not a lack
    of water: providing 20 liters per person per day for 780 million people would
    require only 0.1 percent of current global water withdrawals. There is suf-
    ficient water but thus far insufficient political will and financing to provide
    universal access to safe water.13

    The good news is that substantial progress has been made over the last
    two decades in this area: more than 2 billion people acquired access to safe
    drinking water during this time. The Millennium Development Goal of
    halving the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking
    water by 2015 (compared with the 1990 level) was actually met in 2010, five
    years early. Still, a backlog of need remains. Many dedicated groups—in-
    cluding U.N. agencies, country ministries, grassroots groups, and nongov-
    ernmental organizations—are working diligently to complete the job. 14

    Ecosystem Needs for Water. Unfortunately, the progress in meeting basic
    human needs for water is not paralleled by progress in meeting ecosystem
    needs. Indeed, when it comes to preserving ecosystem health and services,
    most of the trends are going in the wrong direction.

    Over the decades, water management has largely aimed at getting water
    to people and farms where and when they need it. Since 1950, the number
    of large dams has climbed from 5,000 to more than 45,000. Dams and res-
    ervoirs are now able to hold 26 percent of annual global runoff all at once,
    causing immense changes to the flow of rivers.15

    At the same time, large diversions by canal or pipeline move water hun-
    dreds of kilometers. Around the world, 364 transfer schemes move ap-
    proximately 400 cubic kilometers of water annually from one river basin
    to another—equivalent to transferring the yearly flow of 22 Colorado Riv-
    ers. China is proceeding with a massive $60-billion project to transfer 41.3
    cubic kilometers a year from the Yangtze River basin in the south to the
    water-scarce north. If completed, it will be the largest construction project
    on Earth.16

    Many more projects divert water from one location to another within the
    same river basin. Phoenix, Arizona, for example, gets 40 percent of its sup-
    ply through the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which transfers water from
    the Colorado River 300 kilometers to the east. The CAP is just one of many
    diversion schemes in the Colorado Basin that contribute to that river’s dry-
    ing up before it reaches its final destination, the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.17

    Dams to store water and diversion schemes to move it around have al-
    lowed burgeoning oasis cities in the desert, from Phoenix and Los Ange-
    les to Cairo and Karachi. They have enabled the desert to bloom and food
    production to keep pace with population growth. Dams have also added to

    56 | State of the World 2013

    the world’s energy supply: hydropower facilities now generate 16 percent
    of the world’s gross electricity, and many large new hydroelectric schemes
    are planned or under construction in Brazil, Canada, China, India, Turkey,
    Southeast Asian nations, and elsewhere.18

    In short, control over water has allowed the human enterprise to grow
    and prosper as conventionally measured by the number of hectares irri-
    gated, kilowatt-hours generated, and people served. Yet those benefits have
    come at great expense to some 470 million river-dependent people down-
    stream of large dams, as well as to the health and productivity of freshwa-
    ter ecosystems that deliver services of great value. (See Box 5–2.) Healthy
    rivers, for example, supply fish to eat, recreational opportunities, and ri-
    parian habitats for birds and wildlife; wetlands mitigate floods, recharge

    groundwater, and filter out pollutants; and forest-
    ed watersheds increase the reliability and quality
    of drinking water supplies. Maintaining these ser-
    vices for this and future generations is part of the
    sustainability challenge—yet we have paid little
    attention to them.19

    Although dams and reservoirs do the important
    work of storing freshwater for human use, they often
    result in rivers being turned on and off like plumb-
    ing works. Instead of rivers flowing to their own
    natural rhythms, which create the cues and habitats
    that fish and wildlife need, they now often flow to
    suit human demands for electricity, irrigation, wa-
    ter supply, and flood control. This flow alteration
    is a dominant factor in the loss of freshwater life:
    extinction rates for freshwater species are estimated
    to be four to six times higher than for terrestrial or
    marine species. In North America, 700 freshwater
    fish species (39 percent of the total) are imperiled,
    nearly double the number in 1989; of this total, 61
    are presumed locally or globally extinct.20

    Dams and reservoirs worldwide also trap more
    than 100 billion tons of sediment that would oth-

    erwise replenish deltas and nourish coastal habitats crucial to commercial
    fisheries. From the Colorado to the Indus to the Nile, the depletion of river
    flows and trapping of nutrient-rich sediments are causing deltas—among
    the most productive ecosystems on Earth—to shrink and degrade. The Col-
    orado Delta—a crucial stopover for migratory birds on the western Pacific
    flyway—has lost more than 90 percent of its wetlands; the Nile Delta, which
    provides about one third of Egypt’s crops, is losing ground to the Mediter-

    • Water supplies for irrigation, industries, cities, and
    • Fish, waterfowl, mussels, and other foods for people

    and wildlife
    • Water purification and filtration of pollutants
    • Flood mitigation
    • Drought mitigation
    • Groundwater recharge
    • Water storage
    • Wildlife habitat and nursery grounds
    • Soil fertility maintenance
    • Nutrient delivery to deltas and estuaries
    • Delivery of freshwater flows to maintain estuarine

    salinity balances
    • Aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual values
    • Recreational opportunities
    • Conservation of biodiversity, which preserves resilience

    and options for the future
    Source: See endnote 19.

    Box 5–2. Services provided by rivers,
    Wetlands, Floodplains, and Other

    Freshwater ecosystems

    Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents | 57

    ranean Sea as 100 million tons of sediment per year get trapped behind the
    Aswan Dam.21

    The services provided by ecological infrastructure run on free energy
    from the sun, while all the technological replacements for these services—
    from river levees to treatment plants—require increasingly expensive hu-
    man-created energy to build, operate, and maintain. As a result, the eco-
    nomic costs of these lost ecological services, though untallied, are high and
    rising. Scientists participating in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment es-
    timated in 2005 that wetlands alone provide water purification, flood miti-
    gation, and other services worth $200–940 billion per year. Worldwide, we
    have filled or drained up to half of the planet’s original wetland area.22

    Ecological infrastructure will be increasingly important as climate change
    further alters the global water cycle and as droughts, floods, and other ex-
    treme events become more common and severe. In the spring of 2011, as
    floodwaters raged through the Mississippi River, forcing the federal Army
    Corps of Engineers to breach a levee to save Cairo, Illinois, an important
    piece of ecological infrastructure was missing: 14 million hectares of wet-
    lands in the upper Mississippi Basin that over time had been drained and
    filled to make way for farms and homes. Those wetlands—an area the size
    of Illinois—had worked like a giant sponge, absorbing rainwater and then
    releasing it slowly to nearby streams or underground aquifers. With those
    natural protections gone, and with more people and farms in harm’s way,
    flood risks grew. According to ecologists Donald Hey and Nancy Philippi,
    despite the massive construction of levees throughout the upper Mississippi
    Basin during the twentieth century, annual average flood damage over the
    century more than doubled.23

    Groundwater Trends. Some of the most troubling signs of unsustain-
    able water use come from underground, where we are building up a sizable
    water debt in the form of aquifer depletion. Just as bank accounts shrink
    when withdrawals exceed deposits, so do groundwater accounts. Most of the
    depletion is occurring in some of the world’s most crucial farming regions.

    Using data from a U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    satellite mission called GRACE (for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experi-
    ment), scientists have estimated that northern India, which includes that
    nation’s breadbasket, is depleting groundwater at a rate of 54 cubic kilome-
    ters per year, a volume that could support a subsistence-level diet for some
    180 million people. In another study, led by Jay Famiglietti at the University
    of California in Irvine and also using data from GRACE, researchers found
    that between October 2003 and March 2010, California’s Central Valley—
    the fruit and vegetable bowl of the United States—lost a volume of ground-
    water equivalent to two thirds of the capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s
    largest human-made reservoir.24

    58 | State of the World 2013

    Indeed, all four of the world’s top irrigators—China, India, Pakistan, and
    the United States—are pumping groundwater faster than it is being replen-
    ished in crucial crop-producing areas. The problem is most serious in India,
    where 60 percent of irrigated farming depends on groundwater. Water tables
    are falling extensively in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan,
    and Tamil Nadu in addition to the breadbasket states of Punjab and Hary-
    ana in the northwest. At least 15 percent of India’s food is being produced
    by mining groundwater.25

    In addition to the problem in California’s Central Valley, U.S. groundwa-
    ters are being heavily depleted in the western Great Plains, where parts of
    eight states are above the Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala supplies water to 27
    percent of U.S. irrigated land, sustaining wheat, corn, and cotton production.
    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, depletion of the Ogallala—or more
    precisely, the High Plains Aquifer, most of which is made up of the Ogal-
    lala—over the last six decades totals some 328 cubic kilometers, a volume of
    water sufficient to sustain the U.S. wheat harvest for about six years.26

    Using state-of-the-art hydrological models and estimates of groundwater
    withdrawals, Yoshihide Wada of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and
    his colleagues estimated in a 2010 study that some 283 cubic kilometers of
    groundwater were depleted from aquifers around the world in 2000. While
    some of the depletion occurs for urban or industrial purposes, the vast ma-
    jority is for crop irrigation. Since it takes about 1,500 cubic meters of water
    to grow one ton of grain (an approximate average for rice, wheat, and corn),
    that volume of depleted groundwater could have produced 189 million tons
    of grain, equal to 10 percent of global grain output in 2000.27

    While many countries are depleting aquifers locally or regionally, five are
    mining groundwater faster than replenishment rates at the national scale:
    Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran. Saudi Arabia’s story offers
    particularly important warnings. This desert nation gets only 59 millime-
    ters (2.3 inches) of rainfall a year, and its renewable groundwater supply is
    a meager 2.4 cubic kilometers per year. To meet their water demands, the
    Saudis draw heavily upon nonrenewable or “fossil” aquifers that formed
    some 20,000 years ago. These aquifers were heavily pumped during several
    decades of massive desert farming aimed at making the nation self-sufficient
    in wheat. The Saudis were so successful that for a time Saudi Arabia even
    exported wheat.28

    Between 1980 and 2006, the volume of water used for Saudi irrigation
    more than tripled, and nearly all of it was groundwater. As of 2006, Saudi
    farmers were pumping nearly 10 times more groundwater than was being
    replenished by nature. In January 2008, aquifer depletion and the rising
    costs of pumping from ever greater depths led the Saudis to announce a
    gradual phaseout of irrigated wheat production. In addition to importing

    Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents | 59

    grain, they are now buying or leasing farmland in Ethiopia and elsewhere to
    try to ensure some degree of food self-sufficiency.29

    Looking ahead, the prospect of longer and deeper droughts due to hu-
    man-induced climate change will hasten the depletion of groundwater. The
    High Plains Water District based in Lubbock, Texas, found that during the
    severe 2011 drought farmers in their district, who rely on the Ogallala Aqui-
    fer, stepped up their groundwater pumping to compensate for the lack of
    rain. Groundwater levels across the 16-county service area fell an average of
    0.78 meters—the largest annual decline recorded in the last quarter-century
    and more than triple the annual average for the last decade.30

    Moving Toward Sustainability
    Given this snapshot of water use around the world, achieving sustainability
    might seem like an impossible dream. But here and there, farms, villages,
    businesses, cities, states, provinces, and nations are taking actions that move
    communities toward a more secure and sustainable water future. What these
    examples have in common is an effort to use and manage water in ways that
    preserve or restore rivers, lakes, aquifers, and watersheds. They place ecosys-
    tem health and sustainability principles at the core of water management
    instead of at the periphery. When this is done, water productivity and the
    range of benefits derived from water climb upward.

    A handful of places around the world are beginning to address ground-
    water depletion. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, for example, village-
    level farmer groups are measuring and monitoring rainfall and aquifer lev-
    els and then collectively developing water budgets for their crop production
    in an effort to arrest depletion of the aquifers they depend on. Participation
    is voluntary and driven by data, education, capacity building, and coop-
    eration. Farmers engaged in the effort have shifted to less-thirsty crops and
    adopted water-saving irrigation methods, all with an aim of aligning their
    water use with the sustainable groundwater supply. Farm profitability has
    increased: surveys indicate that the net value of farm outputs has nearly
    doubled. The project, which has reached some 1 million farmers, appears
    to be the first success worldwide in community groundwater management
    aimed at sustainability. Similar projects are now under way in Maharashtra
    and are being considered in several other Indian states.31

    Similarly, the High Plains Water District in Lubbock, Texas, has taken steps
    to slow depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. In January 2012, the district de-
    clared it illegal to pump groundwater in excess of a pumping limit it estab-
    lished, called an “allowable production rate.” Since the Texas portion of the
    Ogallala gets very little recharge (its water was put in place thousands of years
    ago), any significant pumping drains the aquifer. The district’s goal is to slow
    the depletion so that at least 50 percent of its Ogallala water is still there in 50

    60 | State of the World 2013

    years. As the pumping limits get more stringent, farmers will need to choose
    crops and irrigation methods that allow them to get more value per drop.
    And engineers, agronomists, and entrepreneurs will have an incentive to de-
    velop new technologies and agricultural practices that help them do this.32

    Although farmer outcry and the threat of legal action have led the High
    Plains Water District to delay enforcing the new rule until 2014, both Texas
    law and a February 2012 state Supreme Court opinion affirm that although
    farmers do indeed own the groundwater beneath their property, conserva-
    tion districts can regulate pumping rates.33

    With crop production accounting for the lion’s share of world water con-
    sumption, measures to raise irrigation efficiency and get more nutritional
    value per drop are crucial. Drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to

    the roots of plants in just the right
    amounts, can double or triple wa-
    ter productivity, and it appears
    to be on a rapidly rising growth

    Over the last two decades, the
    area under drip and other “mi-
    cro” irrigation methods has risen
    more than sixfold, from 1.6 mil-
    lion hectares to more than 10.3
    million. The most dramatic gains
    have occurred in China and In-
    dia, the top two irrigators, where
    over the last two decades the area
    under micro-irrigation expanded
    88-fold and 111-fold, respectively.
    Anil Jain, managing director of

    Jain Irrigation—the second largest global micro-irrigation company—ex-
    pects the drip irrigation market in India to expand by 1 million hectares
    annually during the coming years and to soon become a $1 billion market
    in India alone.34

    Despite recent growth, less than 4 percent of global irrigated area is
    equipped with micro-irrigation, so its potential has barely been tapped.
    Markets are widening, however, with the development of low-cost drip sys-
    tems tailored to the needs of poor farmers. The nongovernmental group
    iDE (formerly International Development Enterprises), which successfully
    introduced the human-powered treadle pump to Bangladeshi farmers, has
    developed a suite of drip systems ranging from $5 bucket kits for home gar-
    dens to $25 drum kits for 100-square-meter plots (about 400 plants) and
    $100 shiftable drip systems that can irrigate 0.2 hectares, including plots on

    A farmer in Nepal uses a low-cost drip system.



    Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents | 61

    terraced hillsides. More than 600,000 of iDE’s low-cost drip systems have
    been sold in India, Nepal, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, helping farmers raise
    their land productivity and move out of poverty.35

    After a decade of drought, Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin has engaged
    in one of the boldest efforts anywhere to return flows to depleted rivers and
    wetlands while at the same time sustaining its vibrant agricultural economy.
    The basin spans 14 percent of Australia’s territory and supports 39 percent
    of its agricultural production. It is also home to 30,000 unique wetlands,
    many internationally recognized, as well as a rich diversity of freshwater spe-
    cies, including the prized Murray cod.36

    The proposed plan, released in November 2011, would set “sustainable
    diversion limits” that reduce basin-wide consumption so as to restore 2.75
    cubic kilometers of water to the river system. To achieve the savings, the Aus-
    tralian government would spend billions of dollars over 10 years to improve
    irrigation efficiency and purchase water entitlements from willing sellers.
    While irrigators assert that the proposed water cuts are too severe (though
    they have been eased from earlier proposed levels) and threaten their liveli-
    hoods, scientists maintain that the cuts are insufficient to meet critical tar-
    gets for ecosystem health. Though far from resolved, the societal debate in
    Australia about rebalancing water use between people and nature is crucial
    and will need to occur in many more river basins around the world. The ex-
    periment there will no doubt yield important lessons, particularly for other
    drought-prone, agriculturally vital regions. 37

    Although cities and towns account for only about 10 percent of global
    water demand, their concentrated water use can severely strain local and
    regional water sources. As a result, conservation and efficiency improve-
    ments have a crucial role to play in urban areas, too. In the mid-1980s, as
    Boston, Massachusetts, approached the safe yield of its water supply, the
    city began considering a large new diversion from the Connecticut River,
    the largest river in New England. Citizen concern about the effects on At-
    lantic salmon restoration and the overall health of the river forced Boston
    water officials to consider aggressive conservation measures instead—in-
    cluding finding and fixing leaks in the distribution system, retrofitting
    homes with efficient fixtures, conducting industrial water audits, and pro-
    viding pricing incentives and consumer education. From its 1980 peak,
    greater Boston’s water use has fallen 43 percent, dropping back to levels
    not seen in 50 years.38

    Cities are also investing in watershed protection to safeguard the reliabil-
    ity and quality of their drinking water supplies. A healthy watershed can fil-
    ter out pollutants, often at lower cost than a water treatment plant can, while
    also saving on energy and chemicals. New York City, which has pioneered
    good watershed protection for decades, is now investing $1.9 billion to re-

    62 | State of the World 2013

    store and further protect the Catskills-Delaware watershed (which supplies
    90 percent of the city’s drinking water) in lieu of constructing a $10-billion
    filtration plant that would cost $100 million a year to operate.39

    Likewise, Quito in Ecuador partnered with The Nature Conservancy
    (TNC) to start a watershed protection fund that receives nearly $1 million a
    year from municipal water utilities and hydroelectric companies that benefit
    from the clean, reliable water supplies. Launched in 2000, Quito’s water fund
    has become a model for many other Latin American cities, including Bogotá
    in Colombia and Lima in Peru. By 2015, TNC aims to have helped initiate 32
    watershed funds in South America, protecting 3.6 million hectares of land
    that filter and supply drinking water for some 50 million people.40

    Increasingly, corporations recognize that water shortages present risks to
    their bottom lines and reputations, and they are beginning to set their own
    sustainability goals. The brewing company MillerCoors, for instance, aims
    by 2014 to reduce the water required to make a pint of beer by 15 percent
    from 2008 levels (not counting the water used to produce the grain that goes
    into the beer). The London-based conglomerate Unilever, recognizing that
    agriculture accounts for half of its water impact (to grow the raw materials
    for its products), works with farmers to install drip irrigation and improve
    irrigation practices. On tomato farms in Brazil, these efforts led to a 30 per-
    cent reduction in farm water use and higher yields; as more farm suppliers
    switch to drip, the water footprint of the company’s tomato sauce shrinks.41

    Individuals can make a difference as well, by shrinking their personal
    water footprints and by consuming less overall. A single cotton shirt takes
    2,500 liters of water to make; a pair of blue jeans, 8,000 liters. Most of this
    water is consumed in growing the cotton, so more-efficient irrigation can
    shrink the footprint as well. But if 1 billion consumers each bought two few-
    er new cotton shirts a year, the water savings would be sufficient to meet the
    annual dietary needs of 4.6 million people. And every day we “eat” about a
    thousand times more water than we drink, so making more water-conscious
    choices about our diets could save a great deal of water. Likewise, filling up
    automobiles takes about 13 liters of water per liter of fuel, so carpooling,
    biking, taking public transportation, and choosing fuel-efficient vehicles
    saves not only energy but also water.42

    If the world is to have any hope of sustainably meeting everyone’s water-
    related needs, these kinds of policy, technology, and consumer shifts must
    become mainstream. The good news is that we have barely begun to apply
    our human ingenuity and inventiveness to meeting this challenge. It is time
    to let the solutions flow.

    c h a p t e r 6

    Sustainable Fisheries and Seas:
    Preventing Ecological Collapse

    Antonia Sohns and Larry Crowder

    Antonia Sohns was the Sustain-
    able Prosperity Project Fellow
    at the Worldwatch Institute.
    Larry Crowder is the science
    director at the Center for Ocean
    Solutions and a professor of
    biology and a senior fellow at
    the Stanford Woods Institute for
    the Environment, both part of
    Stanford University.

    Over 50 years ago, Rachel Carson noted that “it is a curious situation that
    the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities
    of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will
    continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.”1

    Carson depicts the relationship between humans and the sea as one of
    both dependence and conflict. Despite our profound dependence on the sea
    for survival, improper management of the atmosphere, the seas, and fisher-
    ies has brought the ocean to the verge of unprecedented ecological change.
    This crisis differs from earlier changes, as it was brought on by the actions
    of a single species. While ocean ecosystems are resilient and have some ca-
    pacity to adapt, the rate and magnitude of change rivals previous periods
    of marine mass extinctions. In order to mitigate additional damage to the
    seas, all stakeholders must be engaged and implement collaborative policies
    that drastically reduce carbon dioxide (CO

    ) emissions and curb population

    The ocean has always been vast and mysterious, first captured in the epic

    poems of the Ancient Greeks through voyages and celestial navigation. It is
    Homer’s wine-dark sea that soaks Earth in those early days. Aristotle is said
    to be the first to record marine life; hundreds of years later, expeditions sailed
    across the sea transforming society forever. In 1728, Captain James Cook voy-
    aged into the unknown, collecting specimens and stories as he circumnavi-
    gated the globe. Cook encountered island empires where the sea was a mighty
    god. The expedition of Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle from 1831 to
    1836, as well as that of Sir Charles Wyville Thomson and the HMS Chal-
    lenger from 1873 to 1876, enriched the study of marine biology and ocean-
    ography—seeding theories on coral reef formation and natural selection and
    detailing the first systemic plots of ocean currents and temperature.2

    From scientific studies to great exploration, much has been learned
    about the intricacy of the seas and the life that has evolved there. The ocean

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_6, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    64 | State of the World 2013

    controls climate, absorbs carbon dioxide, generates oxygen, and determines
    weather patterns through heat exchange. The stability of life on Earth de-
    pends on healthy seas.

    Despite the ocean’s critical role and immense value, policymakers have
    done little to ensure the future health of the seas. Perhaps the lack of ac-
    tion stems from the perceived distant nature of these problems in place and
    time—whether it is ice disappearing from the Arctic, invisible changes in sea
    surface temperatures, ocean acidification and hypoxia (oxygen deficiency),
    or the consequences of climate change decades from now. While these issues
    may be challenging to understand and address, they are among the greatest
    concerns of our time.

    Value of the Sea
    The ocean’s expanse covers 71 percent of Earth’s surface and supports 50
    percent of its species. Worldwide, 1 billion people depend on fish for their
    primary source of protein. Approximately 500 million people depend on
    coral reefs for food resources or supplementary income from fishing or
    tourism, and 30 million people are wholly dependent on coral reefs for their
    livelihood and the land they live on, such as atolls. Societies have developed
    whole economies around the ocean’s resources.3

    In the United States, the coastal
    and ocean economies are critical
    sources of employment and rev-
    enue. The U.S. ocean economy
    generated 2.6 million jobs through
    tourism and recreation, transpor-
    tation, and construction and add-
    ed $223 billion to the U.S. econo-
    my in 2009. One of every six U.S.
    jobs is marine-related.4

    However, these statistics say
    nothing of the intrinsic value of
    the ocean and the importance of
    ecosystem services to everyday life.
    The nonmarket value of the sea
    includes the ecosystem and biodi-
    versity benefits, the value of water

    quality for nearby communities, and carbon storage. Coral reefs and man-
    groves are two of the most valuable ecosystems to humankind; for example,
    reefs are valued at $100,000–600,000 per square kilometer (km2) and man-
    groves at $200,000–900,000. In Hawaii, the direct economic benefits of coral
    reefs, based on the values such as recreation, fishing, and biodiversity, are an





    l O




    Filming on Rapture Reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine
    National Monument.

    Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse | 65

    estimated $360 million per year. Valuing ecosystem services can embolden
    efforts to protect the environment, as governments use economic tools to
    influence policymaking, though it is critical that governments not encour-
    age the commodification of nature.5

    Troubled Seas, Oceanic Threats
    Although society derives great economic and intrinsic value from the ocean,
    ever-increasing demand and the effects of climate change will alter the
    ocean’s biological and chemical properties, making the ocean less resilient at
    the very time it is subject to heightened threats. Marine life and community
    structure is determined by salinity and temperature profiles throughout the
    ocean, blooming in places rich with nutrients, such as nitrate and phos-
    phate, and with adequate dissolved oxygen.6

    Peru, for example, is home to the world’s most productive fishing
    grounds due to coastal upwelling. Peru’s coast plunges dramatically into
    the sea, and southeasterly trade winds result in wind-driven coastal upwell-
    ing. As the surface waters are pulled westward, cold, nutrient-rich water is
    transported to the surface from the deep ocean. This influx of nutrients,
    such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and silicic acid, stimulates phytoplankton
    blooms, which may extend hundreds of kilometers offshore. The phyto-
    plankton feed marine life, making Peru the second largest fishing nation
    after China.7

    Peru’s fisheries reveal how variables such as water temperature, salinity,
    and nutrient concentration dictate the productivity of fisheries and how a
    country’s stability depends on relatively consistent ocean conditions. As ris-
    ing carbon emissions fuel climate change, however, the ocean’s biochemical
    environment is significantly altered, threatening marine ecosystems.

    Ocean Acidification. In 2010, global carbon dioxide emissions accumu-
    lated to 30.6 gigatons (Gt), with industrial countries logging CO


    per person 10 times higher than those of developing countries. Globally, CO

    emissions increased by approximately 45 percent between 1992 and 2010.8
    These record years of carbon emissions endure in the environment. Over

    the past 200 years, the ocean has absorbed 525 Gt of carbon dioxide from
    the atmosphere, approximately half of what was emitted through fossil fuel
    use over this period. The ocean stores carbon in surface waters, in interme-
    diate and deep ocean, and in marine sediments. The residence time of car-
    bon in each reservoir varies, with surface waters capable of storing 600 Gt of
    carbon, which can still be there six years later, and marine sediments, which
    can store 30 million Gt for 100 million years. Though some carbon may
    remain in the reservoir for the residence time, carbon is exchanged readily
    between reservoirs every year.9

    As chemistry dictates, rising CO
    concentrations in the atmosphere in-

    66 | State of the World 2013

    crease the rate at which carbon dioxide is assimilated into the ocean. This
    absorption of carbon buffers global climate change, yet it also changes
    ocean chemistry by lowering the pH and reducing the number of carbon-
    ate ions available.

    Between 1992 and 2007, the ocean’s pH declined from 8.11 to 8.01. This
    rate of acidification may be faster than at any time within the last 300 million
    years. One consequence of a lower pH is an uncertain future for reef struc-
    tures because acidic seawater stresses reef-building corals and the photosyn-
    thetic algae (zooxanthellae), which have a mutual dependence relationship
    with the coral. Zooxanthellae supply coral with critical nutrients, such as
    glucose, glycerol, and amino acids, that are products of the photosynthesis.
    The coral incorporates 90 percent of the organic material generated by the
    zooxanthellae into its tissue, producing proteins, fats, calcium carbonate,
    and carbohydrates. When corals are stressed in acidic waters they expel the
    zooxanthellae from the reef-structure, crippling their ability to grow. This is
    the phenomenon known as coral bleaching.10

    Today coral reefs are experiencing the lowest pH and warmest ocean tem-
    peratures of the last 400,000 years, endangering 75 percent of these reefs
    worldwide. If carbon emissions continue to go unabated, by mid-century
    nearly all coral reefs will be threatened by such stresses as acidification, over-
    fishing, shipping, and agricultural runoff.11

    In addition, more acidic waters will adversely affect phytoplankton, which
    are responsible for nearly half of primary production on Earth. As seawa-
    ter pH decreases, there is reduced availability of essential minerals such as
    calcium carbonate. Lower concentrations of these essential compounds will
    slow calcification, thus weakening skeletons of many phytoplankton species.
    Reduced rates of calcification will further disrupt carbon cycling because
    phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide from surface waters and transform
    the carbon into sugar during photosynthesis. When phytoplankton die they
    sink, removing CO

    from the surface waters and storing it in the deep ocean.

    This allows further absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide by phyto-
    plankton in surface waters.12

    Ocean Warming and Hypoxia. Increased atmospheric concentrations of

    will not only lower seawater’s pH, it will also warm the ocean as a result

    of warmer air. When comparing the last 20 years to the average ocean tem-
    perature of the past century, it is apparent there has been a steady increase in
    seawater temperature—from 0.22 degrees Celsius above the long-term aver-
    age in 1992 to 0.5 degrees Celsius above it in 2010. Ocean warming not only
    stresses marine organisms, it also stimulates bacterial activity, consequently
    expanding larger low-oxygen regions, known as dead zones.13

    As climate change is predicted to enlarge dead zones, marine life and fish
    such as the blue marlin will lose critical habitat. Dissolved oxygen concen-

    Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse | 67

    trations determine the habitat of the blue marlin because it is an energetic
    fish that requires large amounts of dissolved oxygen. When levels are high,
    marlin swim deeper, but when hypoxic zones encroach on their habitat
    from depth, the deep oxygen minimum layer becomes less deep, restricting
    the blue marlin to a habitat within a narrow surface layer. This further ex-
    poses the overfished marlin and other pelagic open-sea predators to surface
    fishing gear.14

    Climate change is expected to alter ocean circulation in the Pacific and
    thus locations of critical marine habitats and migratory pathways, which
    will have uncertain impacts on large pelagic predators.15

    Loss of Sea Ice. The habitat of ice-dependent species will be threatened
    by increased atmospheric CO

    concentrations as well. Arctic sea ice extent

    shows a pronounced yearly cycle, with approximately 15 million km2 in
    March and 5 million km2 in September. Yet in 2012, Arctic sea ice reached a
    new low point at 3.41 million km2. This was the lowest summer minimum
    extent in the 33-year satellite record. In fact, scientists estimate the sea ice
    extent might have been at its lowest in 8,000 years.16

    At the current rate of ice loss, the Arctic may be completely ice-free dur-
    ing summer months 30 years from now. The last time that happened was at
    the height of the last major interglacial period, 125,000 years ago. The dis-
    appearance of ice threatens critical habitats for organisms at the base of the
    food web, such as algae or krill, which in turn feed larger animals. As shrimp
    populations are reduced, ice-dependent ecosystems will be threatened by
    disappearing habitats and a loss of species fundamental to their food web.17

    In the Arctic, the ice layer restricts winds and wave action near the
    coastlines, buffering the force of storms and reducing erosion. As ice dis-
    appears and sea level rises, the impact of storms will be compounded in
    Arctic communities. Worldwide, melting ice and water expansion due to
    warming temperatures also mean rising sea levels, which threatens coastal
    communities, island nations, and critical habitats, such as coral reefs, man-
    groves, and wetlands.

    Unexpected Sea Changes. The effects of climate change have already
    manifested themselves globally and are happening more rapidly than at any
    time in history, outpacing many species’ ability to adapt to the new envi-
    ronment. The broad consequences of climate change have not been fully
    anticipated, with certain environments changing at a rate greater than the
    global average. The Arctic is experiencing rapid transformation, with a rate
    of temperature increase much higher than the global rate and with extensive
    ice loss. One unexpected consequence of melting sea ice is likely to be more-
    productive phytoplankton blooms earlier in the season. This may alter ma-
    rine food webs, such that benthic, deep-sea communities are favored over
    pelagic, open-ocean communities.18

    68 | State of the World 2013

    In addition, depending on the severity of climate change, ocean circula-
    tion may be transformed entirely. It has been hypothesized that ocean cir-
    culation may be altered due to melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arc-
    tic sea ice. As the Gulf Stream current flows northeastward toward Europe,
    the warm, salty water releases heat to the atmosphere. As the water cools,
    it becomes very dense compared with the surrounding waters, sinking to
    the bottom of the ocean. Thus the North Atlantic is an area of “deep-water
    formation,” driving thermohaline circulation in the ocean.

    As large volumes of ice are lost from the Arctic, the ocean’s salinity is
    lowered, decreasing its density. The influx of freshwater would inhibit the
    formation of deep water in the North Atlantic. This would dramatically alter
    the climate and reduce the oceanic sequestration of carbon dioxide in these
    regions, thereby leading to a positive feedback mechanism that would in-
    crease atmospheric CO

    concentrations and do more to melt polar ice. The

    increase in temperature and change in salinity regime due to climate change
    will drastically affect fisheries and the marine ecosystems upon which geo-
    political stability depends.

    Devastated Fisheries. More than 500 million people rely on fisheries
    and aquaculture for their livelihood, and 3 billion people consume fish for
    15 percent of their protein intake. The increasing human population will
    place additional pressure on already stressed fish populations and marine
    ecosystems as a result of biogeochemical regime shifts and warming sea
    surface temperatures.19

    The total fish catch has stabilized at around 80 million tons over the last
    several years—up from approximately 60 million tons in 1970. Pressure on
    marine ecosystems due to exploitation of commercial fish species has led
    to the depletion and overexploitation of 70 percent of the world’s fisher-
    ies. This trend is cause for significant concern. Between 1992 and 2008, the
    proportion of fish stocks considered overexploited, depleted, or recovering
    increased by 33 percent, reaching 52 percent of all fish stocks, while the
    share of fully exploited stocks rose by 13 percent, reaching 33 percent of
    all fish stocks.20

    Valuable fish species such as tuna have been especially targeted by com-
    mercial fishing operations. Bluefin tuna species are susceptible to collapse
    under continued fishing pressure. Tuna catches, for example, reached 4.2
    million tons in 2008, up from 600,000 tons in the 1950s. With the mas-
    sive reduction of top predators like sharks and tuna, marine food webs may
    be functionally changed, adversely affecting the remaining marine ecosys-
    tem by altering how productivity is expressed. Trophic cascades that reflect
    changes down the food web from predator removals have been increasingly
    documented in marine ecosystems. Overfishing may therefore not only re-
    flect on target species, it may also cascade throughout the food web. Ad-

    Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse | 69

    ditional pressure on fisheries and
    habitat will come not only from
    increased demand on ocean re-
    sources but also from coastal de-
    velopment and pollution.21

    Impacts of Human Activities.
    In October 2011 world popula-
    tion reached 7 billion people, with
    60 percent of people living within
    100 kilometers of a coastline. Of
    the world’s 39 cities with popula-
    tions over 5 million, 60 percent
    are within 100 kilometers of a
    coast—including 12 of the 16 cit-
    ies that have more than 10 million
    people in them. Development of
    the world’s coasts alters watershed hydrology due to changes in upstream
    vegetation and the installation of roads and other impervious surfaces,
    which increase runoff into the sea. Coastal development additionally re-
    sults in nutrient and sedimentation loading due to human activity, such as
    agriculture and use of road salts. Such alterations to the hydrological and
    chemical environment imperil fisheries and critical habitats such as wet-
    lands, mangroves, and estuaries.22

    Furthermore, pollution has lasting consequences on marine life. Plastic
    debris particularly affects marine ecosystems through entanglement and
    ingestion. In the North Pacific gyre (a giant circular ocean surface cur-
    rent), approximately 35 percent of the plankton-eating fish studied had
    ingested plastic, and they averaged 2.1 plastic items per fish. Plastic debris
    degrades very slowly and therefore has an enduring legacy on marine life.
    The ocean’s role as a repository for plastic debris must end as its costs rise
    ecologically and economically. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, the esti-
    mated cost of marine debris on activities such as boat repairs is more than
    $1 billion per year.23

    Solutions for Sustaining the Seas
    In order to protect oceans and fisheries, governments and all stakeholders
    must implement a variety of strategies domestically and internationally. To
    mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure global stability, it is critical
    that action plans that engage an inclusive and broad-based governance ap-
    proach are used effectively as soon as possible.

    The critical first step toward sustainable fishery operations and a healthy
    ocean is international collaboration. Globally, governments must commit


    t B




    Bluefin Tuna for sale at the Tsujiki Fish Market in Tokyo.

    70 | State of the World 2013

    to a far-reaching climate change agreement to reduce atmospheric CO

    protect marine life, and mitigate acidification, ocean warming, and the dis-
    appearance of the world’s ice sheets. The impact of population growth on
    ocean resources must also be considered in global climate discussions in
    order to prepare for sustainable management of the seas.

    In order to reduce demand on fisheries and the oceans, governments can
    enact policies that implement coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP)
    frameworks and can establish catch shares. Coastal and marine spatial plan-
    ning can greatly help marine ecosystems as it emphasizes comprehensive,
    adaptive, ecosystem-based management systems. CMSP identifies areas of
    the coasts and seas that are most suitable for various classes of activity in
    order to reduce environmental impacts, preserve critical ecosystem services,
    and meet economic objectives. CMSP facilitates compatible uses, maximiz-
    ing benefits for all.24

    In recent years, CMSP has gained popularity because it provides a mul-
    tifaceted perspective on demands from different sectors, which provides a
    more complete evaluation of cumulative effects. Thus, coasts and marine
    areas are planned to simultaneously preserve resilient ecosystems and biodi-
    versity and support a range of human uses.

    In the United States, CMSP enabled the National Oceanic and Atmo-
    spheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and several other stakehold-
    ers to examine a range of demands in the Boston coastal area in order to
    decrease whale mortality from ship traffic in the Stellwagen Bank National
    Marine Sanctuary. The stakeholders reconfigured the Boston Traffic Sepa-
    ration Scheme (TSS) and succeeded in reducing whale mortality from risk
    of collision with a ship by 81 percent for baleen whales and 58 percent for
    engendered right whales. The new TSS increased shipping time by only 9–22
    minutes and eliminated conflict with deepwater liquefied natural gas port
    locations. Furthermore, the TSS increased marine safety by separating ship-
    ping traffic from areas traveled by commercial and recreational vessels.25

    Catch shares provide communities with a strategy to combat overfishing.
    Catch shares allocate shares of fish to individual fishers, communities, or
    fishery associations. These dedicated access privileges allocate shares of the
    fish stock to each group or individual, encouraging sustainable practices.
    Well-designed catch shares not only reward fishers for innovation, lower-
    ing their costs and delivering quality products to the market, they may also
    prevent fishery collapse across a range of ecosystems. Catch share programs
    must be carefully designed to avoid aggregation of the shares by a few indi-
    viduals or entities; they also require strong institutions to create and enforce
    appropriate arrangements.26

    While implementation of fishery management programs such as catch
    shares can reduce destructive fishing practices and fishery collapse, pressure

    Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse | 71

    on fish stocks remains high. In order to minimize bycatch and destructive
    fishing practices, governments must elevate the role of small-scale and arti-
    sanal fisheries, which have largely been overlooked thus far.

    Although small-scale fishing and large-scale fishing operations catch
    about the same amount of fish for human consumption each year, large-scale
    operations receive government subsidies. This leads to overcapacity and over-
    fishing and so should end, as large fishing operations consume approximately
    seven times more fuel and cost 10 times as much as small-scale fishing. They
    also employ 11.5 million fewer people and hire fewer people for each $1 mil-
    lion invested in fishing vessels, and they discard 8–20 million tons of fish and
    marine life at sea, whereas small-scale fishing wastes very little sealife.27

    In order to reduce the volume of discarded fish and sealife, governments
    and communities could develop markets for bycatch, such as tradable by-
    catch credits. These aim to create a market for marine life so that it is not
    wasted, while protecting conservation goals by preventing exploitation of
    the system and sales of valuable species.

    Governments and scientists are working to establish sustainable aquacul-
    ture to further diminish pressure on wild fisheries. Although aquaculture is a
    relatively new contributor to global food production, it has become increas-
    ingly important over the last several decades. Global production of food fish
    from aquaculture increased from 1 million tons in 1950 to 52.5 million tons
    in 2008. Between 1992 and 2009, aquaculture increased by 260 percent—
    growing primarily in Asia, including by 315 percent in China alone.28

    Sustainable aquaculture holistically farms marine life. In the 1980s,
    John Ryther of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute developed an oys-
    ter farming approach that raised oysters in the sewage water generated by
    50,000 people. The oysters fed on algae that grew in the nutrient-rich envi-
    ronment. To manage the waste produced by the oysters, Ryther introduced
    polychaete worms that would feed and then be harvested and sold as fish
    bait. Thus, properly managed aquaculture can decrease pressure on wild
    fisheries and supply commercial species for the world’s market.29

    Yet if aquaculture is poorly governed, it can have devastating effects on
    the surrounding environment. Shrimp and salmon aquaculture operations
    can be particularly damaging. Salmon and shrimp require large quantities
    of fishmeal and fish oil in their diet. The fish caught to supply this would
    otherwise support wild fish species. Globally, shrimp and prawn aquacul-
    ture has increased approximately 400 percent between 1992 and 2009. In
    many regions, such as Southeast Asia, highly productive coastal regions are
    developed and valuable mangroves are cleared for aquaculture. Between
    1990 and 2010, some 3 percent of mangrove extent (approximately 500,000
    hectares of mangrove forest) was lost to coastal development and conver-
    sions to agriculture and aquaculture.30

    72 | State of the World 2013

    Furthermore, aquaculture operations can hurt the surrounding environ-
    ment through poor management of high volumes of fish waste, an influx
    of antibiotics or pesticides, and competition between wild fish species and
    escaped farm fish. It is estimated that for every ton of fish raised in aquacul-
    ture operations, 42–66 kilograms of nitrogen waste and 7.2–10.5 kilograms
    of phosphorus waste are produced annually. Such organic loading of the
    seabed and nutrient enrichment of the water column can cause eutrophica-
    tion, the creation of dead zones that are inhospitable to marine life. Shifting
    targets of aquaculture from top predators toward lower trophic levels, par-
    ticularly filter-feeders such as oysters and other bivalves, may make aquacul-
    ture more sustainable. 31

    Consumers could decrease their demand on ocean resources by eating
    less seafood and eating lower on the food chain, preferring anchovies to
    tuna, for example. Seafood guides from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and
    Blue Ocean Institute, among others, help consumers purchase more-sus-
    tainable seafood options.

    To address another problem, fishers can modify their fishing gear in or-
    der to decrease bycatch. For example, changing the type of hook used on
    long-lines from J-hooks to circle hooks can reduce leatherback turtle catch
    by up to 90 percent.32

    As the impacts of climate change intensify and as national and global
    policies are delayed by a dearth of political leadership, the ocean is becoming
    irreparably damaged. In order to prevent a convergence of changes in the
    ocean through acidification, ocean warming, sea level rise, pollution, hy-
    poxia, and exploitation of marine resources, solutions must be implemented
    immediately. If action is not taken, stressors will combine to create an out-
    come more extreme than any individual change currently projected.

    Individuals can press their political leaders to collaborate internation-
    ally in order to address these global threats. Catch shares, tradable bycatch
    credits, and well-managed aquaculture are a few solutions available to gov-
    ernments. Through a broad-based governance approach, resources can be
    managed at multiple levels, and all stakeholders can cooperate to advance
    initiatives that protect a common future.

    The ocean is Earth’s greatest resource. Future planetary and geopolitical
    stability will depend on managing the seas sustainably and protecting the
    global environment. If governments fail to do so, the ocean and its fisheries
    will be further degraded, leading to an ecological collapse and unraveling
    the ecosystems that humans depend on for so much.

    c h a p t e r 7

    Energy as Master Resource

    Eric Zencey

    Eric Zencey is a fellow of the
    Gund Institute for Ecological
    Economics at the University of
    Vermont and a visiting lecturer
    in the Sam Fox School of Visual
    Design and Arts at Washington
    University in St. Louis.

    On a spring morning in 1890, the German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald arose
    early in a Berlin hotel room, preoccupied by a conversation of the previous
    evening. He had come to Berlin to meet with physicists to discuss his work
    developing a new theoretical foundation for chemistry, one consistent with
    the first and second laws of thermodynamics. The first law holds that mat-
    ter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. The
    second law states that in any such transformation, the capacity of the en-
    ergy to do useful work is diminished. The energy does not disappear—the
    first law—but some of it has become “bound” energy, energy incapable of
    being useful. In 1865, Rudolf Clausius coined the term entropy as a label
    for this degraded energy, and it allowed him to state the law succinctly:
    within any thermodynamically closed system, energy is conserved but en-
    tropy must increase.1

    Ostwald was finding these laws enormously useful in developing a rigor-
    ous understanding of chemical transformations—work that would eventu-
    ally win him a Nobel Prize. He had come to the conclusion that the science
    of energy was not merely a subfield within physics but its very foundation.
    While in Berlin, he told the physicists that their discipline, too, needed to
    undergo a “radical reorientation” to accommodate these fundamental
    truths. Because matter is indestructible and energy degrades, energy must
    be the key: “From now on . . . the whole of physics had to be represented as
    a theory of energies.”2

    The group did not give him a warm reception. Ostwald wrote later that
    they found his idea “so absurd that they refused to take it seriously at all” and
    instead offered just “ridicule and abuse.” He spent a fitful, nearly sleepless
    night and arose early to walk the still-dark streets, mulling over how best to
    proceed. Sunrise found him in the Tiergarten, surrounded by the budding life
    of a spring morning in the park. And there he had an insight that he later de-
    scribed in religious terms, calling it a “personal Pentecost” that came to him

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_7, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    74 | State of the World 2013

    with a force and clarity he had never experienced: “All,” he saw, “is energy.”
    And if energy cannot be created and cannot be recycled, then the energy bud-
    get of the planet, and of the human economy on the planet, must be finite.3

    Energy and the Transformation of Science
    Ostwald developed this epiphany into his doctrine of energetics, which he
    thought should revolutionize all human understanding: natural and earth
    sciences, of course, but also history, economics, sociology, politics, even eth-
    ics and moral philosophy. (This, because to Ostwald the laws of thermody-
    namics implied a new categorical imperative: “Waste no energy!”)4

    Thermodynamics did indeed begin to reshape many disciplines. Solu-
    tions to three of the outstanding thermodynamic problems in the Newto-
    nian physics of the day—the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, and
    black-box radiation—led a young Swiss patent clerk, Albert Einstein, to his
    overthrow of the discipline’s mechanistic foundations with his general and
    special theories of relativity. Biology was reconstructed on thermodynamic
    grounds in the 1920s through the work of A. G. Tansley, Edgar Transeau,
    Max Kleiber, and others who began conceiving of organisms as energy fixers
    or consumers and of natural systems as complex webs of energy flows and
    transformations, thereby developing the modern science of ecology. Alfred
    Lotka and Howard Odum extended the approach, pointing to the role that
    energy appropriation plays in evolution: individuals and species that have
    the largest net energy surplus can dedicate more of their life energy to repro-
    duction, outcompeting their rivals.5

    At the turn of the nineteenth century, the American historian Henry Ad-
    ams, having read Ostwald and others on the subject of energy, toyed with
    a thermodynamic interpretation of history, perhaps merely as metaphor,
    perhaps as a parodic dissent from the scientific progressivism of the day,
    perhaps as a literal modeling based on the figures for coal consumption
    in which he briefly immersed himself. In the mid-1950s William Freder-
    ick Cottrell, an American sociologist, linked social and economic change to
    changes in energy sources and the technologies they power. And in his 1970
    Pentagon of Power, historian Lewis Mumford took up the theme.6

    Increased interest in ecological and environmental history late in the
    twentieth century led to sustained inquiries that focused on the energy his-
    tory of the human economy, such as Alfred Crosby’s Children of the Sun:
    A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy in 2006. Seen
    through the thermodynamic lens, what has been called the Industrial Revo-
    lution is, more properly, the Hydrocarbon Revolution, a once-in-planetary-
    history drawdown of stored sunlight to do work and make wealth in the
    present. The petroleum era will most likely depart as suddenly as it came;
    in the grand sweep of geologic time, our use of petroleum is just an in-

    Energy as Master Resource | 75

    stant, a brief burst of frantic activity that has produced exponential growth
    in wealth and human population—and in humanity’s impact on planetary
    ecosystems. (See Figure 15–1 in Chapter 15.)7

    Economics: The Failed Revolution
    Alone among disciplines that aspire to the status of rigorous science, econom-
    ics remains relatively unaffected by the reconstructive impulse of thermody-
    namics. Most of the discipline retains its roots in the Newtonian mechanism,
    in which every action has an equal and opposite reaction and there are no ir-
    reversible flows. Nowhere is this clearer than in the circular flow model of pro-
    duction and consumption that lies at the heart of standard economics mod-
    eling, in which the economy is seen as a closed system of exchange between
    households (which supply factors of production and buy goods and services)
    and firms (which use factors of production to make goods and services for sale
    to households). As Lester Thurow
    and Robert Heilbroner describe it in
    The Economic Problem, “the flow of
    output is circular, self-renewing and
    self-feeding,” because “outputs of
    the system are returned as fresh in-
    puts.” This is patent nonsense. Any-
    thing that can take as input what
    it excretes as output is a perpetual
    motion machine, a violation of the
    second law of thermodynamics.8

    In reality, an economy—like any
    living thing or any machine—sucks
    low entropy from its environment
    and excretes a high-entropy wake of
    degraded matter and energy. Matter
    can be recycled; once extracted from the planet, much of it could be kept with-
    in the circular flow of the monetary economy instead of being discarded back
    into the environment. But recycling matter takes energy, which cannot be recy-
    cled. Thus energy is ultimately the limiting factor on the generative side of the
    human economy. (There are also limits on the waste side, in the finite capacity
    of the planet to absorb our effluents.) This is why Romanian-born American
    economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen described the entropy process as “the
    taproot of economic scarcity”—and why energy is the master resource.9

    Over the years, conventional economics has been critiqued several times
    in light of thermodynamics. One critique came from another Nobel-lau-
    reate chemist, the Englishman Frederick Soddy. In the 1920s and 1930s he
    produced a series of books developing the idea that an economy is, at bot-



    The flow of output: a B-29 assembly line in 1944.

    76 | State of the World 2013

    tom, a system of energy use. The chief mechanism by which the economy
    denies this physical truth, Soddy believed, was its monetary system.10

    Soddy drew distinctions between wealth, virtual wealth, and debt. Wealth
    is the stock of physically useful objects the economy has produced; it has an
    origin in low entropy and is subject to entropic decline. Money is virtual
    wealth; it symbolizes the bearer’s claim on real wealth and resists entropic
    decay. Debt, held as an asset by those who lend money, is a claim on the
    future production of real wealth.

    Soddy’s fundamental insight was that when money is lent at compound
    interest, claims on the future production of real wealth increase exponential-
    ly—but real wealth can only grow incrementally, through an expansion of
    the economy’s matter-and-energy throughput or through achieving greater
    efficiency. As the monetary system encourages public and private debt to
    grow faster than the economy can grow the means of paying it back, the
    system develops an irresistible need for some form of debt repudiation. This
    comes as inflation, bankruptcy, foreclosure, bond defaults, stock market
    crashes, bank failure, pension fund wipeouts, collapse of pyramid schemes,
    and loss of paper assets and expected investment income of any form.

    Aggressive expansion of the economy’s matter-and-energy throughput
    raises hopes and expectations along with output of real wealth. Those hopes
    and expectations make growth-through-debt seem normal, which can stave
    off the inevitable financial reconciliation for a time. Eventually, however, ex-
    pansion of throughput hits a local or absolute limit, confidence falters, and
    the system rapidly “de-leverages” into collapse. Staving off debt repudiation
    simply ensures that when it comes it will come hard and fast, as a crisis—as
    it did in the Great Depression, as it has in every other downturn the global
    economy has experienced since then.11

    A few economists gave Soddy’s ideas serious attention and found merit in
    them. The discipline as a whole, however, closed ranks against him, ignor-
    ing his ideas and dismissing him as a crank, a scientist who had overstepped
    his expertise—much as the physicists in Berlin had responded to Ostwald.12

    Another thermodynamics-based critique of economics was offered in the
    1970s by Georgescu-Roegen and his student, Herman Daly. Georgescu-Roe-
    gen’s masterwork, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, serves as the
    foundation of ecological economics—an emergent school that combines an
    appreciation of the laws of thermodynamics with a recognition that humans
    receive economically valuable but generally nonmarket, unpriced ecosystem
    services from nature.13

    In purely physical terms, Georgescu-Roegen noted, an economy consists
    of nothing more than a set of institutions and processes by which we turn
    valuable low-entropy inputs into valueless, high-entropy waste. Production
    of waste is, of course, hardly the point. What we seek is psychological: the

    Energy as Master Resource | 77

    “augmentation of an immaterial flux, the enjoyment of life.” If that is the
    ultimate purpose, then it is foolish and ultimately dysfunctional to judge the
    economy by any other measure. Appreciation of energy as a master resource
    thus leads directly to use of alternative economic indicators, metrics that as-
    sess the economy’s capacity to provide sustainable well-being, happiness, or
    life satisfaction to its participants. (See Chapter 11.)14

    The thermodynamic revolution in economics also suggests a different con-
    ceptual slicing of human productive activity, an alternative to the triumvirate
    of land, labor, and capital that is offered by neoclassical theory. All economic
    value is produced by intelligence operating on matter using energy. Capital—
    the tools and equipment we use to increase labor productivity—is matter em-
    bodying both energy (the energy used to extract, refine, shape, and assemble
    the materials from which it is made) and intelligence (the accumulated in-
    ventions and innovations that have gone into its design). Labor is discretion-
    ary intelligent energy that participates in production. Land—nature—is the
    source of all matter and energy, and its systems also embody billions of years
    of trial-and-error design intelligence encoded into genes, evolution’s infor-
    mation storage system. Energy as master resource thus offers a continuity of
    explanation and understanding between economics and ecology, a necessary
    step in establishing our economies on an ecologically sound foundation.15

    In this model, it is easier to see that under conditions of maximum sus-
    tainable uptake of matter and energy from the environment, any further
    increase in the sum total of human well-being has to come from the devel-
    opment of intelligence—from innovation, from intelligent distribution of
    the products of the economy to achieve maximum well-being, from the ap-
    plication of what we know and can learn about wringing greater efficiency
    from matter and energy throughput. However inventive humans turn out
    to be, they will never invent their way around the laws of thermodynamics.
    That fundamental truth is denied by standard infinite-growth theory, which
    blithely projects productivity gains from technological innovation indefi-
    nitely into the future.

    We can continue to seek and enjoy greater life satisfaction while main-
    taining a constant, steady-state, sustainable throughput of matter and en-
    ergy in the economy. Our ability to raise our standard of living in a steady-
    state economy is limited only by our intelligence and our imagination—and
    the laws of thermodynamics.16

    Net Energy Analysis and Energy Return on Energy


    An appreciation of energy as master resource leads directly to an apprecia-
    tion of a key economic indicator that is more fundamental than the mon-
    etary price of energy or even an economy’s gross energy throughput: its net

    78 | State of the World 2013

    energy uptake, the energy available to an economy after the energy costs of
    obtaining that energy are paid. Crucial to this figure is the energy return
    on energy invested, or EROI, of energy sources, a calculation pioneered by
    researchers Cutler Cleveland, Charles Hall, Robert Herendeen, and Randall
    Plant. It takes energy to acquire energy: to make economic use of a barrel of
    oil requires not only drilling the well but also transporting the oil to a refin-
    ery, converting it to a variety of petroleum products, and shipping them to
    end users—as well as expending energy to make the drilling rig, the steel in
    the refinery equipment, the tank trucks that take gasoline to service stations,
    the automobiles that burn the fuel, and so on. Only the net that is left after
    all this energy expense has been paid is available to augment that “immate-
    rial flux, the enjoyment of life,” as Georgescu-Roegen put it.17

    The EROI of fuels can rise with technical efficiencies but tends to decline
    over time. For instance, according to a 1981 paper exploring this idea, the
    petroleum energy obtained per foot of drilling effort declined from about

    50 barrels of oil equivalent in 1946 to
    about 15 in 1978. While the authors did
    not calculate EROI specifically, a figure
    can easily be inferred: the energy return
    on energy invested in drilling declined
    from about 50:1 to 8:1 in that period.
    Direct calculations of EROI for the U.S.
    oil industry show that it dropped from
    roughly 24:1 in 1954 to 11:1 in 2007.18

    The reason is simple: other things
    being equal, rational beings will seek
    the largest increment of benefit for
    the smallest outlay—the biggest bang
    for the buck (or calorie). Naturally,
    high EROI sources were exploited first.
    Worldwide, and despite aggressive de-

    velopment of more-efficient extraction techniques, the average EROI of pe-
    troleum is falling, from a high of 100:1 in the 1920s to about 20:1 today.19

    In calculating EROI, the boundaries of the analysis are crucial to the re-
    sult and are the subject of much debate and discussion. If the exploitation
    of an energy source requires infrastructure (like roads, vehicles, a steel in-
    dustry) that has other uses, how much of the energy embodied in that in-
    frastructure should be assigned on a per unit basis to the energy source that
    flows through it? How far should the boundaries of analysis be extended?
    The answers are by no means clear-cut, and this accounts for some of the
    confusion, cross talk, and variety of result in this field of study.20

    An agreed-upon standard for the boundaries of EROI analysis would al-


    t P




    An oil and gas drilling installation on an artificial island built for the
    purpose in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska.

    Energy as Master Resource | 79

    low for economically rational decisionmaking between different energy sys-
    tems. Even without that standard, EROI analysis reveals the irrationality of
    making those choices according to current market price, which is a human
    construct, dependent on current demand, subsidies, taxes, and the rates at
    which a flow of energy is extracted from its global stock. At the macroeco-
    nomic level, rational policymakers should be trying to maximize total sus-
    tainable delivered well-being, which (other things being equal—which they
    often are not) would mean maximizing the EROI of a sustainable energy
    system for the economy. The effort to use price signals to find and promote
    that outcome requires that the relative monetary prices of different kinds
    of energy reflect their relative social costs and benefits—a project that must
    begin with their relative EROIs. (See Table 7–1.)21

    If we continue to disregard the climate consequences of burning carbon-
    based fuels, the EROI of oil will decline further, as we drill deeper, trans-
    port farther, and bring energetically expensive oil from tar sands and shales
    (which have EROIs as low as 5:1) online. Is there some minimum EROI

    table 7–1. energy return on energy Invested, average and high
    and Low estimates, Different energy Sources

    Energy Type Average High Estimate Low Estimate

    Oil 19:1 5:1

    Coal 85:1 50:1

    Natural gas 10:1

    Hydroelectric 267:1 11:1

    Nuclear 15:1 1.1:1

    Wind 18:1

    Solar photovoltaic 10:1 3.7:1

    Geothermal electricity 13:1 2:1

    Geothermal heat pump 5:1 3:1

    U.S. corn ethanol 1.8:1 < 1:1

    Brazilian sugar cane ethanol 10:1 8:1

    Soy biodiesel 3.5:1 1.9:1

    Palm oil biodiesel 9:1

    Tar sands oil 5:1

    Oil shale 4:1 1.5:1

    Wave 15:1

    Tidal 6:1

    Source: See endnote 21.

    80 | State of the World 2013

    that an economy or civilization needs in order to be successful? One study
    postulates that an EROI of 3:1 is “a bare minimum for civilization. It would
    allow only for energy to run transportation or related systems, but would
    leave little discretionary surplus for all the things we value about civilization:
    art, medicine, education and so on.” The authors estimate that “we would
    need something like a 5:1 EROI from our main fuels to maintain anything
    like what we call civilization.”22

    But a civilization with a 5:1 average EROI cannot support the kind of
    military investment that can be made by a civilization with a 6:1 or 7:1
    EROI—and if military force is useful in securing access to resources, then
    the minimum EROI a civilization needs to survive is probably some close
    correlate of the average EROI of its potential enemies and competitors.

    If we bracket off such concerns, then the minimum EROI for any partic-
    ular civilization will depend on a variety of internal factors, some of which
    are not easily quantified. Appropriation of energy has social, political, and
    ecological costs and benefits that will depend on factors like the resilience
    of the host ecosystems, the resilience of the civilization’s social systems and
    social capital, and the expectations its members have for the future, includ-
    ing their expectation of material comfort for themselves and their progeny.
    It is likely that any definitive answer to the question of a minimum EROI for
    our civilization can only be derived experimentally—history will reveal it to
    us when our civilization falls below it.

    Can renewables be built out and exploited rapidly enough to avoid mak-
    ing that experimental determination? Perhaps. (See Chapter 8.) If educated
    guesswork puts the EROI floor at 5:1, a figure that is approached by current
    petroleum technologies, apparently we can breathe easier knowing that re-
    newables generally do significantly better: photovoltaics (PV) are conserva-
    tively estimated at 10:1 and wind at 20:1 or perhaps 50:1.23

    But some EROI analysts worry that as society is forced to make do with
    less oil, it will fall into an EROI or Energy Trap. This, according to physicist
    Tom Murphy, comes about because the energy it takes to build the infra-
    structure necessary for a sustainable, renewable energy economy must come
    from current energy consumption. Unlike monetary investments, which
    can be made on credit and then amortized out of the income stream they
    produce, the energy investment in energy infrastructure must be made up-
    front out of a portion of the energy used today: “Nature does not provide an
    energy financing scheme. You can’t build a windmill on promised energy.”24

    The arithmetic is daunting. To avoid, for example, a 2-percent annual
    decline in net energy use, replacing that loss with solar photovoltaic (with
    an EROI pegged at 10:1) will require giving up 8 percent of the net energy
    available for the economy. (This is because the EROI of solar PV is calcu-
    lated over the life of the equipment: a 10:1 return over 40 years means that

    Energy as Master Resource | 81

    the break-even point is four years out, and until then most of the energy
    invested in PV construction is a sunken cost, an incompletely compensated
    energy expense.) “We cannot,” writes Murphy, “build our way out of the
    problem. If we tried to outsmart the trap by building an eight-unit replace-
    ment in year one, it would require 32 units to produce and only dig a deeper
    hole. The essential point is that up-front infrastructure energy costs mean
    that one step forward results in four steps back.”25

    The grim truth, Murphy warns, is that on a sheer energetic basis it seems
    to make more sense to continue to develop oil, even with a 5:1 EROI, than to
    build wind or solar PV capacity with higher EROIs. While there are plenty
    of reasons to move to solar and away from oil (climate change prominent
    among them), EROI, according to Murphy, is not one of them. The prob-
    lem is rooted in the sunken energy costs of petroleum infrastructure (which
    makes the continued use of petroleum energetically cheap) and the non-
    negotiable reality of the energy economy.26

    The goal of a renewable energy economy is clear, but the path to it seems
    blocked. The paradox is reminiscent of the one proposed by Zeno, whose log-
    ic denied the possibility of all motion: you can never get from point A to point
    B because first you must go halfway to point B, then halfway again, then half-
    way again, and so on, never arriving. Legend has it that Diogenes of Sinope
    refuted Zeno by standing up and walking about. The paradox of the Energy
    Trap may not be so easily resolved. Refraining from energy expenditure on
    consumption today in order to use that energy to invest in the infrastructure
    we need to ensure energy consumption 10, 20, and 50 years into the future,
    Murphy warns, will require a kind of sacrifice and political will that does
    not come easily to representative democracies and for which there is scant
    historical precedent. Politically, the most acceptable path is to finance the en-
    ergetic investment not by decreasing energy use for consumption today but
    by maintaining energy use for consumption while increasing the total energy
    appropriation of the economy—an aggressive expansion of the economy’s
    footprint in paradoxical service to the goal of achieving sustainability.27

    Eventually, solar and renewables will hit a takeoff point: they will capture
    enough energy to support the construction of additional solar and renew-
    able infrastructure without requiring us to reallocate energy use away from
    maintaining the living standards we then enjoy. Achieving this at a high level
    of energy consumption becomes increasingly difficult as the average EROI
    of our energy sources declines. If the net energy captured by the economy
    begins to decline as the peak of fossil fuel production passes, the Energy
    Trap seems unavoidable.

    Can conservation and efficiency save us from the Energy Trap? Maybe.
    The United States could significantly reduce gasoline use with the simple
    expedient of carpooling, for instance. Four vehicle occupants instead of one

    82 | State of the World 2013

    represents a 75 percent savings,
    and if the savings were dedicated
    to building renewable infrastruc-
    ture (a big “if,” but still), this would
    go a long way toward solving the
    problem. According to calcula-
    tions of energy use per constant
    gross domestic product dollar (see
    Figure 7–1), current efficiency ef-
    forts achieve an annual savings
    of 1.39 percent, which could be
    dedicated to building renewable
    infrastructure with no decrease
    in the amount of energy going to
    consumer satisfactions.28

    But these savings are not sus-
    tainable. The low-hanging fruit

    can be plucked only once, and marginal returns from future conservation
    and efficiency efforts will necessarily decrease. And whatever savings we
    achieve, there will be pressure to use them to increase or simply maintain
    current consumption instead of building solar infrastructure. Yielding to
    that pressure will condemn future humans to a poorer, stingier, less com-
    modious life.

    Sometimes a problem that seems irreducible at the macro scale can, like
    Zeno’s paradox, be solved at the level of individual behavior. Would a ratio-
    nal consumer postpone for a few years some of his or her energy-intensive
    consumption in order to invest in insulating a house or installing solar pan-
    els? Yes—given the right market signals and realistic assumptions about the
    cost of energy tomorrow. Consumers decide to make this sort of investment
    every day—and those decisions could cumulate into the macro result that
    the Energy Trap tells us would be politically difficult to achieve.

    This much is clear: sooner or later we will have an economy that runs on
    its current solar income. The amount of energy that economy will have at its
    disposal depends on the choices we make today.

    Toward a New Worldview
    Reality, economic reality included, is sufficiently complex that diametrically
    opposed idea systems can serve as lenses through which to interpret it, with
    both systems claiming to be confirmed by what is seen. When an economy is
    founded on an EROI of 100:1, you can hold almost any economic theory you
    want and still see an enormous generation of wealth. The decline in average
    EROI of the world economy brings political challenges—including pressure






    f O




    Figure 7–1. GDP per Unit of Energy Use, 2003–09






    2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009

    Source: World Bank

    (in constant PPP dollars)

    Energy as Master Resource | 83

    for austerity in government budgeting—and a kind of
    evolutionary pressure to get our economic theories right.
    The incorporation of thermodynamics into economics as
    a foundational idea system would bring the most influen-
    tial social science into congruence with physical reality.29

    It would also return economics to its roots in political
    economy. A steady-state economy will have to face issues
    of fairness and justice in distribution that were more eas-
    ily addressed (or postponed to the future) in a high-EROI,
    supposedly infinite-growth economy. And economically
    rational, benefit-maximizing choices about energy use
    will turn on such “externalities” as the social and political
    costs and benefits of different energy systems, which fall
    outside of the discipline of economics as currently prac-
    ticed. Economics will either admit these issues into the
    discipline or confess its abject impotence to illuminate the most pressing
    economic issues of our era.

    Ultimately, economics will have to recognize that we live on a finite plan-
    et and that the laws of thermodynamics apply to economic life as to all other
    life. This observation from the British physicist Arthur Eddington remains
    as apt today as when it was written nearly a century ago: “The second law
    that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the
    laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the uni-
    verse is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse
    for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation—
    well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if it is found to
    be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there
    is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”30

    Had economists collapsed in deepest humiliation on being shown in the
    1930s or again in the 1970s that their theories fell against the second law, we
    would have made a great deal more progress toward the goal of establishing
    our economy and civilization on a sustainable flow of matter-and-energy
    throughput. Foresters have a saying that is appropriate here. The very best
    time to plant a tree, like the best time to admit that energy is the master
    resource, is decades ago. The second best time is today.








    Carpool sign on a Maryland Interstate highway.

    Shakuntala Makhijani is a
    research associate with World-
    watch Institute’s Climate and
    Energy Program. Alexander
    Ochs is the director of the

    c h a p t e r 8

    Renewable Energy’s
    Natural Resource Impacts

    Shakuntala Makhijani and Alexander Ochs

    Our fossil-fuel-based economy is environmentally, socially, and economi-
    cally no longer acceptable. Recent increases in the frequency, severity, and
    regional spread of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other
    extreme weather events are an early indication of even more damaging cli-
    mate change impacts sure to come.

    Although governments across the world have made a commitment to
    limit Earth’s warming to 1.5–2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over
    pre-industrial levels in order to avoid disastrous climate impacts, current
    emissions trends put us on a path to much greater warming. Global carbon
    dioxide emissions from fossil fuel energy combustion, the single largest con-
    tributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs), grew by 34 percent from 2000 to 2010.
    Leading research institutions estimate that global average surface tempera-
    tures will increase by between 2 and 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, with
    the most recent estimates projecting that the high end of this warming range
    is the most probable if no swift action is taken. This warming will affect mil-
    lions of people through droughts, water stress, decreased agricultural yield,
    coastal flooding, global species extinctions, heat waves, and the spread of
    infectious diseases.1

    In addition to climate impacts, fossil fuel development and emissions
    cause environmental damage, including altered landscapes, acid rain,
    freshwater pollution and decline, and polluted soil and rivers, as well as
    human health impacts such as damage to the brain, heart, kidney, lungs,
    and immune system. These human and environmental costs are rarely in-
    ternalized in polluters’ fossil fuel energy costs but are instead borne by so-
    ciety as a whole.2

    Socioeconomic costs are reason enough to question our fossil fuel econ-
    omy. Today’s economies are vulnerable to energy commodity market vola-
    tility; price spikes reduce economic output and cause layoffs. Some coun-
    tries, among them the poorest on the planet, spend more than 10 percent

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_8, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 85

    of their gross domestic product importing fossil fuels. U.S. taxpayers spend
    $345 billion annually just to pick up the pollution and health bills related
    to coal use.3

    Reliance on unsustainable energy sources is no longer necessary; the
    transition to a sustainable energy system based on high efficiency (see Box
    8–1) and renewable sources, as well as smart grid and storage solutions, is
    under way. Renewable technologies broke all growth records in recent years.
    In 2011, new investments in renewables topped those in conventional en-
    ergy technologies for the first time in modern history. U.S. wind power ca-
    pacity almost tripled and solar energy jumped ninefold since 2007. And 17.1
    percent of Germany’s electricity comes from renewable sources.4

    These promising trends need to be accelerated if global GHG emissions
    are to peak before 2020, which the consensus among climate scientists deems
    necessary to avoid climate catastrophes. Numerous studies have shown that
    renewable energy resources can fully meet global energy demand. But how
    sustainable would such a system really be? Are resource inputs required that
    limit the potential of individual renewable technologies? (See Table 8–1.)5

    Renewable Energy Resources and Constraints
    Solar. There are two main categories for solar electricity technologies: pho-
    tovoltaic (PV) modules that convert light directly into electricity and con-
    centrating solar power systems (CSP) that focus the sun’s heat to drive a

    Current global energy demand is about 14 terawatts,
    a figure that is expected to double by 2050. Given the
    rapid acceleration in renewable energy expansion
    that is needed just to meet energy needs without
    fossil fuels, energy efficiency measures are essential
    to ensure that new renewable capacity offsets rather
    than supplements fossil fuel power production. Energy
    conservation is especially important in the context of
    sustainability constraints, as even renewable energy
    sources can have significant resource and environ-
    mental impacts.

    Energy efficiency measures work synergistically
    with renewable energy systems. When an electricity
    consumer demands one less unit of energy because of
    efficiency measures, the system typically saves much
    more than one unit of energy because of avoided

    losses during transmission and distribution. As a result,
    efficiency improvements can amplify the benefits of
    developing utility-scale renewable energy by increas-
    ing the impact of added renewable power capacity.
    Similarly, distributed (as opposed to centralized) renew-
    able generation achieves efficiency gains by producing
    energy at the point of use, thereby avoiding transmis-
    sion and distribution losses.

    Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, small
    hydro, wave, and tidal energy have the additional
    efficiency advantage of converting natural flows of
    mechanical energy or sunlight directly into electricity,
    unlike fossil fuel combustion and nuclear power, which
    require inherently inefficient thermal energy conver-
    sion processes.

    Source: See endnote 4.

    Box 8–1. the role of efficiency and conservation

    86 | State of the World 2013

    table 8–1. renewable energy potentials, Impacts, and constraints



    Land Needs

    Water Needs




    340 TW 0.29% of global land
    area to meet 40%
    of world energy
    demand in 2030
    (both PV and CSP)

    Minimal Crystalline
    silicon: silver

    Thin film: tel-
    lurium, indium,

    Cadmium (heavy
    metal) emissions—
    small compared with
    fossil fuels

    solar power

    240 TW 1.6 to 3.2 hectares
    per MW

    Technology de-
    pendent; minimal
    –3.0 liters per kWh

    Possible (desert) eco-
    system interference

    Wind 40–85 TW 1.17% of global land
    area to meet half
    of world energy
    demand in 2030

    Minimal Neodymium
    for permanent

    Possible interference
    with bird migration
    routes/bird kills

    Land use change

    Small hydro 1.6 TW

    Site and technology
    dependent, can be

    Site and technolo-
    gy dependent; di-
    version, pollution,
    and evaporation
    of water resources
    can occur

    (for some new

    River ecosystem dam-
    ages, flooded land,
    methane emissions
    possible, depending
    on technology

    Geothermal 2.6 TW

    0.4 to 3.2 hectares
    per MW

    Binary: 1.02 liters
    per kWh

    Flash: Minimal,
    but 10.2 liters
    per kWh geofluid

    EGS: 1.10–2.73
    liters per kWh

    None Deforestation (often
    in protected areas)
    and interference with
    sensitive ecosystems
    possible; seismic
    activity has been
    associated with EGS

    Wave and

    500 GW

    20 GW

    Concerns regard-
    ing interference
    with shipping lanes,
    archaeological sites,
    pipeline infrastruc-
    ture, and nature

    Minimal Neodymium
    (for some

    Sedimentation; biodi-
    versity loss; possible
    impacts to migratory
    bird, fish, and mammal

    Positive impacts
    (artificial reefs) cited for
    some technologies

    Biomass 31.7 TW Depends on biomass
    type—can be very

    Depends on
    biomass crop /
    source—can be
    very significant

    None Deforestation and bio-
    diversity loss, chemical
    pesticide and fertilizer
    use, land degradation

    Source: See endnote 5.

    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 87

    steam turbine. Solar PV can be used at any scale, from small-scale electronic
    appliances to decentralized household rooftop systems and from installa-
    tions that power industrial facilities to utility-scale PV farms. Today’s CSP
    systems are only viable at the utility level.

    Solar technology costs are falling rapidly. Crystalline silicon PV module
    costs fell by 70 percent from 2008 to January 2012 and are forecast to fall by
    another 30 percent by 2015, without subsidies. PV and CSP installations are
    now cost-competitive in locations with strong solar potential and relatively
    expensive alternative power sources—despite distorted prices for fossil fuels
    that do not reflect their costs to societies. Projections for PV and CSP sys-
    tems estimate that, averaged over the systems’ lifetimes, generation costs in
    strong resource areas like the southwestern United States will fall to 6–8¢ per
    kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the near to medium term.6

    Even when greatly limiting the areas for solar energy development to
    likely developable resources based on cost and location considerations, the
    potential capacities are estimated at 340 terawatts (TW) for PV and 240 TW
    for CSP—much more than projections for energy demand in 2050, even
    without any efficiency measures.7

    While land use issues must be considered for individual projects, globally
    the amount of suitable land area does not pose a significant constraint to
    installing solar equipment. Existing roof area in the United States alone, ex-
    cluding areas that are shaded or oriented away from the sun, could support
    over 600 gigawatts (GW) of PV electricity generation, more than 20 percent
    of the country’s current electricity demand.8

    Today’s utility-scale CSP requires between 1.6 and 3.2 hectares per mega-
    watt (MW) in areas with strong solar resources, depending on the techno-
    logical specifications. Still, land availability does not pose a significant con-
    straint to CSP either. For example, considering only strong physical resources
    on uninterrupted available land, the American Southwest has almost 7,500
    GW of resource potential and could provide more than four times current
    U.S. electricity generation. While this estimate does not directly consider
    desert ecosystem impacts, the potential to supply a large share of electricity
    demand using just a fraction of this land suggests that harmful effects could
    be limited. One study found that meeting 40 percent of global energy de-
    mand in 2030 with solar PV and CSP would require only 0.29 percent of the
    world’s land area. As a comparison, 11 percent of global land area is used for
    crop production, and urban areas occupy 3 percent of land area worldwide.9

    While PV generation requires minimal water (aside from panel clean-
    ing needs in some locations), CSP is the most water-intensive renewable
    energy technology, requiring 1.9–3.0 liters per kWh. But this is less than or
    comparable to water needs for coal or nuclear plant cooling. In many ar-
    eas with the strongest solar potentials, limited water resources rule out this

    88 | State of the World 2013

    “ conventional” form of CSP. However, air-cooled CSP plants offer an alter-
    native mature technology, as they require 90 percent less water and generate
    only 5 percent less electricity than water-cooled CSP.10

    The material requirements for PV and CSP are extremely different. CSP
    plants require an array of fairly unsophisticated mirrors, and the material
    production needs neither limit the potential for the technology nor impose
    a significant ecological footprint. Solar energy needs for scarce material re-
    sources are mostly limited to module production for the three dominant
    PV technologies: crystalline and polycrystalline silicon, thin-film PV panels,
    and concentrator PV cells.

    Silver used for electrodes poses a potential limiting factor to crystalline
    silicon PV cell production. The common and inexpensive use of silver elec-
    trodes that are 20–80 micrometers thick would limit potential capacity of
    silicon PV cells to less than 0.6 TW. Using alternative electrodes that require
    less silver would reduce—and possibly eliminate—this constraint, however,
    allowing for about 15 TW of crystalline and/or polycrystalline silicon PV
    (assuming that no more than 25 percent of the global silver resource is used
    for PV cell production).11

    Thin-film PV cells require an indium-tin-oxide conductor layer that in-
    cludes some materials with resource limits, including tellurium, indium, and
    germanium. Due in part to greater competition from other uses, germanium
    and indium pose the greatest constraints to thin-film PV potential. With in-
    dium as the limiting factor, thin-film PV potential is limited to 13–22 GW in
    2020, 17–106 GW in 2050, and 17–152 GW in 2075. Germanium constraints
    are even tighter, but alternative silicon- and gallium-based technologies can
    replace germanium in thin-film modules, removing that limitation. Zinc-
    oxide alternatives for the conductor layer are currently under development,
    though future costs and ecological impacts are unknown.12

    Emissions of cadmium, a heavy metal, from some types of solar thin-film
    cells have been cited as a concern, but these systems produce only 1 percent
    of the life cycle cadmium emissions of equivalent fossil fuel generation. The
    key to limiting cadmium pollution is to ensure high rates of PV cell recovery
    and materials recycling.13

    Concentrator PV cells also require germanium. A shift to proven gallium
    arsenide alternatives would prevent overdependence on this material, but
    this technology has not reached commercial scale.14

    Wind. Apart from hydroelectric power, wind has been by far the most
    successful renewable electricity source to date, with 238 GW installed glob-
    ally by the end of 2011. Wind power is used mostly for centralized utility-
    scale generation, though smaller-scale applications are gaining popularity
    for local and decentralized electricity production.15

    Wind energy is one of the most economical renewable energy technolo-

    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 89

    gies; at attractive locations, it is already fully competitive with fossil fuels.
    Industry estimates project that the average onshore wind farm will be fully
    competitive with conventional energy sources by 2016.16

    Wind potential estimates at land-based and near-shore locations that have
    strong resources and are practical for energy development range from 40 to
    85 TW, far more than is needed to meet future worldwide energy needs even
    under business-as-usual demand projections. According to one estimate,
    meeting half of the world’s energy needs in 2030 with wind energy would
    require about 1.17 percent of global land area, almost all of which would be
    due to the space needed between turbines. The land use impacts of wind en-
    ergy can be significantly reduced by using wind-farm land for other purposes
    such as agriculture and by siting some wind turbines offshore. Wind energy
    is the least water-intensive method of energy production, with operational
    water use largely limited to what is needed to clean the turbines.17

    Primary materials in wind turbines include steel and concrete for the bas-
    al structures plus copper, glassfiber reinforced plastic, and carbon-filament
    reinforced plastic for rotor blades. Concrete supplies will remain abundant,
    as its primary components (sand, gravel, and limestone) are widely avail-
    able and recycling technology is well established. Steel availability is also of
    minor concern. At current prices and levels of production, the earth has
    only about 100–200 years of economically recoverable iron ore remaining if
    no new major mining areas are discovered. However, recycling technologies
    for steel used in wind turbines are well established, and recycling rates for
    construction plates and beams in the United States are close to 100 percent.
    According to one estimate, adding over 300 GW of wind capacity in the
    United States by 2030 would require less than 2 percent of the country’s
    2008 steel use. These bulk materials are therefore not expected to impose
    a serious constraint on meeting global energy demand with wind energy.18

    The greatest future supply risk for the wind industry will be the avail-
    ability of rare earth metals. As permanent magnet generators used in the
    newest commercial-scale wind turbines are increasingly replacing gear-
    based generators due to their greater efficiency, a rapid scale-up in pro-
    duction of neodymium, their primary element, is required to keep pace
    with needs of wind turbine manufacturers and the increasing demand for
    permanent magnets in other sectors. China is currently the overwhelmingly
    dominant producer of neodymium and other rare earth materials, despite
    considerable reserves in other countries, including the United States. Sig-
    nificant expansion of rare earth availability is not expected before 2015,
    however, as countries other than China work to establish environmentally
    sound mining and production practices.19

    One study estimates that meeting 50 percent of global energy demand in
    2030 with permanent magnet wind generators would require a more than

    90 | State of the World 2013

    fivefold increase in annual neodymium production. Current economically
    available reserves could meet this level of production for about 100 years;
    thereafter, neodymium recycling (which has been proved possible, although
    at unknown cost) will be necessary to sustain wind generation. The wind in-
    dustry will also be able to adapt to future neodymium shortages due to viable
    alternative technologies that do not require permanent magnet generators.20

    Small Hydropower. Hydropower is the world’s best-established renew-
    able energy resource, providing over 15 percent of global electricity pro-
    duction in 2011, mostly from large hydropower dams. Due to the signifi-
    cant environmental and human impacts of large-scale hydroelectric dams,
    however—including often devastating effects on river ecosystems, flooding
    of land ecosystems and human settlements, methane emissions from sub-
    merged and decaying vegetation, and consumption of scarce water resourc-
    es—the discussion of hydropower is limited here to small-scale generation,
    including both micro hydro (0.1 MW or less) and mini hydro (greater than
    0.1 MW but less than 10 MW). Global hydropower technical potential in
    likely developable locations is estimated at 1.6 TW. But hydropower re-
    source estimates do not typically differentiate between large and small gen-
    eration facilities, so it is difficult to judge the sustainability of developing
    small hydro’s full technical potential.21

    Some new small hydro models call for permanent magnet generators,
    requiring rare earth inputs equivalent to those described for wind turbines.
    Still, the availability of developable resources, much more than material
    limitations for hydro generator manufacturing and installation, is the main
    constraint on significant global expansion of small hydropower.

    A widespread scale-up of small hydro facilities could have large cumula-
    tive impacts. These effects include disturbance of aquatic ecosystems, up-
    stream and downstream flooding, and reduced water quality and supply.
    In some cases, the impacts—especially siltation (sediment buildup) and
    eutrophication (depletion of oxygen in the water)—can be even greater for
    small hydro than for large hydro on a per-kilowatt basis. Sound environ-
    mental management can mitigate some of these impacts, but implemen-
    tation of best practices should not be taken for granted, especially with
    widespread proliferation in countries with limited capacities for monitor-
    ing and enforcement. Less damaging applications, such as small-scale run-
    of-the-river hydro to power remote locations, should be the focal point of
    small hydro development.22

    Geothermal. Geothermal energy, or thermal energy extracted from rock
    beneath Earth’s surface, can be used to generate electricity or to provide
    heating and cooling services. A major advantage of geothermal power over
    intermittent renewable sources like the sun and the wind is that it can be
    used as a baseload source of energy. The main limitation for geothermal

    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 91

    electricity generation is the need for reservoirs with very high temperatures
    (over 100 degrees Celsius) near Earth’s surface.23

    Heat pumps and geothermal electricity generation are well-developed and
    mature technologies that are cost-competitive in locations with viable re-
    sources. Dry steam and flash steam
    geothermal technologies use ex-
    tracted hot liquid or vapor directly
    to drive a turbine. Binary cycle
    power plants use extracted fluids
    to heat a secondary fluid, which in
    turn drives a turbine.24

    The share of geothermal in elec-
    tricity generation currently stands
    at only 0.3 percent worldwide,
    but it is much higher in countries
    with large potential. Nicaragua, for
    example, already generates more
    than 12 percent of its power from
    geothermal sources, with addition-
    al sites currently planned.25

    The use of enhanced geother-
    mal systems (EGS), a technology that is still in the demonstration phase,
    has the potential to greatly expand the feasible area for electricity genera-
    tion. EGS allows for the use of geothermal resources even where there is not
    a permeable reservoir of high-temperature water by injecting high-pressure
    water into a well to open and extend fractures, freeing up thermal energy
    previously trapped in the rock. Including the resources accessible through
    EGS increases the technically exploitable geothermal electricity generation
    potential in the United States alone to nearly 3 TW, although seismicity con-
    cerns could limit the areas considered safe and viable for EGS development.26

    Geothermal electricity generation requires relatively high water con-
    sumption compared with other renewable energy sources. EGS and binary
    generation consume 1.10–2.73 and 1.02 liters per kWh generated, respec-
    tively. These levels are comparable to the 0.49–3.94 liters per kWh of water
    consumption from conventional thermal (coal, natural gas, and nuclear)
    electricity generation. While flash generation consumes minimal water, it
    makes direct use of water in the hydrothermal reservoir. Evaporation rates
    of this “geofluid” average 10.2 liters per kWh, raising questions regarding
    the long-term viability of geothermal flash generation as liquid volume and
    pressure in the reservoir decline.27

    Hot water suitable for geothermal energy is also produced at many oil
    and gas wells. This “produced water” is typically discarded as waste, but it





    The Palinpinon Geothermal Power Plant in Negros Oriental, Philippines.

    92 | State of the World 2013

    can provide a cheap and efficient source of geothermal power. One study
    calculates that over 70 GW of geothermal capacity could be established at
    existing oil and gas wells within the United States by 2030.28

    Wave and Tidal Power. Marine energy in the form of waves and tidal
    patterns can be captured to generate electricity. Wave power generators cap-
    ture the energy from the rising and falling of waves on the ocean surface,
    and tidal generators on the ocean floor harness energy from the ebb and
    flow of tides. The costs of these technologies remain prohibitively high for
    commercial development, but they are expected to come down as technolo-
    gies mature and more demonstration projects are implemented.29

    Wave and tidal energy potentials in likely developable locations are es-
    timated at 500 GW and 20 GW, respectively. Marine energy constraints in-
    clude the need to avoid offshore areas with competing uses such as ship-
    ping lanes, marine archaeological sites, sites of pipeline infrastructures, and
    nature conservation. Some more recent wave and tidal power models also
    use permanent magnet generators, requiring the same rare earth inputs as
    described for wind turbines.30

    In some cases, marine energy ecosystem impacts could actually be posi-
    tive. For example, wave and tidal power infrastructure is expected to help
    fish populations recover in some areas by preventing commercial fishing
    and providing artificial reef structures for marine organisms. Negative im-
    pacts are also possible, such as increased sedimentation around wave energy
    buoys, which can lead to euthrophication and biodiversity loss. Additional
    studies are needed on the impacts on migratory bird, fish, and mammal
    populations, including on spawning areas, from the physical infrastructure
    as well as from noise and electromagnetism.31

    Biomass. Biomass energy covers a range of resources that can be com-
    busted for electricity generation, including wood and wood wastes, agricul-
    tural crops and residues, municipal solid waste, animal wastes, waste from
    food processing, and aquatic plants and algae. Biomass has the advantage
    of providing reliable baseload renewable power, and many biomass projects
    are already cost-competitive with conventional power sources.32

    Several studies have attempted to estimate the contribution that biomass
    energy can sustainably make to energy needs, with wide-ranging results.
    One study cited by the European Commission found that taking food, wa-
    ter, and biodiversity sustainability constraints into account, biomass could
    meet up to one third of energy demand in 2050, with up to half of this from
    residue and wastes alone.33

    The estimates on biomass energy vary widely due to different assump-
    tions regarding food production and consumption, agricultural tech-
    niques, and other variables. Land use is one of the primary concerns,
    as biomass energy can result in high net GHG emissions in cases where

    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 93

    forests or other carbon sinks are destroyed to clear agricultural land for
    energy crops. This activity can also contribute to significant biodiversity
    loss. Other environmental impacts of intensive farming include the use
    of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, land degradation, and unsustainable
    rates of water consumption.

    The potential of biomass to provide sustainable energy therefore de-
    pends largely on whether sustainable agriculture techniques are imple-
    mented on a global scale. Furthermore, widespread concerns have been
    raised about diverting crops or cropland from food to energy uses, exac-
    erbating the food price increases of recent years. In order to mitigate envi-
    ronmental and food price impacts, biomass electricity should be produced
    from the widely available supply of different waste resources (although
    even this approach has drawbacks, as removing agricultural waste can de-
    prive soil of nutrients, especially in sustainable agricultural systems with
    limited external inputs).

    Addressing the Intermittency and Variability of
    Renewable Energy
    One of the major remaining barriers to meeting energy needs with renew-
    ables is the reliability of intermittent renewable energy resources, notably
    wind and solar. A number of technological solutions already exist for stor-
    ing surplus renewable energy generated during periods when production
    exceeds demand and then dispatching this energy at times of low renewable
    generation. As with renewable energy technologies, advanced storage and
    grid options have sustainability constraints of their own. (See Table 8–2.)34

    Batteries. Several battery technologies that can be paired with renewable
    energy systems are currently available or in development. Lead-acid and
    nickel-cadmium batteries are both mature technologies with widespread
    applications, including in hybrid and electric vehicles as well as for standby
    power storage. Lead-acid batteries are already commonly used to store en-
    ergy for PV systems. These systems are not considered suitable for bulk or
    utility-scale storage due to high costs per unit of storage, but they work well
    for stand-alone decentralized renewable energy storage, particularly at the
    household level.35

    The major sustainability limitation for these battery technologies is that
    both lead and cadmium are toxic heavy metals. Lead-acid batteries enjoy
    high recycling rates in many countries due to their predominant use as en-
    gine starting batteries in automobiles. The toxicity risks of nickel-cadmium
    batteries, on the other hand, have led the European Union to ban their use
    except for limited applications. Use of these batteries should therefore be
    limited to small-scale rural energy storage, in locations with robust bat-
    tery recycling programs and regulations. Limited lead and nickel reserves

    94 | State of the World 2013

    (especially if the use of nickel-cadmium batteries for hybrid and electric
    vehicles is greatly expanded) further constrain this technology’s viability as
    a widely implementable storage solution.36

    Lithium ion batteries (LIB) can provide storage capacity of up to 5 MW,
    and they have higher energy density (and are thus lighter) than lead-acid
    and nickel-cadmium batteries. LIBs are also free of heavy metal toxicity
    risks. These batteries have multiple applications, including in hybrid and
    electric vehicles. Costs are projected to decline from current levels but will
    likely still make these batteries most suitable for small-scale decentralized
    capacity rather than utility-scale renewable generation. The availability of
    lithium resources is a frequently cited concern regarding the viability of LIBs
    for widespread future use. However, economically exploitable lithium re-
    serve estimates are rapidly increasing, from 4.1 million tons (Mt) in 2009
    to 13 Mt in 2012. Additionally, the global resource base of 39 Mt of lithium
    compares favorably to projected demand from 2010 to 2100, which is esti-
    mated at less than 20 Mt even in the highest demand scenario.37

    table 8–2. energy Storage and transmission technologies and constraints

    Storage or Transmission


    Limiting Material Needs

    Other Environmental Impacts

    Lead-acid batteries Mature Lead Lead toxicity

    Nickel-cadmium batteries Mature Nickel Cadmium toxicity

    Lithium ion batteries Mature Lithium

    Liquid metal batteries Demonstration None

    Vanadium redox flow batteries Demonstration None

    Pumped hydropower Mature None Same as hydropower: land use
    and ecosystem impacts

    Compressed air energy storage Mature None

    Molten salt thermal storage Demonstration Sodium and potassium
    nitrates (can be
    synthetically produced)

    Hydrogen Demonstration None Natural gas (for reformation) and
    water needs

    High-voltage direct current
    transmission lines

    Mature Copper Land use needs for transmission

    High-temperature supercon-
    ducting cables

    Demonstration None Land use needs for transmission

    Source: See endnote 34.

    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 95

    Emerging battery technologies, including liquid-metal (sodium-sulfur)
    batteries and vanadium redox flow batteries, are not yet commercialized
    but hold promise for future renewable energy storage systems, including for
    utility-scale generation up to 35 MW, a viable size for a wind farm, especially
    if low-end cost estimates prove realistic.

    Pumped Hydropower. Pumped hydropower uses excess electricity to
    pump water from a lower to a higher reservoir during low-demand and
    high-generation periods and then releases the stored water through a hy-
    dropower turbine during peak demand periods, in effect turning intermit-
    tent resources like wind and solar into on-demand baseload hydro energy
    sources. Pumped hydro is a mature technology and can be used for utility
    generation up to the GW scale for several hours of storage potential. Costs
    vary widely, depending on the size and location of the plant.38

    Pumped hydro systems are limited in their geographic scope to moun-
    tainous landscapes with hydro resources. Furthermore, the sustainability
    constraints of pumped hydropower are much the same as those for hydro-
    power dams, including land use changes as well as human and ecosystem
    impacts, especially in the case of large-scale systems. While pumped hydro-
    power can provide sustainable energy storage on a case-by-case basis, its
    potential for widespread implementation is limited.

    Compressed Air Energy and Biogas Storage. Compressed air energy
    storage is a mature technology that compresses air in tight underground
    reservoirs during periods of low demand and releases and heats the air with
    natural gas during peak demand periods, causing it to expand and drive
    turbines to generate electricity. Like pumped hydro, it can provide storage
    at the GW scale, but its potential is limited by the low availability of suitable
    natural storage sites. Costs depend on location and are higher per unit of
    storage for smaller systems. A number of projects are currently under way
    that analyze the commercial feasibility of the use of gas (including biogas)
    in specially designed appliances.39

    Molten Salt Thermal Storage. Molten salt thermal storage systems are
    used in conjunction with concentrating solar power generating facilities.
    Molten salt absorbs and stores heat, which can be released to drive the CSP
    system’s steam turbine during cloudy days or at night. Thermal storage can
    be used for megawatt-scale CSP facilities and can store energy for up to two
    days. Although molten salt storage is still in the demonstration stage, it has
    the potential to be one of the more cost-effective storage options. Its storage
    potential is largely limited to locations where CSP is a viable energy option.40

    Molten salt storage requires large amounts of sodium and potassium ni-
    trates. There is currently only one commercially exploited nitrate resource
    in the world, in Chile, and the estimated reserve is insufficient to provide
    12-hour storage to meet a significant share of global energy demand with

    96 | State of the World 2013

    CSP. This resource constraint can be eliminated through synthetic nitrate
    production, although this would reduce the power output of CSP facilities,
    as some energy would be reallocated for the production process.41

    Hydrogen. Hydrogen is a potential energy storage option in the long-
    term future, with applications for powering vehicles as well as storing
    variable renewable generation up to the megawatt scale. Hydrogen can
    be produced by the electrolysis of water or by reforming natural gas with
    steam. Both processes require significant energy inputs. Hydrogen can be
    produced with excess renewable generation, dispatching stored energy at
    peak demand periods. Significant barriers remain to be addressed, how-
    ever, including high costs, safety concerns, and issues relating to storage:
    while hydrogen has high energy content by weight, it has a low energy
    density by volume.42

    Electrolysis and reformation to produce hydrogen consume water (0.27
    and 0.56 liters per kWh respectively), both at or below the low range of
    water consumption levels for conventional thermal power production.
    From a sustainability perspective, electrolysis is the preferable technology
    due to its lower water consumption and the requirement of natural gas for

    Electricity Transmission and Distribution. Reliable integration of re-
    newable energy generation into electricity grids is an essential aspect of a
    future sustainable energy system, especially for utility-scale facilities. Ex-
    tending the grid will result in environmental disturbance in the areas sur-
    rounding new transmission lines. Much of this impact can be mitigated by
    burying transmission cables, although this option is not as viable for high-
    voltage lines.44

    High-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines are considered one of the
    most efficient means of long-distance transmission for moving electricity
    from areas of strong renewable generation potentials to end users. HVDC
    lines require large copper inputs, making copper availability a significant
    challenge for a future efficient grid system. Even with copper recycling, the
    need for new copper resources for HVDC lines, wind turbines, CSP facili-
    ties, and grid connections for a renewable-powered world will require an
    estimated 40 percent of total copper reserves, or the equivalent of 14 years
    of global production at current levels. Aluminum requirements are not ex-
    pected to add to the resource constraint, as only an estimated 1 percent of
    global reserves are required for the necessary HVDC lines.45

    High-temperature superconducting (HTS) cables provide another effi-
    cient alternative and can transmit 10 times as much power over long distanc-
    es as conventional copper transmission lines. Although HTS cable material
    requirements include the rare earth element yttrium, this component is not
    expected to pose a constraint to expanded use of HTS transmission. Yttrium

    Renewable Energy’s Natural Resource Impacts | 97

    reserves are sufficient to meet current production levels, and world yttrium
    resources, although not yet quantified, are expected to be very large.46

    Outlook for a Sustainable Renewable Energy System
    As with all energy and infrastructure projects, renewable-energy develop-
    ment must take environmental, resource, economic, and social constraints
    into account in order to be truly sustainable. While material resource and en-
    vironmental constraints pose a challenge to developing specific renewable en-
    ergy systems in specific locations, these limitations can be overcome through
    integrated energy planning, responsible environmental management, and the
    implementation of clean and widely available substitute technologies.

    The analysis in this chapter leads to three key conclusions. First, sustainable
    renewable-energy planning should be integrated. A strong and efficient elec-
    tricity grid can connect multiple generation sources over a broad geographic
    area, which enables the integration of complementary renewable facilities.

    For example, certain wind farms generate more energy during the morn-
    ing and others generate more during the afternoon; likewise, different wind
    resources have higher generation at different times of year. Different renew-
    able resources such as wind and solar, which are each variable but often have
    different times of peak production, can also be integrated. Combining these
    complementary resources can go a long way to resolving renewable inter-
    mittency and can create relatively consistent energy supply. Integration with
    conventional energy technologies during the transition to a fully renewable
    system is equally important. Natural gas, in particular, can act as an ally
    of renewables due to its flexibility in dispatch, an advantage over coal and
    nuclear energy.

    Second, sustainable renewable-energy planning should be local. Decisions
    for siting energy projects must be fully integrated with sustainable and just
    land policies that ensure protection of ecologically sensitive areas, take into
    account alternative land uses and environmental services, and fully respect
    the rights of people living on or close to those lands. (See Box 8–2.) Renew-
    able energy projects that would seriously compromise the surrounding envi-
    ronment or threaten local communities should be abandoned or re-sited.47

    Renewable energy developments should also be in complete accord with
    priorities for sustainable water use to avoid large diversions of water from
    natural systems and to preserve scarce resources for human needs. Water
    scarcity already affects around 1.2 billion people globally, almost one fifth
    of the world, and an additional 500 million people are at risk of scarcity. In
    cases where renewable-resource strength is strong enough to justify project
    development in water-scarce locations, alternative technologies (such as air
    cooling) should be used to minimize water consumption.48

    And third, sustainable renewable-energy planning should at the same

    98 | State of the World 2013

    time be global. This is certainly true for the climate crisis, which in the long
    run can only be solved if all countries contribute to reducing energy-related
    GHG emissions. But it is also true with regard to the worldwide availability
    of scarce resources and the extensive environmental damage that can re-
    sult from material production. Rare earth mining and processing in China,
    for example, demonstrates the need for strict regulations as extraction of
    these materials increases around the world for renewable energy, grid, and
    storage technologies. Robust environmental protections are needed to pre-
    vent further soil erosion, damage to vegetation and cropland, surface and
    groundwater pollution, landslides, and clogged rivers. Governments must
    not abandon unsustainable practices at home while accepting similar or
    worse procedures elsewhere.49

    Recycling regimes should be implemented and strengthened for the ma-
    terials required for sustainable energy development that are already in wide
    use today. These include bulk materials such as cement, copper, and steel as
    well as rarer or toxic materials such as neodymium and cadmium.

    The technical, economic, and resource challenges to transitioning to a
    fully sustainable global energy system are enormous, but they can be fully
    addressed with solutions that exist today. Rapidly declining renewable en-
    ergy costs and the need to replace aging fossil fuel infrastructure present an
    opportunity to rapidly usher in a new era of truly sustainable energy.

    While globally the land area required to power the
    world with renewable energy sources is minimal,
    local land use impacts of individual projects can be
    significant. Areas with strong renewable resources
    can overlap with ecologically rare or sensitive areas
    or with private or indigenous land rights. Some of
    the strongest geothermal resources in the United
    States, for example, are located on public land, but
    regulations are in place to protect national parks and
    wilderness areas from development. Clearing cropland
    for biomass energy resources has caused devastating
    deforestation in some rainforest nations, including
    Malaysia and Indonesia. Transporting energy from new
    renewable facilities can also have negative land use

    impacts if transmission lines pass through forests or
    other sensitive ecosystems.

    With regard to local and indigenous land rights,
    hydropower dams have flooded millions of homes in
    China, Latin America, and elsewhere. As large wind,
    solar, and other renewable generation expands,
    increased land rights disputes can be expected that are
    similar to existing conflicts over the siting of conven-
    tional power plants and their transmission lines.

    The extent to which environmental impacts of
    renewable energy projects are mitigated and land
    rights are respected depends on the strength and effec-
    tiveness of the regulatory regime in place.

    Source: See endnote 47.

    Box 8–2. Land Use priorities and Land rights considerations

    c h a p t e r 9

    Nonrenewable Resources

    Gary Gardner

    Gary Gardner is a senior fellow
    at the Worldwatch Institute.

    A 2012 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    (MIT) cast a long shadow across the otherwise bright future of clean tech-
    nologies like wind power and electric cars. The study warned that global
    supplies of neodymium, which is used in the magnets in wind turbines, and
    dysprosium, used in electric vehicles, could soon be scarce in markets world-
    wide as demand for clean technologies skyrockets. Demand for neodymium
    could increase by 700 percent and demand for dysprosium by 2,600 per-
    cent over the next 25 years, they calculated, if serious goals for reductions
    in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are adopted. But it may be beyond the
    capacity of markets to meet these levels of demand. These “rare earth el-
    ements” are currently mined almost exclusively in China, which restricts
    mining licenses and exports in an effort to conserve supplies.1

    The challenge of sufficient market supply in the decades ahead is not
    confined to little-known elements. It extends to more common resources,
    such as phosphorus, a mineral critical to agriculture, and metals like copper
    and gold. Because these resources are nonrenewable, a growing chorus of
    analysts worries that whereas minerals and metals in the twentieth century
    were easy to reach and cheap to extract, nonrenewables this century may be
    increasingly scarce and costly to bring to market.2

    Neodymium and dysprosium are not geologically scarce, it should be not-
    ed, and as with many minerals, new sources are regularly identified. (Green-
    land emerged as a possible new source of rare earth elements after the 2012
    MIT study appeared.) The issue instead is the accessibility of metals and min-
    erals and whether their extraction can continue to be profitable. Indeed, non-
    renewable resources could become increasingly market-scarce this century
    as a perfect storm of constraints—from declining resource quality to rising
    prices for water, energy, and other inputs to extraction—begin to kick in. To-
    gether, these constraints create a markedly more worrisome environment for
    nonrenewable resources than the one that existed just a decade ago.3

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_9, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    100 | State of the World 2013

    Increasing Dependence on Nonrenewables

    Nonrenewable materials are the blood and bones of industrial economies.
    High-speed roads, multistory buildings, electronic gadgets, high-yield agri-
    culture—these and myriad other achievements of industrial economies are
    built on massive quantities of nonrenewable resources. Indeed, most mate-
    rials flowing through industrial economies—in the United States the share
    is 95 percent; in China, 88 percent—are nonrenewables, a stark contrast to
    pre-industrial societies whose economies were dominated by wood, water,
    plant fibers, animal skins, and other renewable resources.4

    The rise of industrial economies in the twentieth century marked an ex-
    ponential increase in the extraction of nonrenewable resources, from con-
    struction gravel and agricultural minerals to base metals, precious metals,
    and fuels. (See Figure 9–1.) Note in particular the very rapid rise in global
    output since 2000, as economic growth in emerging economies in Asia and
    Latin America has accelerated. Note, too, the minimal impact of the glob-
    al recession of 2009: it slowed but did not reverse the use of nonrenew-
    ables, and the pace quickly resumed once global economic output picked

    up. Supply optimists are quick to
    note, correctly, that the trend over
    the last century was one of rising
    output and falling prices—surely
    conclusive evidence of plentiful
    supply. But because of galloping
    demand and emerging constraints
    on supply, that run of abundance
    could be coming to an end.5

    Today many emerging indus-
    trial economies in Asia and Latin
    America are moving into a re-
    source-intensive phase of indus-
    trialization, as they build roads,
    buildings, water and sewage sys-
    tems, airports, power grids, irriga-
    tion canals, railroads, and a host of
    other works of infrastructure that

    require enormous volumes of energy, metals, minerals, and other nonre-
    newables. The increase in demand is huge: analysts at the McKinsey Global
    Institute note that China and India “are experiencing roughly ten times
    the economic acceleration of the Industrial Revolution, on 100 times the
    scale”—because of their far larger populations—“resulting in an economic
    force that is 1000 times as big.”6



    Source: Kelly and Matos

    Figure 9–1. World Extraction of Nonrenewable Materials,

    1900 1915 1930 1945 1960 1975 1990 20202005


    Conserving Nonrenewable Resources | 101

    Despite the run-up in resource demand, industrial nations continue to
    build throw-away economies. Advances in recycling over the past 40 years have
    been modest at best, as data for metals show. Whether measuring the share of
    discarded metal that gets recycled (the end-of-life recycling rate) or the share
    of newly manufactured metal that is recycled metal (recycled content), recy-
    cling levels are mostly poor. More than half of 60 metals studied by the U.N.
    Environment Programme have an end-of-life recycling rate of less than 1 per-
    cent, and fewer than a third of the 60 are recycled at 50 percent or more.7

    In sum, the voracious materials appetite of industrial countries, the rap-
    id expansion of emerging industrial economies, and the ingrained modern
    habit of using materials only once before they are discarded raise an urgent
    question: Will the market supply of nonrenewable resources be plentiful and
    affordable enough to meet human needs in the decades ahead?

    Suggestions of Scarcity
    Several signals suggest that market scarcity could
    increasingly become the norm for nonrenewable
    resources. The indicators include rapidly rising
    prices for nonrenewables, the declining quality of
    resources and difficulty accessing them, the rising
    cost of inputs to mining and oil drilling, the grow-
    ing environmental burden of extractive activity,
    and the possibility that “net energy” will be insuf-
    ficient to support mining and pumping.

    In this chapter, scarcity refers to market scar-
    city. (See Box 9–1.) While sometimes exacerbated
    by declining geological supplies, market scarcity is
    generally driven by economic, political, or other
    constraining factors. Some of these are temporary
    obstacles, but others are intractable and can render
    resources as unavailable as if they were physically

    Rising Prices. The first worrisome development
    suggestive of scarcity is the sharp upward trend in
    the prices of nonrenewable resources starting in
    2002. This is best appreciated in contrast to the
    overall decline in prices during the last century.
    U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data for 86 metals
    and minerals show an average price decline of 0.9
    percent annually between 1900 and 2001; for metals, a subset of the 86, the
    average annual decline was 1.4 percent. But between 2002 and 2010, prices
    of the 86 resources increased annually by 6.4 percent and those for metals

    The term scarcity brings up images of physical insuf-
    ficiency and raises the specter of “running out.” But a
    range of issues can limit supply long before a resource
    is exhausted. Often the tightest constraint on sup-
    ply is cost: if the energy needed to extract a resource
    becomes too expensive, or if environmental regulations
    prohibit cheap extraction methods, or if low-quality
    minerals require extensive processing to be economi-
    cally useful, the resources may become too expensive
    to tap. Political considerations may affect supply as well.
    Some nations prohibit exploitation of key nonrenew-
    able resources, preferring to tap overseas supplies and
    treating their own endowment as a strategic reserve. In
    either case, market supply is constrained and resources
    can be described as scarce, even if they remain geologi-
    cally abundant.

    On the other hand, resource availability can increase
    even as a resource is being depleted. Advances in
    drilling or mineral processing, for example, can lower
    the cost of extraction and increase supplies. Similarly,
    recycling can increase resource supplies and reduce
    market scarcity.

    Box 9–1. What is Scarcity?

    102 | State of the World 2013

    went up 11 percent. So great was the change of fortune that rising prices
    over the eight-year period entirely canceled the price declines of the twen-
    tieth century. Although some prices softened in 2012 because of a slowing
    Chinese economy, this is likely temporary; the pressure on prices could well
    resume with renewed demand.8

    Supply optimists argue that the recent run-up in prices is merely an
    anomaly in the century-long trend of downward prices and that the run-up
    is driven by speculation and hoarding. But Jeremy Grantham, chief strate-
    gist at the investment firm GMO and a student of resource trends, uses
    statistical analysis to counter this argument. He has found that for 27 of
    the 33 commodities he studied, there is less than a 3-percent probability
    that their sharp increases in price over the past decade are an extension of
    the twentieth-century trend of declining prices. For the 11 commodities
    with the greatest price rises, the odds are less than one tenth of 1 percent
    that they are part of the old trend. He concludes that humanity has entered
    a new era of global resource use in which commodities will no longer be
    cheap and abundant.9

    The drop in prices during the last century was largely the result of pro-
    ductivity gains that outpaced the rise in extraction costs. But these costs have
    recently risen as metals and minerals have become more difficult to get to
    and as their quality has declined. Lower-quality and less-accessible ores often
    require more processing to coax out smaller quantities of metal, which adds
    to costs. And contrary to the expectations of supply optimists, increasing
    prices are not prompting similar increases in output. In Australia between
    1989–90 and 2005–06, for example, prices in the mining sector increased by
    an average 9 percent annually (with the greatest increases occurring since
    2000), whereas the tonnage of materials increased by only 3 percent.10

    Ore Grade Declines. A second indication of growing scarcity, at least with
    regard to metals, is the decline in ore grade—that is, the shrinking share of
    desired metals in mined rock. The downward trend in ore quality is not new;
    it extends back decades for many metals, and more than a century for some.
    But ore grade attracted little attention among policymakers during the past
    century when metals extraction was robust and prices were falling.

    No publicly available dataset exists to document a decline in ore grades
    for all metals across the entire world, but leading research demonstrates that
    the problem is widespread. Gavin Mudd of Monash University in Austra-
    lia, whose research on mining covers a broad range of metals, documents
    long-term ore grade declines for gold in the United States, South Africa,
    Brazil, and Canada (see Figure 9–2) and for nickel in Canada and Russia. He
    finds similar declining ore values in Australia for copper, nickel, uranium,
    lead, zinc, silver, gold, iron, diamonds, and bauxite. While ore grades can in-
    crease as new discoveries, new technologies, or new techniques open access

    Conserving Nonrenewable Resources | 103

    to high-grade ores, increases in ore grade are fewer and smaller as mining
    matures in each nation—and the long-term trend over several decades is al-
    most always a decline in ore grades. Mudd concludes that “based on known
    deposits, it is hard to envisage new discoveries or mining techniques leading
    to ore grades rising in the future.”11

    Environmental Costs. Lower-grade minerals can have greater environ-
    mental impact, in terms of both inputs and pollutants. Consider water,
    which is often needed in greater supply as ore grades decline, although the
    particular characteristics of a mine—open pit versus underground, for ex-
    ample, or the chemistry of the particular metal and even water quality and
    climate—also affect the quantity of water needed. The inverse relationship
    between declining ore grades and increased water use has been documented
    in Mudd’s research for a number of metals. (See Table 9–1.) 12

    As long as the energy used in
    mining is fossil in origin, greater
    energy use will typically drive
    greater emissions of greenhouse
    gases—and all the more as ore
    grades decline. Gavin Mudd uses
    a rough-cut analysis to show that
    a decline in ore grade of copper
    from 0.95 percent in 2008 to 0.40
    percent in 2050 would be associ-
    ated with easily a doubling (and
    very possibly much more) of GHG

    table 9–1. relationship between Ore Grade and Water Use

    Metal Ore Grade embodied Water

    (percent) (cubic meters per ton of metal)

    Lead-zinc 10–15 29

    Copper 1–2 172

    Uranium 0.04–0.3 505

    Source: See endnote 12.






    Source: Mudd

    Figure 9–2. Gold Grade, Selected Countries, 1835–2010

    1830 1850 1870 1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 2010

    United States



    general trend

    104 | State of the World 2013

    emissions from copper mining just when policymakers are struggling to re-
    duce emissions by 50–80 percent below 2000 levels. Meeting these ambitious
    GHG goals would require emissions cuts per ton of copper of at least 75
    percent. Unless these reductions are made through much greater efficiency,
    they will depend on a scaling back of mining.13

    Declining ore grades and increasingly inaccessible minerals are driving
    a trend toward ever-larger mines in which greater tonnages of waste rock
    are generated per ton of metal extracted. At the Rossing uranium mine in
    Namibia, expansion of the open pit mine to maintain production led to an
    increase in the annual generation of waste rock from 7.5 tons in 2005 to
    42 tons in 2010. Today waste rock tonnage can often be at least as great as
    the tonnage of ore mined, and sometimes it is several times greater—3.5
    times greater in the case of Rossing—which can mean more remediation
    after a mine is closed. Indeed, the growing environmental cost of operating
    ever-larger mines is yet another factor that could constrain mining output
    in the future.14

    Scarce and Expensive Inputs. Tight supplies of inputs to the extraction
    of nonrenewable resources could hamper mining and pumping activities.
    Energy is the input of greatest concern, particularly as awareness increases
    of “peak oil” and the finite nature of fossil fuels. Materials analyst Andre
    Diederen notes that while “the absolute amount of various metal minerals
    in the earth’s crust are large beyond imagination,” the bulk of these minerals
    “might as well not be there” because of the energy required to extract them.
    Because minerals extraction is so directly tied to availability of cheap energy,
    Diederen expects that the global peak in net energy production by the mid-
    2020s will also bring about the peak of global minerals production, as many
    minerals simply become too energy-intensive to get access to.15

    The problem is made worse by declining ore grades, which increase the
    energy needed to find, extract, and process minerals. In Australia, for ex-
    ample, the energy intensity of mining—the amount of energy needed to
    produce a ton of metal or mineral—increased by 3.7 percent annually be-
    tween 1989–90 and 2005–06, largely because of the shift to lower-grade and
    more-remote resources that require more energy-intensive technologies, ac-
    cording to government officials.16

    Metals output faces an ore-grade governed “mineralogical barrier”—the
    grade at which the energy needed to continue mining becomes prohibi-
    tively expensive. For copper (Cu), a long-standing estimate of the mineral-
    ogical barrier is 0.1 percent Cu. This is below the global average ore grade
    for copper of 0.62 percent Cu. But economic impacts begin to kick in well
    before the mineralogical barrier is reached. The energy intensity of copper
    production begins to increase as ore grades approach 1 percent Cu (that is,
    10 times higher than the mineralogical barrier) and grows exponentially

    Conserving Nonrenewable Resources | 105

    below 0.25 Cu. Reaching the mineralog-
    ical barrier for copper may be decades
    away, but the economic consequences
    should appear sooner.17

    Thus, two reinforcing trends are rac-
    ing toward a collision that could trans-
    late to declining market availability of
    minerals in the near to medium term:
    energy scarcity could well limit minerals
    output even as declining ore values re-
    quire ever-greater inputs of energy.

    But a third compounding trend is in
    play as well, known as the “energy return
    on energy invested” (EROI). (See Chap-
    ter 7.) The power of the EROI argument
    lies in its compelling logic: drilling for
    oil or digging for coal makes little sense if the energy required for extraction
    is greater than the energy extracted—that is, if the energy return on energy
    invested is negative.

    Indeed, analysts suggest that the energy invested in pumping and drill-
    ing is growing rapidly while the yields of wells and mines decline: the EROI
    is dipping to worrisome levels. Cutler Cleveland of Boston University has
    found that the EROI of oil and gas in the United States declined from 100:1
    in 1930 (which means that the energy in 1 barrel of oil could pump out 100
    barrels) to 30:1 in 1970 and 11:1 in 2000. In other words, more and more en-
    ergy is needed to extract the same amount of energy content as companies
    drill or dig deeper or as they extract lower-quality resources that need to be
    processed more extensively.18

    The implications are sobering. The surplus, or net, energy—the energy
    liberated from mines or wells after an energy investment of a barrel of oil
    or a ton of coal—was the life force for the extraordinary economic, techno-
    logical, social, and other advances of the last two centuries. Without exag-
    geration, that surplus energy is the foundation of our civilization. Now, as
    a growing share of extracted energy is needed to extract even more energy,
    less surplus energy is available for all other economic activity—including
    mining and other extractive activities.

    Worse still, the break-even EROI may actually be much higher than 1:1.
    Charles Hall of the State University of New York calculates the minimum
    EROI for transportation fuels as 3:1, after accounting for the energy need-
    ed to process the fuel, build the machinery to use it (say, a car), and build
    and maintain the infrastructure (highways) needed by the machinery. But
    economic disruptions could arrive well before the 3:1 threshold is reached.

    Pit of the Prominent Hill copper, silver, and gold mine in South Australia.




    106 | State of the World 2013

    Hall’s modeling suggests that price increases associated with a declining
    EROI start to accelerate when EROI reaches roughly 10:1—very close to the
    11:1 EROI that Cleveland calculated for 2000. Once the price-acceleration
    threshold of various fossil fuels is reached, the viability of every process that
    uses fossil energy is called into serious question.19

    Another little-recognized dynamic that could affect extractive activity is
    the growing tendency of price increases in one resource to spread to others.
    The McKinsey Global Institute reports that prices across four commodity
    categories—energy, metals, agricultural raw materials, and food—are more
    closely connected than at any time in the past century. This means that the
    price of inputs, such as water and energy, can move together to drive up
    mining costs.20

    Creating a Circular Economy
    Emerging indications of tight resource supplies require a comprehensive
    societal effort to conserve remaining stocks and be smarter about resource
    use. The challenge is to increase resource productivity markedly, similar to
    the increases in labor productivity over the past 100 years—about 1 percent
    annually in the first half of the last century, then 2–3 percent a year after
    1950. This may well be achievable: analysts have long asserted that fivefold
    increases in material productivity are possible in industrial economies—if
    policymakers make this a priority. The key is to decouple resource use from
    economic growth.21

    One conceptual framework for large and steady increases in resource
    productivity, known as a “circular economy,” emphasizes meeting economic
    needs using a minimum of natural resources. By eliminating the wasteful
    one-way flow of resources that characterizes industrial economies today, a
    circular economy reduces the need for virgin resources and the environ-
    mental degradation associated with extractive activities. Creating a circular
    economy requires resource policies designed to conserve nonrenewables, as
    well as policies that generate more-intelligent patterns of production and

    A circular economy features intelligent policies that treat nonrenewable
    resources for what they are: scarce and finite assets. Removal of public sub-
    sidies for nonrenewable minerals and fuels, such as the $600 million to $1
    trillion in public subsidies paid by governments to fossil fuel companies,
    is a logical place to start, because such subsidies encourage use of nonre-
    newable resources and the environmental problems created by extractive
    activities. The European Commission has set a goal of eliminating envi-
    ronmentally harmful subsidies by 2020, and in 2009 and 2010 the Group of
    20 industrial nations and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation announced
    that they would end fossil fuel subsidies. Steps like these are helpful, and if

    Conserving Nonrenewable Resources | 107

    expanded to cover all nonrenewable resources, they would help create an
    ethic of conservation.22

    Indeed, far from being subsidized, nonrenewable resources arguably
    should be taxed at their source—at the mine shaft and the oil well—to en-
    courage conservation. Many countries already tax
    mining—but not at levels that discourage use of
    virgin nonrenewables and encourage development
    of a sophisticated infrastructure for materials re-
    cycling and product remanufacturing (including,
    perhaps, landfill mining—see Box 9–2). High tax-
    es, along with programs that help mining compa-
    nies convert to recycling activities, would help cre-
    ate employment (recycling is more labor-intensive
    than mining) and would husband virgin mineral
    stocks for the future.23

    Beyond the mining sector, governments can
    take steps to create an ethic of resource conser-
    vation throughout their economies. In 2011 the
    European Commission released Roadmap to a Re-
    source Efficient Europe, which seeks to ensure that
    by 2020 “waste” is essentially an obsolete concept,
    with discarded material fed back into the economy
    as raw materials. One tool to this end is “take-
    back” laws under which producers re-assume re-
    sponsibility for products at the end of their useful
    lives. Such laws create a strong incentive for com-
    panies to reduce the materials used in products
    and packaging and to make them recyclable or re-
    manufacturable. These practices typically save ma-
    terials and energy: a 2009 report noted that studies
    at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
    in Germany have found that some 85 percent of
    the energy and materials embodied in a product
    are preserved in remanufacturing.24

    Take-back laws and other reuse and recycling initiatives require proper
    infrastructure in order to collect, separate, recycle, and reuse materials. San
    Francisco built a waste collection infrastructure that accommodates recycla-
    bles, compostables, and trash as an essential step to achieving its “zero waste
    to landfills” goal by 2020. As of 2012, some 78 percent of materials collected
    in that city are recovered for composting or recycling—compared with 34
    percent for the United States as a whole. Next, products must be designed
    for recycling, like the parts on BMW automobiles that are bar-coded with

    The need to conserve virgin nonrenewable resources
    and tap existing resources raises an intriguing question:
    can landfills be mined? The potential appears to be
    enormous—the USGS reported in 2005 that landfills in
    the United States alone contain enough steel to build
    11,000 Golden Gate bridges. Landfill mining has been
    proposed periodically since the 1950s, but it is regularly
    rejected for reasons of cost.

    Yet it is already happening. A waste management
    firm in


    has begun excavation of the Remo
    Milieubeheer landfill some 80 kilometers east of Brus-
    sels. Its aim is to recycle 45 percent of the site’s 16.5 mil-
    lion tons of content, convert residues into construction
    materials, and siphon off methane from the landfill to
    generate electricity—enough to power 200,000 homes
    over the 20-year life of the project, according to the
    firm. It will then return the land to nature.

    A number of factors make the Belgian landfill proj-
    ect viable, including the high price of metals and other
    materials, the fact that the landfill is well mapped (so
    that they know the location of various types of refuse),
    rising demand for recycled products, and government
    subsidies in the form of renewable energy credits. But
    the firm believes the Belgian project is the way of the
    future, and it is working to interest other authorities
    worldwide in landfill mining.

    Source: See endnote 23.

    Box 9–2. can Landfills Be Mined?

    108 | State of the World 2013

    information about metal content and recycling possibilities. Finally, tech-
    nologies for materials separation and recycling must be improved to make
    recycling more economical.25

    But building a circular economy also requires attention to production
    and consumption patterns. Businesspeople, policymakers, and analysts
    have come up with an array of creative ideas for giving consumers what
    they need at reduced levels of materials use. Table 9–2 summarizes many
    of these initiatives.26

    Because consumerism is a strong driver of resource use, policies are
    needed to steer consumption in resource-light directions. These could in-
    clude taxing consumption rather than income (with a design that protects
    consumption of basics such as food and shelter), subsidizing solar panels

    table 9–2. Innovative practices that reduce consumption of Materials and energy

    Innovation Description Example

    Services in place
    of goods

    Focus is on the service
    a consumer needs,
    rather than a good

    Car sharing gives participants access to a private automobile
    without requiring them to own one. A survey of more than 6,000
    car-sharing participants in North America found that cars per
    household fell from 0.47 to 0.24 after signing up for car sharing.


    Discards from one
    production process
    become inputs to

    China is particularly ambitious, having created more than 50 eco-
    industrial parks. In Guigang City, wastes from a sugar refinery, paper
    plant, cement mill, thermo-electric plant, and local farms are used
    as inputs to other industrial operations.

    Whole system

    One process serves
    multiple purposes

    Cogeneration uses the waste heat from electricity generation to
    heat and cool buildings and to heat water, achieving energy effi-
    ciencies of 65–75 percent compared with 45 percent when electric-
    ity generation and heating/cooling are provided separately.

    Intelligent design Advantages are sought
    wherever possible

    Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems, conceived in Brazil, offer the high-
    speed advantages of a subway system at the lower cost of surface
    transportation. Passengers prepay and can board quickly, and buses
    have dedicated lanes and driver control of stoplights. By making
    public transport more attractive and affordable, BRT reduces the
    demand for material-intensive private cars.

    Shared use Goods serve multiple

    Dozens of tool libraries, toy libraries, and other sharing institutions
    give people access to infrequently used goods. Portland, Oregon,
    has three tool libraries, for example.


    Efficiency improve-
    ments are bench-
    marked and ratcheted

    A Japanese government program designates the most energy-
    efficient consumer products as Top Runners and challenges all
    products to meet the Top Runner standard within five years. Goals
    for 21 major energy-using consumer products have been met—
    and often exceeded.

    Source: See endnote 26.

    Conserving Nonrenewable Resources | 109

    and other technologies that shift consumption away from nonrenewables,
    and using government procurement power to expand the market for goods
    with high recycled content or with other sustainability advantages. Conser-
    vation of nonrenewables will not happen without rethinking the dominant
    model of consumerist-driven economies.

    The challenge of conserving nonrenewable resources is great, and it will
    require long-term thinking and a new conservation ethic among policymak-
    ers and publics. Whether people in the twenty-first century are up to the
    task remains to be seen. Jeremy Grantham of the investment firm GMO
    observes, with sadness and deep irony, that investing in increasingly market-
    scarce nonrenewable resources could prove profitable in the decades ahead,
    even as the prospects for human civilization decline. The challenge is to re-
    verse incentives, rules, and other structures that cause us to be myopic us-
    ers of resources and replace them with principles and practices that would
    make our children, and their children, grateful and proud.27

    The Krupp Bagger 288 is the world’s biggest bucket wheel excavator and one of the biggest vehicles ever built.




    Getting to True Sustainability
    Despite scattered attempts to impute progress on climate change to the U.N.
    summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, the consensus persists that it pro-
    duced lots of gaseous talk and no significant action—leaving, according to
    one cartoonist, Rio’s statue of Christ the Redeemer gasping for purer air.

    Climate change is only the most prominent environmental trend that
    threatens sustainability; the first section of this book details several other ar-
    eas where humanity seems to be overdrawing its accounts with nature. Yet we
    are hardly helpless. This section samples a variety of measures that, if pur-
    sued vigorously, could set us on a sustainable path. Indeed, had we done so
    after the first Rio summit 20 years ago, we would be well down that path now.

    A long first stride would be jettisoning consumer cultures. As Erik
    Assadourian writes, consumerism has turned out to undermine both hu-
    man well-being and the planet’s life-support functions. But it is a willfully
    engineered way of living, supported by enormous sums spent annually on
    advertising, subsidies, tax breaks, and public relations. We can, and must,
    replace it with a culture of sustainability.

    Many cultural options might qualify as sustainable, but certain attributes
    seem critical. Robert Costanza and his coauthors argue for an economy that
    focuses on human well-being rather than on economic growth as an end in
    itself. Pavan Sukhdev urges sharp reforms of corporations—the main agents

    Getting to True Sustainability | 111









    112 | State of the World 2013

    of the “brown economy”—which account for 60 percent of global gross do-
    mestic product but also generate trillions of dollars of externalities and exert
    pernicious influence on national policies. Jeff Hohensee describes the efforts
    of international accounting agencies to build externality disclosure into rou-
    tine corporate reporting—an important step in the right direction.

    Energy is perhaps the most daunting challenge before us. In a real sense,
    fossil energy is the author of modern civilization—but now threatens to de-
    stroy it. The only solution, say Thomas Princen and his colleagues, is to take
    a true precautionary approach and leave fossil fuels in the ground by “dele-
    gitimizing” them, as happened with slavery and smoking. In their place, we
    must rapidly transition to renewables, and T. W. Murphy tallies the pros and
    cons of solar, wind, biomass, and other alternatives. He notes, however, that
    they are inferior in many respects to fossil fuels and warns against delaying
    the renewable transition so long that it diverts too much energy from other
    uses. In any case, such a transition will falter absent serious efficiency efforts,
    and Phillip Saieg reminds us that buildings remain a neglected but highly
    promising sector for those.

    Like energy, global agriculture is at a turning point. Danielle Nierenberg
    notes that 1.5 billion people are overweight while billions of others are hun-
    gry or malnourished, all while the system wastes staggering amounts of food.
    Agriculture can help solve multiple problems through reducing food waste,
    promoting agroecological approaches to farming, and focusing on nutrient-
    rich, indigenous foods rather than high-calorie commodified foods. Those
    indigenous foods are stewarded by native peoples all over the globe, and
    in separate chapters Melissa Nelson and Rebecca Adamson (with her co-
    authors) make the case that the ongoing mistreatment of native peoples is
    not only unjust but shortsighted, as it threatens loss of valuable knowledge
    of key biodiversity habitats and ways of living sustainably in them.

    Finally, how to achieve these changes? If civilizational survival is not
    motivation enough, Kathleen Moore and Michael Nelson believe that eco-
    disasters are violations of human rights and principles of justice. Dwight
    Collins and his coauthors suggest that an appreciation of humanity’s place
    in the universe, through the teaching of Big History, can support effective
    planet-wide action.

    In the end it boils down to politics. Melissa Leach offers strategies for
    bridging and connecting top-down and bottom-up approaches and stresses
    deliberation, citizen mobilization, network building, and the shrewd exploi-
    tation of political openings. Creating such a movement, says Annie Leonard,
    requires the realization that individual actions are “a fine place to start” but
    “a terrible place to stop.” They must be linked to organized political action,
    to “bigger visions and bolder campaigns” for broad change.

    —Tom Prugh

    Erik Assadourian is a senior
    fellow at Worldwatch Institute
    and director of the Transform-
    ing Cultures Project. He is
    codirector of State of the
    World 2013.

    At the heart of how humans live their lives are the cultures they are part

    of. These cultures—and the norms, stories, rituals, values, symbols, and

    traditions that they incorporate—guide nearly all of our choices, from

    what we eat and how we raise our children to how we work, move, play,

    and celebrate. Unfortunately, consumerism—a cultural pattern that was

    nurtured by a nexus of business and government leaders over the past

    few centuries—has now spread around the globe, becoming the dominant

    paradigm across most cultures. More people are defining themselves first

    and foremost through how they consume and are striving to own or use

    ever more stuff, whether in fashion, food, travel, electronics, or countless

    other products and services.1

    But consumerism is not a viable cultural paradigm on a planet whose

    systems are deeply stressed and that is currently home to 7 billion people,

    let alone on a planet of 8–10.6 billion people, the population the United

    Nations projects for 2050. Ultimately, to create a sustainable human civili-

    zation—one that can thrive for millennia without degrading the planet on

    which we all depend—consumer cultures will have to be re-engineered into

    cultures of sustainability, so that living sustainably feels as natural as living

    as a consumer does today.2

    Granted, this is no easy task. It will and is being resisted by myriad in-

    terests that have a huge stake in sustaining the global consumer culture—

    from the fossil fuel industry and big agribusiness to food processors, car

    manufacturers, advertisers, and so on. But given that consumerism and the

    consumption patterns it fuels are not compatible with the flourishing of a

    living planetary system, either we find ways to wrestle our cultural patterns

    out of the grip of those with a vested interest in maintaining consumerism

    or Earth’s ecosystems decline and bring down the consumer culture for the

    vast majority of humanity in a much crueler way.

    c h a p t e r 1 0

    Re-engineering Cultures to
    Create a Sustainable Civilization

    Erik Assadourian

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_10, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    114 | State of the World 2013

    Consuming the Planet

    In 2008, people around the world used 68 billion tons of materials, includ-
    ing metals and minerals, fossil fuels, and biomass. That is an average of 10
    tons per person—or 27 kilograms each and every day. That same year, hu-
    manity used the biocapacity of 1.5 planets, consuming far beyond what the
    Earth can sustainably provide.3

    Of course, not every human consumes at the same level. While the aver-
    age Southeast Asian used 3.3 tons of materials in 2008, the average North
    American used 27.5 tons—eight times as much. And the spread of consum-
    erism has driven many regions to dramatically accelerate material consump-
    tion. Asia used 21.1 billion tons of materials in 2008, up 450 percent from
    the 4.7 billion tons that the region used in 198


    This vast differentiation in consumption is often explained as simply a
    difference in development levels—with growth in consumption trends rou-
    tinely celebrated by leading newspapers, policymakers, and economists, re-
    gardless of the current size of the host economy. In reality, however, such
    high levels of consumption often undermine the well-being of high-income
    consumers themselves, while also deeply undermining humanity’s long-
    term well-being and security.

    The United States, for example, now suffers from an obesity epidemic
    in which two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. This leads to
    significant increases in mortality and morbidity from a variety of chronic,
    diet-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and several forms of can-
    cer. Worse, obesity has reached a point that it is affecting children and
    even shortening the average American life span, not to mention costing
    the United States $270 billion a year in additional health care costs and
    lost productivity.5

    Beyond the personal impact, this obesity epidemic—which has spread
    around the world, with 1.9 billion people now overweight or obese glob-
    ally and suffering similar health impacts—adds significantly to the demands
    humanity puts on Earth. Obesity has added an extra 5.4 percent of human
    biomass to the planet—15.5 million tons of human flesh—which means
    that people are eating enough extra food each year to feed an additional 242
    million people of healthy weight. And obesity is just one manifestation of
    the ills of overconsumption, to which we could add urban sprawl, traffic,
    air pollution from automobiles and factories, and dependence on a growing
    number of pharmaceutical drugs like anti-depressants.6

    Consuming at such high levels is depleting the capacity of Earth to pro-
    vide vital ecosystem services—from a stable climate, due to the profligate
    use of fossil fuels and consumption of meat, to provision of freshwater and
    fish, through pollution by chemicals and plastics. And as high consump-

    Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization | 115

    tion levels are promoted as ways to increase well-being, development, and
    economic growth, these pressures only increase. Indeed, if all humans con-
    sumed like Americans, the earth could sustain only about one quarter of the
    human population without undermining the planet’s biocapacity. But even
    if everyone only consumed like the average Chinese, the planet could sustain
    just 84 percent of today’s population.7

    Why are people consuming so much? The answer cannot be simply be-
    cause they can afford to. In short, it stems from decades of engineering of
    a set of cultural norms, values, traditions, symbols, and stories that make it
    feel natural to consume ever larger amounts—of food, of energy, of stuff.
    Policymakers changed laws, marketers and the media cultivated desire, busi-
    nesses created and aggressively pushed new products, and over time “con-
    sumers” deeply internalized this new way of living.8

    In a majority of societies today, consumerism feels so natural that it is
    hard to even imagine a different cultural model. Certain goods and ser-
    vices—from air conditioning and large homes to cars, vacation travel, and
    pets—are seen as a right, even an entitlement. Yet it is these and countless
    other lifestyle choices that in the aggregate are undermining the well-being
    of countless humans, today and for centuries into the future.9

    Moving away from consumerism—now propped up by more than $500
    billion in annual advertising expenditures, by hundreds of billions of dol-
    lars in government subsidies and tax breaks, billions more in lobbying and
    public relations spending, and the momentum of generations of living the
    consumer dream—will undoubtedly be the most difficult part of the transi-
    tion to a sustainable society. Especially if, as analysts predict, an additional 1
    billion consumers join the global consumer class by 2025.10

    But ultimately consumerism will decline whether people act proactive-
    ly or not, as human society has far transcended Earth’s limits. Our profli-
    gate use of fossil fuels has all but guaranteed an increase in average global
    temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius, and current projections suggest that
    unless a dramatic shift in policies and behaviors occurs, an increase of 4
    degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century, or even mid-century,
    is possible.11

    These vast climatic changes will bring unprecedented heat waves, mega-
    storms, massive droughts, dramatic floods, population displacements, and
    the deaths of tens, even hundreds of millions of people—not to mention
    political instability. (See Chapter 31.) None of these are conducive to the
    perpetuation of a global consumer culture, though surely a small elite will
    still be able to maintain the materialistic version of “the good life.” Ideally,
    however, we will not accept this as our likely future but instead will grapple
    with the main challenge of our times: re-engineering human cultures to be
    inherently sustainable. (See Box 10–1.)12

    116 | State of the World 2013

    Learning from Past Greatness

    Keep in mind that cultures are always changing in large ways and small—
    sometimes organically and other times intentionally with a push in certain
    directions, whether driven by religious, political, technological, or other
    forces. There have been many spectacular beneficial cultural shifts in recent
    history: slavery was abolished in the United States, apartheid disappeared in
    South Africa, women have equal representation in many societies, fascism
    was defeated in Western Europe. Of course, some of these shifts required
    military power, not just “people power,” and none of the victories is guaran-
    teed to stay with us indefinitely without vigilance. But perhaps the biggest
    cultural transformation of all—one often overlooked but in reality one to
    draw inspiration from—was the initial engineering of consumerism.

    At first there was resistance to the introduction of some elements of

    When discussing the transition beyond consumerism,
    opponents often conjure up a return to hunting and
    gathering and living in caves. In reality, if proactive—
    that is, if we do not wait until Earth’s systems are irre-
    vocably degraded—humanity can maintain a decent
    quality of life for all (and not just current consumers) at
    a much lower level of impact.

    Roland Stulz and Tanja Lütolf of Novatlantis looked
    at what an equitable and sustainable consumption
    level would look like. They found that from an energy
    perspective—with a commitment to move to a sustain-
    able energy paradigm based on renewables (admittedly
    a big qualifier)—the average human could continu-
    ously use 2,000 watts of energy (or 17,520 kilowatt-
    hours per year) for all of his or her needs, including,
    food, transportation, water, services, and possessions.

    This is the current global average energy use—but it
    is unequally divided, with people in industrial countries
    using far more, such as in the United States, which uses
    six times this amount per person. What does living off
    this amount of energy look like?

    One Australian researcher and inventor, Saul Griffith,
    analyzed a 2,000-watt lifestyle at a personal level and
    found that he would need to own one tenth as much
    stuff and make it last 10 times as long, that he would
    have to fly rarely, drive infrequently (and mostly in

    efficient vehicles fully loaded with passengers), and
    become six-sevenths vegetarian.

    Put simply, a 2,000-watt lifestyle looks like the way
    much of the world lives today, or better, but gone
    are the celebrated entitlements of the high-income
    lifestyle—79 kilograms of meat a year (2.5 servings a
    day), nearly daily access to a private car (often with only
    one passenger), air-conditioned homes, family pets, and
    unfettered access to flights around the world. In truth,
    these luxuries will no longer be routinely accessible to
    the vast majority of people in a truly sustainable society,
    though they may be available as rarer treats, like the
    once-every-three-years flight to visit his parents that
    Saul Griffith factored in to his new energy allowance.

    Sometimes these lost consumer luxuries will be diffi-
    cult sacrifices to accept after a lifetime with free access to
    them, though rarer consumption of luxuries may actually
    make them more enjoyable, like escaping to a cool café
    on a very hot day or enjoying meat on special occasions.
    But offsetting these lost consumer luxuries will in all
    likelihood be improved health, more free time, less stress,
    a strengthening of community ties (as people rely on
    each other instead of on privatized services), and—most
    important—a stop to the decline of major ecosystems
    on which a stable human civilization depends.

    Source: See endnote 12.

    Box 10–1. What Would a culture of Sustainability Look Like?

    Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization | 117

    consumerism. For example, the first generation of factory workers typi-
    cally chose to work fewer hours when receiving raises, not buy more stuff.
    The purpose of life, after all, was not to spend most of a person’s waking
    hours in hot, dangerous conditions, away from family and community. This
    resistance could be seen over and over: to disposable goods that were in-
    troduced in the 1950s, which went against the cultural norm of thrift that
    had been so important to family survival; even to the switch from oil lamps
    to gas lights, which to some seemed unnaturally bright and “glaring.” But
    over time people got used to new products, some of which did indeed im-
    prove life quality and many of which were at least marketed as such by clever
    entrepreneurs and a new advertising industry. Eventually we could hardly
    imagine life without an abundance of products. Three sectors deserve spe-
    cial recognition for so effectively shifting (and continuing to shift) cultural
    norms around transportation, food, and even relationships—and in turn,
    even if unintentionally, helping to engineer a global consumer culture.13

    The automobile industry offers an excellent case study on how to change
    cultural norms. Car companies used nearly every societal institution to shift
    transportation norms and even our understanding of the street, which be-
    fore cars came along was understood as multimodal—shared by humans,
    horses, carts, and trolleys. A combination of tactics shifted this norm.

    Automobile companies bought up city trolley systems and disman-
    tled them. They distributed propaganda (disguised as safety educational
    materials) in schools, teaching children from an early age that the street
    was built for cars, not them. Companies helped create and finance citizen
    groups to oppose people who were concerned with the spread of cars and
    the accidents they were causing. They even helped local police forces fine,
    arrest, or shame pedestrians who crossed streets wherever they wanted to
    (known today as “jaywalkers”—a word that was intentionally spread by
    car companies and their allies), helping to further establish the car as the
    dominant user of streets. And of course they spent huge sums marketing
    cars as sexy, fun, and liberating. Today the car industry spends $31 billion
    a year just in the United States on advertising and has effectively exported
    car culture to developing countries—like China, where the automobile fleet
    has grown from less than 10 million to 73 million in just 11 years—using
    lessons learned in earlier successes.14

    The fast-food industry provides another good example. Serving over 69
    million people around the world every day, McDonald’s is a global power.
    So it may come as a surprise that less than a century ago the hamburger—
    today’s iconic American meal—was a taboo food, unsafe, unclean, and eaten
    only by the poor. But technological changes, including the assembly line and
    the automobile, helped make the conditions right for a transformation in
    how we eat: quickly, on the go, and out of the home. McDonald’s not only

    118 | State of the World 2013

    seized on this, it accelerated the transformation, retraining the palates of
    entire generations of Americans and now the 119 countries in which the
    company operates.15

    McDonald’s did not just create a cheap and tasty food, it effectively tar-
    geted children to get them to eat at McDonald’s early on—shaping their
    palate for both the company’s food and the high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat
    consumer diet. McDonald’s was one of the earliest companies to market to
    children. It created cartoon characters to appeal to kids, including the glob-
    ally recognized clown, Ronald McDonald. The company built playgrounds
    in its restaurants and offered toys in its kids’ meals to get children excited to
    go to McDonald’s (and to pressure their parents to bring them), even before
    they had acquired a taste for the food. Add to that the more than $2 billion
    in global advertising the company spends each year, and the sheer economic
    and political power today to keep its prices low (through lobbying and com-
    modity purchasing power), and you have a powerful shaper of cultural and
    dietary norms that has a global and even generational reach.16

    The third relevant case study is the pet industry. In India, dog ownership
    has grown significantly in recent years. In part this has been driven by de-
    mographic changes that include later marriages and increasing social isola-
    tion, but the obvious solution to this did not have to be pet ownership. Yet
    a global pet industry, recognizing an opportunity to grow, worked to stoke
    this enormous potential new market. It is part of the larger industry effort to
    transform pets into family members so that more people will buy pets and
    that owners will spend more on them (which industry and many owners call
    their “children”).17

    And it has worked. People spend more than $58 billion on pet food each
    year around the world. Americans spend another $11.8 billion on pet sup-
    plies annually—with nearly $2 billion of that on just cat litter, adding up
    to billions of pounds of litter annually diverted to landfills—and $13.4 bil-
    lion on veterinarian care that is often more sophisticated than most humans
    have access to. Considering the ecological impact of the millions of dogs and
    cats (133 million dogs and 162 million cats in just the top five dog- and cat-
    owning countries in the world), this is not just another curious consumer
    trend. Two German Shepherds have a larger ecological footprint from their
    food requirements alone than a person in Bangladesh does in total. And un-
    fortunately it is Bangladeshis—whose country is one of the most vulnerable
    to climate change—not wealthier people’s pets, who will bear the brunt of
    climate change.18

    These products and countless others—from doughnuts to disposable
    diapers—are all being spread to new consumer populations, supported by
    $16,000 of advertising every single second somewhere in the world. So how
    do we transform the world’s cultures so that living sustainably becomes as

    Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization | 119

    natural as living as a consumer has been made to feel today? Just as con-
    sumer interests learned over the decades as they worked to stimulate mar-
    kets and, intentionally or inadvertently, engineer cultural norms, it will be
    essential to use the full complement of societal institutions to shift cultural
    norms—business, media and marketing, government, education, social
    movements, even traditions.19

    First Attempts to Pioneer Cultures of Sustainability
    While consumerism is being spread more aggressively every year, many cul-
    tural pioneers are working to spread a culture of sustainability, in both bold
    and subtle ways, locally and globally, and often in ways they may not even
    recognize as culture changing. The most effective of these pioneers tend to
    use dominant societal institutions to normalize an alternative set of prac-
    tices, values, beliefs, stories, and symbols.20

    Within the business sector, a handful of executives are using their com-
    panies to transform broader consumption norms. The clothing company
    Patagonia, for instance, recognizing that its continued success depends on
    the earth and that “the environmental cost of everything we make is aston-
    ishing,” has taken the bold step of encouraging its customers to not even buy
    its products unless truly needed, encouraging them to instead either buy
    used Patagonia products or do without. The company even worked with
    eBay to create a ready supply of used Patagonia gear.21

    While some change will be driven by large corporations—which have
    significant capital and influence at their disposal—the real drivers of a cul-
    ture of sustainability in the business sector are entrepreneurs and business
    leaders working to transform the sector’s mission altogether, with a positive
    social purpose being first and foremost and with revenue generation simply
    being the means to achieve that. The good news is that an increasing num-
    ber of business leaders, when creating new businesses, are establishing these
    “social enterprises” with the specific goal of using their businesses, and the
    profits they generate, to improve society. In Thailand, the restaurant Cab-
    bages & Condoms has for decades helped to normalize safe sex to prevent
    sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies—using a clever
    mix of décor, events, and information. It donates its profits to the Popula-
    tion and Community Development Association (its parent organization) to
    promote family planning projects in Thai communities.22

    And today, more social enterprises like these are flourishing and even
    locking their beneficial missions directly into their corporate charters.
    Many businesses are now incorporating or getting certified as “B” or “ben-
    efit” corporations. Twelve states in the United States have set up laws that
    allow businesses to incorporate as benefit corporations, which requires
    them to work toward having an overall positive effect on society and the

    120 | State of the World 2013

    environment. And the company must take into account the impact of its
    decisions on not just shareholders but all stakeholders, including workers,
    local communities, and the planet. Where laws do not allow incorporation
    as a benefit corporation, many businesses have worked with B Lab, a non-
    profit organization, to be certified as B corporations. As of fall 2012, there
    were 650 certified B corporations in 18 countries and 60 industries, with
    annual revenues of more than $4.2 billion.23

    Within government, more policymakers are recognizing the need to use
    this institution to help steer citizens toward consuming less and living more
    sustainably, editing out unsustainable options like supersized sodas in New
    York City and plastic bags in San Francisco. (See Box 10–2.) And some are
    supporting sustainable choices like mass transit, bicycle lanes, even super
    accessible libraries, as with the series of library kiosks that Madrid placed in
    its subway system.24

    A few governments are starting to lead even bolder transformations—
    such as expanding fundamental rights to the planet itself. Just as the intro-
    duction of human rights transformed the legal realm and was a catalyst for
    social change around the world, Earth’s rights could have the same potential.
    In recent years, Ecuador and Bolivia have both incorporated Earth’s rights
    into their constitutions, in turn empowering people to legally defend Earth’s
    interest even when no humans are directly harmed—for example, by stop-
    ping mining projects in an uninhabited area.25

    Beyond governance, local communities are organizing themselves to
    both reinforce sustainability norms locally and inspire others to do the
    same. There are now hundreds of ecovillages around the world modeling
    sustainable and low-consumption lifestyles. And hundreds of Transition
    Towns are working to transform existing communities to be both more sus-
    tainable and more resilient. While all these efforts are small in scale and
    scope, their potential to inspire and experiment with new cultural norms is
    exponentially larger.26

    A number of schools and universities are also working to embed sus-
    tainability directly into their school cultures, including integrating environ-
    mental science, media literacy, and critical thinking into their curricula. In
    Europe, 39,500 schools have now been awarded a “Green Flag” for greening
    their curricula, empowering students to make their schools more sustain-
    able, and articulating the schools’ ecological values alongside their educa-
    tional values. Some schools are also modeling a sustainable way of living,
    from integrating gardening programs and renewable energy production
    onto school grounds to changing what is served in the cafeteria. In Rome,
    a leader in school food reform, two thirds of food served in cafeterias is or-
    ganic, one quarter is locally sourced, and 14 percent is certified Fair Trade.27

    Like education, cultural and religious traditions play a central role in

    Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization | 121

    shaping our understandings of the world. Fortunately, more religious com-
    munities are drawing attention to practices and teachings that reinforce our
    sustainable stewardship of Creation. These initiatives include everything
    from promoting carbon fasts for Lent to reclaiming shemitah—the seven-
    year sabbath cycle in Judaism—to encourage sustainability. Perhaps most

    On September 13, 2012, after months of debate, stacks
    of scientific reports, several City Hall press events, and
    a $1-million counter-campaign by the soda industry,
    the New York City Board of Health banned the sale of
    large cups of sodas and other sugary drinks. For Mayor
    Michael Bloomberg, the ban was the “the single big-
    gest step any city has taken to curb obesity.” But some
    people are not so sure. Fearing that the ban will spread
    to other cities (Richmond, California, and Philadelphia,
    Pennsylvania, are considering similar action), the soda
    industry promises to fight on. Many New Yorkers are
    also skeptical—60 percent view the ban as infringing
    on their consumer freedom. And yet the science is
    clear: large portion sizes, defined as 32 ounces or more
    for soda and sugary drinks, increase consumption, often
    beyond the point of any additional satisfaction, and are
    a major driver of the obesity crisis.

    With this ban, Mayor Bloomberg joins the swell-
    ing ranks of policymakers, scientists, public interest
    groups, and communities that are re-engineering the
    norms of consumerism through a frontal assault on the
    fabric of choice. Colleges and universities are remov-
    ing trays from their cafeterias, making it more difficult
    for students to pile on food as they move down the
    line. This simple “choice edit” has reduced food waste
    by 30 percent on many campuses. A plastic bag tax in
    Washington, DC, and a ban in San Francisco have pro-
    duced striking reductions in plastic-bag pollution; more
    important, it has begun to foster a culture of reuse (in
    this case, of cloth shopping bags) that could spill over
    into other consumer venues.

    The construction of bicycle superhighways in Den-
    mark and the focus on better bike paths, joined with
    financial incentives to bicycle to work in the United
    States, promise to make the choice of riding a bike
    over driving a car more attractive. And communities

    like Albert Lea in Minnesota are enjoying better health,
    longer life spans, and greater happiness by subtly
    changing everything from the size of plates in restau-
    rants and the choice of snacks in vending machines to
    the configuration of sidewalks and the availability of
    walking paths.

    Successful choice editors tend to focus on small
    aspects of choice that produce big outcomes, like
    the food trays in cafeterias or the 5¢-per-bag tax in
    Washington. They foster choices that clearly deliver
    benefits to health and happiness. They also strive to
    preserve choice, or at least the illusion of choice. The
    ban on incandescent lightbulbs soon to take effect in
    the United States will succeed in part because of the
    expanding choice of acceptable lighting alternatives.
    The best choice editors, moreover, resist reacting too
    quickly to initial public objections to choice edits. They
    know that people frequently become habituated to
    their new choices and forget their initial objections.

    Scores of choice-editing strategies for sustainability
    are hiding in plain sight. They remain largely untapped
    in part because of qualms about the manipulative qual-
    ity of choice editing. It is easy to forget, though, that
    existing patterns of choice are often no less manipula-
    tive than the more-sustainable patterns that choice
    editors advocate. After all, 32-ounce drink cups were
    created to drive consumers to buy more, while the lack
    of good sidewalks and bicycle paths subtly but firmly
    pushed people to motorized transport. Reconfiguring
    cultural norms will mean, in part, overcoming the aver-
    sion to choice editing while simultaneously engaging
    the public in a conversation about the growing costs of
    a consumer society.

    —Michael Maniates
    Professor, Allegheny College

    Source: See endnote 24.

    Box 10–2. Shifting Norms with choice editing

    122 | State of the World 2013

    important is the greening of life’s rites of passages—births, coming-of-age
    celebrations, weddings, and funerals—which, while infrequent, have dispro-
    portionate impacts both on the planet and on shaping cultural norms.28

    In many cultures, funeral traditions reinforce an idea that humans are
    separate from nature, with humans being embalmed and hermetically
    sealed in coffins to delay the decaying process. If, on the other hand, fu-
    nerals celebrated our return to the natural cycle of life and reinforced our
    place as part of a larger living Earth system, this ritual could play an im-
    portant role in nurturing a culture of sustainability. Instead, the current
    form uses significant ecological resources. In the United States, 3.1 million
    liters of embalming fluid, 1.5 million tons of concrete, 90,000 tons of steel,
    and more than 45 million board feet of lumber are used each year in buri-
    als, costing the average family about $10,000, often a significant financial
    burden at a distressing time. Groups like The Green Burial Council are
    helping to shift this tradition, promoting natural burial—free of chemicals
    and of expensive coffins or vaults and in natural cemeteries that provide
    parkland for people to enjoy, space for biodiversity, and trees to absorb
    carbon dioxide.29

    Storytelling and myth building also have tremendous potential to help
    transform cultures, from efforts like Big History, which is working to in-
    corporate sustainability into cultural creation stories (see Chapter 20), to a
    plethora of documentaries and films that wrestle with sustainability themes.
    Two examples are worth noting for their similarity: the documentary Crude
    and the blockbuster science-fiction film Avatar. These films, each produced
    in 2009, are essentially the same story, both about indigenous peoples fight-
    ing to protect their land from those pursuing the resource wealth under-
    neath. Avatar—with its global reach and $2.8 billion in sales so far—in par-
    ticular has the potential to deeply shift beliefs and raise awareness that our
    current consumptive path will lead to the future of Earth described by the
    protagonist Jake Sully in the final moments of the film: “There’s no green
    there. They killed their Mother.” 30

    Finally, given that media—and the marketing now embedded at its every
    level—play such a powerful role in shaping modern cultures, social market-
    ing and “ad jamming” will be a powerful means to harness marketing energy
    for positive ends. Examples include social marketing efforts like The Story
    of Stuff project, which uses short, catchy videos to build political support
    for reduced consumption (see Chapter 23), and ad jamming efforts by Ad-
    busters, the Billboard Liberation Front, and The Yes Men. The Yes Men, for
    example, uses fake ads and press conferences to draw attention to hypocriti-
    cal positions of businesses and global institutions, such as their subversive
    effort to pose as Dow Chemical representatives and announce that the com-
    pany would pay reparations for the 1984 Bhopal disaster (leading to a stock

    Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization | 123

    plunge of 4.2 percent in 23 minutes and the company’s temporary loss of
    $2 billion in market value) and their efforts to jam the multimillion-dollar
    “We Agree” advertising campaign by the oil company Chevron. With few
    resources—leveraged in aikido-like fashion—these efforts garner significant

    Chevron ad from its “We Agree” advertising campaign.

    Spoof ad of Chevron’s “We Agree” advertising campaign, Inspired by The Yes Men’s ad
    jamming campaign, by Jonathan McIntosh.








    124 | State of the World 2013

    attention and undermine the public relations efforts of those spending mil-
    lions on advertising to shape the public’s view of the company, their prod-
    ucts, and, more generally, progress.31

    Just as water can erode rock into a grand canyon, the continuing pursuit
    of culture-changing efforts can add up to much more than their constituent
    parts. And the seeds that pioneers like these sow today, even if they fail to
    take root while consumerism is dominant, may sprout as humanity desper-
    ately reaches for a new set of norms, symbols, rituals, and stories to rebuild a
    semblance of normality once Earth’s systems unravel under the unbearable
    burden of sustaining a global consumer economy.

    Tilting at Cultural Norms?
    When the dominant institutions of most societies are primarily still pro-
    moting consumerism, and probably will not stop anytime soon, how will
    upstart efforts to engineer cultures of sustainability have any chance of suc-
    cess? Ultimately, if Don Quixote had just waited long enough, the passage
    of time would have brought down his windmill giants. The same is true
    for the consumer culture giants, which depend completely on the bounty
    of the energy embedded in fossil fuels, abundant resources, and a stable
    planetary system provided to humanity at this stage in its development.
    (See Box 10–3.)32

    But given Earth’s weakening capacity to absorb greenhouse gases and
    other wastes generated in pursuit of the consumer dream, the end of the
    consumer culture will come—willingly or unwillingly, proactively chosen
    or not—and sooner than we would like to believe. The only question is
    whether we greet it with a series of alternative ways of orienting our lives
    and our cultures to maintain a good life, even as we consume much less.
    Every culture-changing effort, whether small or large, will help facilitate this
    transition and lay the foundation for a new set of cultural norms—quite
    possibly only implemented when humanity has no other choice.

    While some will argue until the bitter end that letting go of certain con-
    sumer luxuries is a step backwards, as North Face apparel company co-
    founder and environmentalist Doug Tompkins notes, “What happens if you
    get to the cliff and you take one step forward or you do a 180-degree turn
    and take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which is progress?”
    Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard answered that the solution for a lot of
    the world’s problems may be “to turn around and take a forward step. You
    can’t just keep trying to make a flawed system work.”33

    The challenge will be convincing more individuals that further efforts to
    spread a consumer culture are truly a step in the wrong direction and that
    the faster we use our talents and energies to promote a culture of sustain-
    ability, the better off all of humanity will be.

    Reengineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization | 125

    Since 1990, development has been added to the rub-
    bish heap of dismantled ideas in history. The develop-
    ment age lasted 40 years, from President Truman’s
    announced intention at the onset of the Cold War to
    raise the living standards of poor nations through to
    the Washington Consensus in 1989 that paved the way
    for the end of Keynesianism and the ascent of market

    The epoch of development was then replaced by
    the age of globalization. It was not the nation-state
    developing but the purchasing power of consumer
    classes worldwide. Cold War divisions faded away,
    corporations relocated freely across borders, politicians
    and many others pinned their hopes on the model of
    a western-style consumer economy. In a rapid—even
    meteoric—advance, a number of newly industrializing
    countries acquired a larger share of economic activity.
    For them, it was as if President Truman’s promise—that
    poor nations would catch up with the rich—had finally
    come true. But this success was paid for by destruc-
    tion of local and global ecosystems. Development-as-
    growth turns out to be mortally dangerous.

    Since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007, the
    age of security is on the rise. States line up to bolster
    the failing confidence of the economy, and in turn the
    economy burdens the state with an insurmountable
    pile of debt. The newcomers are preoccupied with the
    fossil and biotic raw materials needed for growth: the
    resource imperialism of China, India, and Brazil is similar
    to that of the rich countries, albeit in fast motion. Above
    all, the age of security is an era when human security
    of the poor and powerless is being violated on a large
    scale. Freeways cut through neighborhoods, high-rise
    buildings displace traditional housing, dams drive tribal
    groups from their homelands, trawlers marginalize local
    fishers, supermarkets undercut small shopkeepers. As
    development proceeds, the land and the living spaces
    of indigenous peoples, small farmers, and the urban

    poor are put under ever more pressure.
    Economic growth is of a cannibalistic nature; it feeds

    on both nature and communities, and shifts unpaid
    costs back onto them as well. The shiny side of develop-
    ment is often accompanied by a dark side of displace-
    ment and dispossession; this is why economic growth
    has time and again produced impoverishment next to

    In hindsight, the consumptive Euro-Atlantic devel-
    opment path turns out to be a special case; it cannot be
    repeated everywhere and at any time. Access to biotic
    resources from colonies and fossil raw materials from
    the crust of the earth were essential to the rise of the
    Euro-Atlantic civilization. There would have been no
    industrial or consumer society without the mobilization
    of resources from both the expanse of geographical
    space and the depth of geological time. Climate chaos
    as well as the limits to growth suggest that the past
    200 years of Euro-Atlantic development will remain a
    parenthesis in world history.

    Indeed, it is difficult to see how, for example, the auto-
    mobile society, chemical agriculture, or a meat-based
    food system could be spread completely across the
    globe. In other words, pursuing the resource- intensive
    Euro-Atlantic model requires social exclusion by its very
    structure; it is unfit to underpin equity on a global scale.
    Development-as-growth cannot continue to be a guid-
    ing concept of international politics unless global apart-
    heid is taken for granted. Politics, therefore, is at a cross-
    roads. The choice is for either affluence with persistent
    disparity or moderation with prospects for equity. If there
    is to be some kind of prosperity for all world citizens, the
    Euro-Atlantic model needs to be superseded, making
    room for ways of living, producing, and consuming that
    leave only a light footprint on the earth.

    —Wolfgang Sachs
    Senior Fellow, Wuppertal Institute

    Source: See endnote 32.

    Box 10–3. Development and Decline

    c h a p t e r 1 1

    Building a Sustainable and
    Desirable Economy-in-Society-

    Robert Costanza, Gar Alperovitz, Herman Daly, Joshua Farley, Carol
    Franco, Tim Jackson, Ida Kubiszewski, Juliet Schor, and Peter Victor

    The current mainstream model of the global economy is based on a num-
    ber of assumptions about the way the world works, what the economy is,
    and what the economy is for. (See Table 11–1.) These assumptions arose
    in an earlier period, when the world was relatively empty of humans and
    their artifacts. Built capital was the limiting factor, while natural capital was
    abundant. It made sense not to worry too much about environmental “ex-
    ternalities,” since they could be assumed to be relatively small and ultimately
    solvable. It also made sense to focus on the growth of the market economy, as
    measured by gross domestic product (GDP), as a primary means to improve
    human welfare. And it made sense to think of the economy as only marketed
    goods and services and to think of the goal as increasing the amount of these
    that were produced and consumed.1

    Now, however, we live in a radically different world—one that is
    relatively full of humans and their built capital infrastructure. We need to
    reconceptualize what the economy is and what it is for. We have to first
    remember that the goal of any economy should be to sustainably improve
    human well-being and quality of life and that material consumption and
    GDP are merely means to that end. We have to recognize, as both ancient
    wisdom and new psychological research tell us, that too much of a focus on
    material consumption can actually reduce human well-being. We have to
    understand better what really does contribute to sustainable human well-
    being and recognize the substantial contributions of natural and social
    capital, which are now the limiting factors to improving well-being in
    many countries. We have to be able to distinguish between real poverty, in
    terms of low quality of life, and low monetary income. Ultimately we have
    to create a new model of the economy that acknowledges this new “full-
    world” context and vision.2

    Some people argue that relatively minor adjustments to the current

    Robert Costanza is a visiting
    fellow in the Crawford School
    of Public Policy, Australian Na-
    tional University. Gar Alperovitz
    is Lionel R. Bauman Professor
    of Political Economy at the
    University of Maryland. Herman
    Daly is professor emeritus in
    the School of Public Policy at
    the University of Maryland.
    Joshua Farley is an associate
    professor in the Department
    of Community Development &
    Applied Economics and Public
    Administration at the University
    of Vermont. Carol Franco is a
    project administrator at the
    Woods Hole Research Center.
    Tim Jackson is a professor of
    sustainable development at
    the University of Surrey, United
    Kingdom. Ida Kubiszewski is a
    visiting fellow in the Craw-
    ford School of Public Policy,
    Australian National University.
    Juliet Schor is a professor of
    sociology at Boston College.
    Peter Victor is a professor in the
    Faculty of Environmental Stud-
    ies at York University.

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_11, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 127

    table 11–1. Basic characteristics of current economic Model, Green economy Model,
    and ecological economics Model

    Current Economic Model Green Economy Model Ecological Economics Model

    policy goal

    More: Economic growth
    in the conventional sense,
    as measured by GDP. The
    assumption is that growth
    will ultimately allow the so-
    lution of all other problems.
    More is always better.

    More but with lower
    environmental impact:
    GDP growth decoupled
    from carbon and from
    other material and
    energy impacts.

    Better: Focus must shift from merely
    growth to “development” in the real
    sense of improvement in sustainable
    human well-being, recognizing that
    growth has significant negative by-

    of progress

    GDP Still GDP, but recogniz-
    ing impacts on natural

    Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare,
    Genuine Progress Indicator, or other
    improved measures of real welfare.

    of environment

    Not an issue, since markets
    are assumed to be able to
    overcome any resource lim-
    its via new technology, and
    substitutes for resources
    are always available.

    Recognized, but as-
    sumed to be solvable
    via decoupling.

    A primary concern as a determinant
    of ecological sustainability. Natural
    capital and ecosystem services are not
    infinitely substitutable, and real limits


    Given lip service, but
    relegated to “politics” and
    a “trickle-down” policy: a
    rising tide lifts all boats.

    Recognized as impor-
    tant, assumes greening
    the economy will reduce
    poverty via enhanced
    agriculture and employ-
    ment in green sectors.

    A primary concern, since it directly
    affects quality of life and social capital
    and is often exacerbated by growth: a
    too rapidly rising tide only lifts yachts,
    while swamping small boats.


    The primary concern,
    but generally including
    only marketed goods and
    services (GDP) and market

    Recognized to include
    natural capital and the
    need to incorporate
    its value into market

    A primary concern, but including both
    market and nonmarket goods and
    services and the effects. Emphasis on
    the need to incorporate the value of
    natural and social capital to achieve
    true allocative efficiency.


    Emphasis on private
    property and conventional

    Recognition of the need
    for instruments beyond
    the market.

    Emphasis on a balance of property rights
    regimes appropriate to the nature and
    scale of the system, and a linking of rights
    with responsibilities. Includes larger
    role for common-property institutions.

    Role of

    Government interven-
    tion to be minimized and
    replaced with private and
    market institutions.

    Recognition of the need
    for government inter-
    vention to internalize
    natural capital.

    Government plays a central role,
    including new functions as referee,
    facilitator, and broker in a new suite of
    common-asset institutions.

    Principles of

    Laissez-faire market

    Recognition of the need
    for government.

    Lisbon principles of sustainable gov-

    Source: See endnote 1.

    128 | State of the World 2013

    economic model will produce the desired results. For example, they maintain
    that by adequately pricing the depletion of natural capital (such as putting
    a price on carbon emissions) we can address many of the problems of the
    current economy while still allowing growth to continue. This approach
    can be called the “green economy” model. Some of the areas of intervention
    promoted by its advocates, such as investing in natural capital, are necessary
    and should be pursued. But they are not sufficient to achieve sustainable
    human well-being. We need a more fundamental change, a change of our
    goals and paradigm.3

    Both the shortcomings and the critics of the current model are
    abundant—and many of them are described in this book. A coherent and
    viable alternative is sorely needed. This chapter aims to sketch a framework
    for a new model of the economy based on the worldview and following
    principles of ecological economics:4

    • Our material economy is embedded in society, which is embedded in our
    ecological life-support system, and we cannot understand or manage our
    economy without understanding the whole interconnected system.

    • Growth and development are not always linked, and true development
    must be defined in terms of the improvement of sustainable human well-
    being, not merely improvement in material consumption.

    • A balance of four basic types of assets is necessary for sustainable human
    well-being: built, human, social, and natural capital (financial capital is
    merely a marker for real capital and must be managed as such).

    • Growth in material consumption is ultimately unsustainable because
    of fundamental planetary boundaries, and such growth is or eventually
    becomes counterproductive (uneconomic) in that it has negative effects on
    well-being and on social and natural capital.

    There is a substantial and growing body of new research on what actually
    contributes to human well-being and quality of life. Although there is still
    much ongoing debate, this new science clearly demonstrates the limits of
    conventional economic income and consumption’s contribution to well-
    being. For example, economist Richard Easterlin has shown that well-
    being tends to correlate well with health, level of education, and marital
    status and shows sharply diminishing returns to income beyond a fairly
    low threshold. Economist Richard Layard argues that current economic
    policies are not improving well-being and happiness and that “happiness
    should become the goal of policy, and the progress of national happiness
    should be measured and analyzed as closely as the growth of GNP (gross
    national product).”5

    In fact, if we want to assess the “real” economy—all the things that
    contribute to real, sustainable, human well-being—as opposed to only
    the “market” economy, we have to measure and include the nonmarketed

    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 129

    contributions to human well-being from nature, from family, friends, and
    other social relationships at many scales, and from health and education.
    Doing so often yields a very different picture of the state of well-being than
    may be implied by growth in per capita GDP. Surveys, for instance, have
    found people’s life satisfaction to be relatively flat in the United States (see
    Figure 11–1) and many other industrial countries since about 1975, in spite
    of a near doubling in per capita income.6

    A second approach is an aggregate measure of the real economy that has
    been developed as an alternative to GDP, called the Index of Sustainable
    Economic Well-Being, or a variation called the Genuine Progress Indicator
    (GPI). The GPI attempts to correct for the many shortcomings of GDP as a
    measure of true human well-being. For example, GDP is not just limited—
    measuring only marketed economic activity or gross income—it also counts
    all activity as positive. It does not separate desirable, well-being-enhancing
    activity from undesirable, well-being-reducing activity. An oil spill increases
    GDP because someone has to clean it up, but it obviously detracts from
    society’s well-being. From the perspective of GDP, more crime, sickness,
    war, pollution, fires, storms, and pestilence are all potentially good things
    because they can increase marketed activity in the economy.7

    GDP also leaves out many things that actually do enhance well-being
    but that are outside the market, such as the unpaid work of parents caring



    s S






    Source: Hernández-Murillo and Martinek

    Figure 11–1. Happiness and Real Income in the United States,

    1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008

    Mean Happiness

    Income per Capita







    * Mean happiness is the average reply from respondents to the U.S. General Social Survey when asked,
    “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days? Would you say that you are not too
    happy [1], pretty happy [2], or very happy [3]?”

    130 | State of the World 2013

    for their children at home or the nonmarketed work of natural capital in
    providing clean air and water, food, natural resources, and other ecosystem
    services. And GDP takes no account of the distribution of income among
    individuals, even though it is well known that an additional dollar of income
    produces more well-being if a person is poor rather than rich.

    The GPI addresses these problems by separating the positive from the
    negative components of marketed economic activity, adding in estimates of
    the value of nonmarketed goods and services provided by natural, human,
    and social capital and adjusting for income-distribution effects. Comparing
    GDP and GPI for the United States, Figure 11–2 shows that while GDP has
    steadily increased since 1950, with the occasional dip or recession, the GPI
    peaked in about 1975 and has been flat or gradually decreasing ever since.
    The United States and several other industrial countries are now in a period
    of what might be called uneconomic growth, in which further growth in
    marketed economic activity (GDP) is actually reducing well-being, on
    balance, rather than enhancing it.8

    A new model of the economy consistent with our new full-world context
    would be based clearly on the goal of sustainable human well-being. It would
    use measures of progress that openly acknowledge this goal (for example,
    GPI instead of GDP). It would acknowledge the importance of ecological
    sustainability, social fairness, and real economic efficiency.

    One way to interrelate the goals of the new economy is by combining
    planetary boundaries as the “environmental ceiling” with basic human needs
    as the “social foundation.” This creates an environmentally sustainable,




    Source: Talberth, Cobb, and Slattery

    Figure 11–2. Gross Domestic Product and Genuine Progress
    Indicator, United States, 1950–2004

    1950 1957 1964 1971 1978 1985 1992 1999 2006






    Genuine Progress Indicator

    Gross Domestic Product

    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 131

    socially desirable and just space within which humanity can thrive. (See
    Chapter 3.)9

    A Framework for a New Economy
    A report prepared for the United Nations Rio+20 Conference described in
    detail what a new economy-in-society-in-nature might look like. A number
    of other groups—for example, the Great Transition initiative and the Future
    We Want—have performed similar exercises. All are meant to reflect the es-
    sential broad features of a better, more-sustainable world, but it is unlikely
    that any particular one of these will emerge wholly intact from efforts to
    reach that goal. For that reason, and because of space limitations, those vi-
    sions will not be described here. This chapter instead lays out the changes
    in policy, governance, and institutional design that are needed in order to
    achieve any of these sustainable and desirable futures.10

    The key to achieving sustainable governance in the new, full-world
    context is an integrated approach—across disciplines, stakeholder groups,
    and generations—whereby policymaking is an iterative experiment
    acknowledging uncertainty, rather than a static “answer.” Within this
    paradigm, six core principles—known as the Lisbon principles following
    a 1997 conference in Lisbon and originally developed for sustainable
    governance of the oceans—embody the essential criteria for sustainable
    governance and the use of common natural and social capital assets:11

    • Responsibility. Access to common asset resources carries attendant
    responsibilities to use them in an ecologically sustainable, economically
    efficient, and socially fair manner. Individual and corporate responsibilities
    and incentives should be aligned with each other and with broad social and
    ecological goals.

    • Scale-matching. Problems of managing natural and social capital assets
    are rarely confined to a single scale. Decisionmaking should be assigned
    to institutional levels that maximize ecological input, ensure the flow of
    information between institutional levels, take ownership and actors into
    account, and internalize social costs and benefits. Appropriate scales of
    governance will be those that have the most relevant information, can respond
    quickly and efficiently, and are able to integrate across scale boundaries.

    • Precaution. In the face of uncertainty about potentially irreversible impacts
    on natural and social capital assets, decisions concerning their use should
    err on the side of caution. The burden of proof should shift to those whose
    activities potentially damage natural and social capital.

    • Adaptive management. Given that some level of uncertainty always exists in
    common asset management, decisionmakers should continuously gather
    and integrate appropriate ecological, social, and economic information
    with the goal of adaptive improvement.

    132 | State of the World 2013

    • Full-cost allocation. All of the internal and external costs and benefits,
    including social and ecological, of alternative decisions concerning the
    use of natural and social capital should be identified and allocated, to the
    extent possible. When appropriate, markets should be adjusted to reflect
    full costs.

    • Participation. All stakeholders should be engaged in the formulation and
    implementation of decisions concerning natural and social capital assets.
    Full stakeholder awareness and participation contributes to credible,
    accepted rules that identify and assign the corresponding responsibilities

    This section describes examples of worldviews, institutions and
    institutional instruments, and technologies that can help the world move
    toward the new economic paradigm.12

    Respecting Ecological Limits. Once society has accepted the worldview
    that the economic system is sustained and contained by our finite global
    ecosystem, it becomes obvious that we must respect ecological limits. This
    requires that we understand precisely what these limits entail and where
    economic activity currently stands in relation to them.

    A key category of ecological limit is dangerous waste emissions, including
    nuclear waste, particulates, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, greenhouse
    gases (GHGs), and excess nutrients. The poster child for dangerous
    wastes is greenhouse gases, as excessive stocks of them in the atmosphere
    are disrupting the climate. Since most of the energy currently used for
    economic production comes from fossil fuels, economic activity inevitably
    generates flows of GHGs into the atmosphere. Ecosystem processes such
    as plant growth, soil formation, and dissolution of carbon dioxide (CO


    in the ocean can sequester CO
    from the atmosphere. But when flows into

    the atmosphere exceed flows out of the atmosphere, atmospheric stocks
    accumulate. This represents a critical ecological threshold, and exceeding it
    risks runaway climate change with disastrous consequences. At a minimum,
    then, for any type of waste where accumulated stocks are the main problem,
    emissions must be reduced below absorption capacity.

    Current atmospheric CO
    stocks are well over 390 parts per million, and

    there is already clear evidence of global climate change in current weather
    patterns. Moreover, the oceans are beginning to acidify as they sequester
    more CO

    . Acidification threatens the numerous forms of oceanic life

    that form carbon-based shells or skeletons, such as mollusks, corals, and
    diatoms. In short, the weight of evidence suggests that we have already
    exceeded the critical ecological threshold for atmospheric GHG stocks. (See
    Chapter 2.) This means that we must reduce flows by more than 80 percent
    or increase sequestration until atmospheric stocks are reduced to acceptable
    levels. If we accept that all individuals are entitled to an equal share of CO


    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 133

    absorption capacity, then the wealthy nations need to reduce net emissions
    by 95 percent or more.13

    Another category of ecological limit entails renewable-resource stocks,
    flows, and services. All economic production requires the transformation
    of raw materials provided by nature, including renewable resources (for
    example, trees). To a large extent, society can choose the rate at which it
    harvests these raw materials—that is, cuts down trees. Whenever extraction
    rates of renewable resources exceed their regeneration rates, however, stocks
    decline. Eventually, the stock of trees (the forest) will no longer be able to
    regenerate. So the first rule for renewable-resource stocks is that extraction
    rates must not exceed regeneration rates, thus maintaining the stocks to
    provide appropriate levels of raw materials at an acceptable cost.

    But a forest is not just a warehouse of trees; it is an ecosystem that
    generates critical services, including life support for its inhabitants. These
    services are diminished when the structure is depleted or its configuration
    is changed. So another rule guiding resource extraction and land use
    conversion is that they must not threaten the capacity of the ecosystem
    stock or fund to provide essential services. Our limited understanding of
    ecosystem structure and function and the dynamic nature of ecological and
    economic systems mean that this precise point may be difficult to determine.
    However, it is increasingly obvious that the extraction of many resources
    to drive growth has already gone far beyond this point. Rates of resource
    extraction must therefore be reduced to below regeneration rates in order to
    restore ecosystem funds to desirable levels.

    Protecting Capabilities for Flourishing. In a zero-growth or contracting
    economy, working-time policies that enable equitable sharing of the
    available work are essential to achieve economic stability and to protect
    people’s jobs and livelihoods. Reduced working hours can also increase
    people’s ability to flourish by improving the work/life balance, and there
    is evidence that working fewer hours can reduce consumption-related
    environmental impacts. Specific policies should include greater choice
    for employees about working time; measures to combat discrimination
    against part-time work as regards grading, promotion, training, security of
    employment, rate of pay, health insurance, and so on; and better incentives
    to employees (and flexibility for employers) for family time, parental leave,
    and sabbatical breaks.14

    Systemic social inequality can likewise undermine the capacity to
    flourish. It expresses itself in many forms besides income inequality, such as
    life expectancy, poverty, malnourishment, and infant mortality. Inequality
    can also drive other social problems (such as overconsumption), increase
    anxiety, undermine social capital, and expose lower-income households to
    higher morbidity and lower life satisfaction.15

    134 | State of the World 2013

    The degree of inequality varies widely from one sector or country to
    another. In the U.S. civil service, military, and university sectors, for example,
    income inequality ranges within a factor of 15 or 20 between the highest and
    lowest paying jobs. Corporate America has a range of 500 or more. Many
    industrial nations are below 25.16

    A sense of community—which is necessary for democracy—is hard to
    maintain across such vast income differences. The main justification for
    such differences has been that they stimulate growth, which will one day
    filter down, making everyone rich. But in today’s full world, with its steady-
    state or contracting economy, this is unrealistic. And without aggregate
    growth, poverty reduction requires redistribution.

    Fair limits to the range of inequality need to be determined—that is, a
    minimum and a maximum income. Studies have shown that most adults
    would be willing to give up personal gain in return for reducing inequality
    they see as unfair. Redistributive mechanisms and policies could include
    revising income tax structures, improving access to high-quality education,
    introducing anti-discrimination legislation, implementing anti-crime
    measures and improving the local environment in deprived areas, and
    addressing the impact of immigration on urban and rural poverty. New
    forms of cooperative ownership (as in the Mondragón model) or public
    ownership, as is common in many European nations, can also help lower
    internal pay ratios.17

    The dominance of markets and property rights in allocating resources
    also can impair communities’ capacity to flourish. Private property rights
    are established when resources can be made “excludable”—that is, when
    one person or group can use a resource while denying access to others.
    But many resources essential to human welfare are “non-excludable,”
    meaning that it is difficult or impossible to exclude others from access to
    them. Examples include oceanic fisheries, timber from unprotected forests,
    and numerous ecosystem services, including waste absorption capacity for
    unregulated pollutants.

    Absent property rights, resources are “open access”—anyone may use
    them, whether or not they pay. However, individual owners of property
    rights are likely to overexploit or underprovide the resource, imposing costs
    on others, which is unsustainable, unjust, and inefficient. Private property
    rights also favor the conversion of ecosystem stocks into market products
    regardless of the difference in contributions that ecosystems and market
    products have to human welfare. The incentives are to privatize benefits and
    socialize costs.

    One solution to these problems, at least for some resources, is common
    ownership. A commons sector, separate from the public or private sector,
    can hold property rights to resources created by nature or society as a whole

    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 135

    and manage them for the equal benefit of all citizens, present and future.
    Contrary to wide belief, the misleadingly labeled “tragedy of the commons”
    results from no ownership or open access to resources, not common
    ownership. Abundant research shows that resources owned in common can
    be effectively managed through collective institutions that assure cooperative
    compliance with established rules.18

    Finally, flourishing communities will be supported and maintained by
    the social capital built by a strong democracy. A strong democracy is most
    easily understood at the level of community governance, where all citizens
    are free (and expected) to participate in all political decisions affecting
    the community. Broad participation requires the removal of distorting
    influences like special interest lobbying and funding of political campaigns.
    The process itself helps to satisfy myriad human needs, such as enhancing
    people’s understanding of relevant issues, affirming their sense of belonging
    and commitment to the community, offering opportunity for expression
    and cooperation, and strengthening the sense of rights and responsibilities.
    Historical examples (though participation was restricted to elites) include
    the town meetings of New England and the system of ancient Athenians.19

    Building a Sustainable Macroeconomy. The central focus of macro-
    economic policies is typically to maximize economic growth; lesser goals
    include price stabilization and full employment. If society instead adopts
    the central economic goal of sustainable human well-being, macroeconomic
    policy will change radically. The goals will be to create an economy that offers
    meaningful employment to all and that balances investments across the four
    types of capital to maximize well-being. Such an approach would lead to
    fundamentally different macroeconomic policies and rules.

    A key leverage point is the current monetary system, which is inherently
    unsustainable. Most of the money supply is a result of what is known as
    fractional reserve banking. (See Box 11–1.) Banks are required by law to
    retain a percentage of every deposit they receive; the rest they loan at interest.
    However, loans are then deposited in other banks, which in turn can lend out
    all but the reserve requirement. The net result is that the new money issued
    by banks, plus the initial deposit, will be equal to the initial deposit divided
    by the fractional reserve. For example, if a government credits $1 million to
    a bank and the fractional reserve requirement is 10 percent, banks can create
    $9 million in new money, for a total money supply of $10 million. In this way,
    most money is today created as interest-bearing debt. Total debt in the United
    States—adding together consumers, businesses, and the government—is
    about $50 trillion. This is the source of the national money supply.20

    There are several serious problems with this system. First, it is highly
    destabilizing. When the economy is booming, banks will be eager to loan
    money and investors will be eager to borrow, which leads to a rapid increase

    136 | State of the World 2013

    in money supply. This stimulates further growth, encouraging more lending
    and borrowing, in a positive feedback loop. A booming economy stimulates
    firms and households to take on more debt relative to the income flows they
    use to repay the loans. This means that any slowdown in the economy makes
    it very difficult for borrowers to meet their debt obligations. Eventually
    some borrowers are forced to default. Widespread default eventually creates
    a self-reinforcing downward economic spiral, leading to recession or worse.

    In recent decades the United States has seen the
    eclipse of banking regulations, leading to a radical con-
    centration of money power in too-big-to-fail banks and
    Wall Street generally. In 1994, the five largest U.S. banks
    held 12 percent of total U.S. deposits. By 2009 they held
    nearly 40 percent. The country’s 20 largest banks con-
    trol almost 60 percent of bank assets. Market concentra-
    tion is even higher in other banking-type businesses,
    such as credit cards, debt and equity underwriting, and
    derivatives trading. Many of America’s earlier leaders
    warned against such concentration of power in the
    hands of a financial elite. As Thomas Greco notes in The
    End of Money and the Future of Civilization, “Thomas Jef-
    ferson said, ‘I sincerely believe . . . that banking establish-
    ments are more dangerous than standing armies.’”

    Today banks are required to hold deposits that are
    only a small fraction—less than 10 percent—of the
    loans they make. Anyone who takes on debt is creating
    new money. Banks do not actually lend money; they
    create promises to supply money they do not possess.
    Mary Mellor has summed up the resulting situation:
    “The most important outcome of the dominance of
    bank issued money is that the supply of money is
    largely in private hands determined by commercial
    decisions, while the state retains responsibility for
    managing and supporting the system, as has become
    clear through the [2008] financial crisis.” In the United
    States, the Federal Reserve can powerfully influence the
    supply and hence the price of money, but private banks
    decide how much to lend and where to lend it. The
    capital allocation process has become far removed from
    institutions that serve the public interest and is instead
    dominated by institutions and individuals seeking only
    to maximize profits.

    The evidence is already abundant that today’s
    system of money and finance cannot deliver a fair and
    sustaining economy. Its transformation is an integral,
    essential aspect of the overall transition to a new
    economy. Otto Scharmer of the Massachusetts Institute
    of Technology explains why: “Today we have a system
    that accumulates an oversupply of money and capital
    in areas that produce high financial and low environ-
    mental and social returns, while at the same time we
    have an undersupply of money and capital in areas that
    serve important societal and community investment
    needs (high social and low financial returns, such as
    the education of children in low-income communi-
    ties).” Among other urgently needed reforms, econo-
    mist Herman Daly has recommended returning the
    power to create money to government by abandoning
    today’s fractional-reserve banking and moving to a
    100 percent reserve requirement on demand deposits.
    Banks would lend time deposits, and the depositor
    would not have access to the money for the period
    of the deposit. The lending bank would have to count
    on new and renewing short-term time deposits or on
    long-term time deposits. These requirements would
    eliminate the bank’s ability to create new money. As
    needed, government would create new money instead.
    As Daly explains, “This would put control of the money
    supply and seigniorage (profit made by the issuer of fiat
    money) in hands of the government rather than private
    banks, which would no longer be able to live the alche-
    mist’s dream by creating money out of nothing and
    lending it at interest.”

    —James Gustave Speth
    Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

    Source: See endnote 20.

    Box 11–1. the Social costs of the U.S. Banking System

    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 137

    Second, the current system steadily transfers resources to the financial
    sector. Borrowers must always pay back more than they borrowed. At 5.5
    percent interest, homeowners will be forced to pay back twice what they
    borrowed on a 30-year mortgage. Conservatively speaking, interest on the
    $50 trillion total debt (in 2009) of the United States must be at least $2.5
    trillion a year, one sixth of national output.21

    Third, the banking system will only create money to finance market
    activities that can generate the revenue required to repay the debt plus
    interest. Since the banking system currently creates far more money than
    the government, this system prioritizes investments in market goods over
    public goods, regardless of the relative rates of return to human well-being.

    Fourth, and most important, the system is ecologically unsustainable.
    Debt, which is a claim on future production, grows exponentially, obeying
    the abstract laws of mathematics. Future production, in contrast, confronts
    ecological limits and cannot possibly keep pace. Interest rates exceed
    economic growth rates even in good times. Eventually, the exponentially
    increasing debt must exceed the value of current real wealth and potential
    future wealth, and the system collapses.

    To address this problem, the public sector must reclaim the power to
    create money, a constitutional right in the United States and most other
    countries, and at the same time take away from the banks the right to do so
    by gradually moving toward 100-percent fractional-reserve requirements.

    A second key lever for macroeconomic reform is tax policy. Conventional
    economists generally look at taxes as a necessary but significant drag on
    economic growth. However, taxes are an effective tool for internalizing negative
    externalities into market prices and for improving income distribution.

    A shift in the burden of taxation from value added (economic “goods,”
    such as income earned by labor and capital) to throughput flow (ecological
    “bads,” such as resource extraction and pollution) is critical for shifting
    toward sustainability. Such a reform would internalize external costs, thus
    increasing efficiency. Taxing the origin and narrowest point in the throughput
    flow—for example, oil wells rather than sources of CO


    more-efficient resource use in production as well as consumption and
    facilitates monitoring and collection. Such taxes could be introduced in a
    revenue-neutral way, for example by phasing in resource severance taxes
    while phasing out regressive taxes such as those on payrolls or sales.22

    Taxes should also be used to capture unearned income (rent, in economic
    parlance). Green taxes are a form of rent capture, since they charge for the
    private use of resources created by nature. But there are many other sources
    of unearned income in society. For example, if a government builds a light
    rail or subway system—more-sustainable alternatives to private cars—
    adjacent land values typically skyrocket, providing a windfall profit for

    138 | State of the World 2013

    landowners. New technologies also increase the value of land, due to its role
    as an essential input into all production. Because the supply of land is fixed,
    any increase in demand results in an increase in price. Landowners therefore
    automatically grow wealthier independent of any investments in the land.
    High taxes on land values (but not on improvements, such as buildings)
    allow the public sector to capture this unearned income. Public ownership
    through land trusts and other means also allows for public capture of the
    unearned income and eliminates any reward from land speculation, thus
    stabilizing the economy.23

    Tax policy can also be used to reduce income inequality. (See Figure
    11–3.) Taxing the highest incomes at high marginal rates has been shown
    to significantly reduce income inequality. There is also a strong correlation
    between tax rates and social justice. (See Figure 11–4.) High tax rates that
    contribute to income equality appear to be closely related to human well-
    being. This suggests that tax rates should be highly progressive, perhaps
    asymptotically approaching 100 percent on marginal income. The measure
    of tax justice should not be how much is taxed away but rather how much
    income remains after taxes. For example, hedge fund manager John Paulson
    earned $4.9 billion in 2010. If Paulson had to pay a flat tax of 99 percent, he
    would still retain nearly $1 million per week in income.24

    Other policies for achieving financial and fiscal prudence will almost
    certainly be required as well. Our relentless pursuit of debt-driven growth
    has contributed to the global economic crisis. A new era of financial and
    fiscal prudence needs to increase the regulation of national and international









    Source: Wilkinson and Pickett

    Figure 11–3. Relationship between Income Inequality and Social
    Problems Score in Selected Industrial Countries

    More Equal

















    New Zealand



    United States

    More Unequal


    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 139

    financial markets; incentivize domestic savings, for example through secure
    (green) national or community-based bonds; outlaw unscrupulous and
    destabilizing market practices (such as “short selling,” in which borrowed
    securities are sold with the intention of repurchasing them later at a lower
    price); and provide greater protection against consumer debt. Governments
    must pass laws that restrict the size of financial sector institutions,
    eliminating any that impose systemic risks for the economy.25

    Finally, as indicated earlier, we need to improve macroeconomic
    accounting, replacing or supplementing GDP as the prime economic
    indicator. GDP does, however, belong as an indicator of economic efficiency.
    The more efficient we are, the less economic activity, raw materials, energy,
    and work are required to provide satisfying lives. When GDP rises faster
    than life satisfaction, efficiency declines. The goal should be to minimize
    GDP, subject to maintaining a high and sustainable quality of life.

    Is a Sustainable Civilization Possible?
    The brief sketch presented here of a sustainable and desirable “ecological
    economy,” along with some of the policies required to achieve it, begs the
    important question of whether these policies taken together are consistent
    and whether they are sufficient to achieve the goals articulated. Can we have




    l J



    Total Tax Revenue as Share of GDP (Percent)




    South Korea




    New Zealand

    Switzerland Canada






    Norway Denmark

    Source: Wilkinson and Pickett, OECD

    Figure 11–4. Relationship between Tax Revenue as a Percent of GDP
    and Index of Social Justice in Selected Industrial Countries


    15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50


    United States

    United Kingdom


    140 | State of the World 2013

    a global economy that is not growing in material terms but that is sustain-
    able and provides a high quality of life for most, if not all, people? Several
    lines of evidence suggest that the answer is yes.

    The first comes from history. Achieving long-lasting zero- or low-growth
    desirable societies has been difficult—but not unheard of. While many
    societies have collapsed in the past and many of them were not what would
    be called “desirable,” there have been a few successful historical cases in
    which decline did not occur, as these examples indicate:26

    • Tikopia Islanders have maintained a sustainable food supply and non-
    increasing population with a bottom-up social organization.

    • New Guinea features a silviculture system that is more than 7,000 years old
    with an extremely democratic, bottom-up decisionmaking structure.

    • Japan’s top-down forest and population policies in the Tokugawa era arose
    as a response to an environmental and population crisis, bringing an era of
    stable population, peace, and prosperity.

    A second line of evidence comes from the many groups and communities
    around the world that are involved in building a new economic vision and
    testing solutions. Here are a few examples:
    • Transition Initiative movement (
    • Global EcoVillage Network (
    • Co-Housing Network (
    • Wiser Earth (
    • Sustainable Cities International (
    • Center for a New American Dream (
    • Democracy Collaborative (
    • Portland, Oregon, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (www.portland
    All these examples to some extent embody the vision, worldview, and

    policies elaborated in this chapter. Their experiences collectively provide
    evidence that the policies are feasible at a smaller scale. The challenge is to
    scale up some of these models to society as a whole. Several cities, states,
    regions, and countries have made significant progress along that path,
    including Portland in Oregon; Stockholm and Malmö in Sweden; London;
    the states of Vermont, Washington, and Oregon in the United States;
    Germany; Sweden; Iceland; Denmark; Costa Rica; and Bhutan.27

    A third line of evidence for the feasibility of this vision is based on
    integrated modeling studies that suggest a sustainable, non-growing
    economy is both possible and desirable. These include studies using such
    well-established models as World3, the subject of The Limits to Growth in
    1972 and other more recent books, and the Global Unified Metamodel of
    the BiOsphere (GUMBO).28

    A recent addition to this suite of modeling tools is LowGrow, a model

    of the Canadian economy that has been used to assess the possibility of
    constructing an economy that is not growing in GDP terms but that is stable,
    with high employment, low carbon emissions, and a high quality of life.
    LowGrow was explicitly constructed as a fairly conventional macroeconomic
    model calibrated for the Canadian economy, with added features to simulate
    the effects on natural and social capital.29

    LowGrow includes features that are particularly relevant for exploring a
    low-/no-growth economy, such as emissions of carbon dioxide and other
    greenhouse gases, a carbon tax, a forestry submodel, and provisions for
    redistributing incomes. It measures poverty using the Human


    of the United Nations. LowGrow allows additional funds to be spent on
    health care and on programs for reducing adult illiteracy and estimates their
    impacts on longevity and adult literacy.

    A wide range of low- and no-growth scenarios can be examined with
    LowGrow, and some (including the one shown in Figure 11–5) offer
    considerable promise. Compared with the business-as-usual scenario, in
    this scenario GDP per capita grows more slowly, leveling off around 2028,
    at which time the rate of unemployment is 5.7 percent. The unemployment
    rate declines to 4 percent by 2035.
    By 2020 the poverty index declines
    from 10.7 to an internationally
    unprecedented level of 4.9, where
    it remains, and the debt-to-GDP
    ratio declines to about 30 percent
    and is maintained at that level
    to 2035. GHG emissions are 41
    percent lower at the start of 2035
    than in 2010.30

    These results are obtained by
    slower growth in overall government
    expenditures, net investment, and
    productivity; a positive net trade
    balance; cessation of growth in
    population; a reduced workweek; a
    revenue-neutral carbon tax; and increased government investment in public
    goods, on anti-poverty programs, adult literacy programs, and health care. In
    addition, there are more public goods and fewer status goods through changes
    in taxation and marketing; there are limits on throughput and the use of space
    through better land use planning and habitat protection and ecological fiscal
    reform; and fiscal and trade policies strengthen local economies.

    No model results can be taken as definitive, since models are only as
    good as the assumptions that go into them. But what World3, GUMBO, and

    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature | 141






    Source: Victor

    Figure 11–5. A Low-/No-Growth Scenario

    2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035






    GDP per Capita

    GHG Emissions

    GDP Ratio


    142 | State of the World 2013

    LowGrow have provided is some evidence for the consistency and feasibility
    of these policies, taken together, to produce an economy that is not growing
    in GDP terms but that is sustainable and desirable.

    This chapter offers a vision of the structure of an “ecological economics”
    option and how to achieve it—an economy that can provide nearly full
    employment and a high quality of life for everyone into the indefinite
    future while staying within the safe environmental operating space for
    humanity on Earth. The policies laid out here are mutually supportive and
    the resulting system is feasible. Due to their privileged position, industrial
    countries have a special responsibility for achieving these goals. Yet this is not
    a utopian fantasy; to the contrary, it is business as usual that is the utopian
    fantasy. Humanity will have to create something different and better—or
    risk collapse into something far worse.

    Pavan Sukhdev is founder-
    director of Corporation 2020.
    This chapter is based on
    Corporation 2020: Transforming
    Business for Tomorrow’s World
    (Washington, DC: Island Press,
    2012), as well as on the e-chap-
    ter “Why Corporation 2020? The
    Case for a New Corporation in
    the Next Decade.”

    There is an emerging consensus among government and business leaders
    that all is not well with the market-centric economic model that dominates
    today’s world. Although it has delivered wealth in most economies over the
    last half-century and pulled millions out of poverty, it is recession-prone,
    leaves too many people unemployed, widens the gap between the rich and
    the poor, creates ecological scarcities that affect water and food, and gener-
    ates environmental risks such as climate change.

    Planetary boundaries are now being approached—and in some do-
    mains, have been breached—across many critical axes, including green-
    house gas emissions, the nitrogen cycle, freshwater use, land use and food
    security, ocean fisheries, and coral reefs. Within the next decade, significant
    changes are needed in the way we deal with Earth’s resources. The failure
    of intergovernmental efforts points to the need to recognize the vital role
    of the private sector in determining economic direction and resource use
    globally. The corporate world must be brought to the table as planetary
    stewards rather than value-neutral agents that are free-riding their way to
    global resource depletion.1

    The rationale for engaging with the private sector is compelling: corpo-
    rations produce almost everything we consume, generating 60 percent of
    global gross domestic product (GDP) and providing a comparable share of
    global employment. Their advertising creates and drives consumer demand.
    Their production feeds this demand and drives economic growth.2

    Corporations thus drive our economic system, but the way they have
    been operating also threatens the system’s very survival. Externalities—the
    unaccounted costs to society of doing “business as usual”—by just the top
    3,000 public corporations cost an estimated $2.15 trillion, or 3.5 percent of
    GDP, every year. Corporate lobbying frequently influences national policies
    and politics to the detriment of the public good. Advertising often converts
    human insecurities into wants, wants into needs, and needs into exces-

    c h a p t e r 1 2

    Transforming the Corporation
    into a Driver of Sustainability

    Pavan Sukhdev

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_12, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    144 | State of the World 2013

    sive consumer demand. Corporate production rises to meet such demand,
    which has already made humanity’s ecological footprint exceed the planet’s
    biocapacity by over 50 percent. We are now living by consuming Earth’s
    capital, not its interest.3

    We can blame consumerism, but consumerism was created by the cor-
    poration and its marketing and advertising. We can blame the free market,
    and indeed the free market has been the rallying cry of many in the private
    sector. But what they usually mean by “free market” is the “status-quo mar-

    ket.” Around $1 trillion per year
    in harmful subsidies—including
    $650 billion in fossil fuel subsi-
    dies—promote “business-as-usu-
    al” while obscuring its associated
    environmental and societal costs.
    The finger of blame must finally
    point to the main agent of our
    “brown economy”: today’s corpo-
    ration and the rules that govern its
    operations and behaviors.4

    To break free of this system,
    the rules of the game need to be
    changed, so that corporations are
    enabled to truly compete on the
    basis of innovation, resource con-

    servation, and satisfaction of multiple stakeholder demands—rather than
    on the basis of who can best influence government regulation, avoid taxes,
    and obtain subsidies for harmful activities in order to optimize shareholder
    returns. These rules of the game include policies regarding accounting prac-
    tices, taxation, financial leverage, and advertising that can result in a new
    corporate model, an agent for tomorrow’s green economy.

    This new model can be called Corporation 2020 because the pace at
    which we are approaching planetary boundaries suggests that 2020 is the
    date by which it needs to be in place in order for us not to cross these bound-
    aries. Like a biological species that evolves in response to its environment,
    and in turn influences it, today’s corporation can evolve into Corporation
    2020 in response to a changed environment of prices, institutions, and regu-
    lations. Its success can lead to a green economy. Achieving such an environ-
    ment requires that four important change drivers be in place:
    • First, taxes and subsidies have to be transformed to tax the “bads” more

    (such as resource extraction and fossil fuel use) and tax the “goods”
    (such as wages and profits) less, rather than the other way around, as is
    the case today.





    Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability | 145

    • Second, we must introduce rules and limits to govern financial leverage,
    especially if the borrower is considered “too big to fail.”

    • Third, advertising norms and standards must be introduced so that adver-
    tising is much more responsible and accountable.

    • Fourth, all major corporate externalities—both positive and negative—
    must be measured, audited, and reported as disclosures in the annual fi-
    nancial statements of companies.

    These four reforms will together ensure that the new corporate model
    evolves from the old and does so profitably. As it increasingly wins business
    away from the old model, its net impacts on society will be positive be-
    cause it is now hard-wired to create positive externalities, not negative ones.
    Collectively, its activities will bring us closer to a green economy, one that
    increases human well-being and social equity and decreases environmental
    risks and ecological losses.

    Using Taxes as Incentives
    The end of the twentieth century saw global consumption of almost ev-
    ery principal industrial commodity increase dramatically, fueling the 242
    percent economic expansion of the last four decades. Between 1973 and
    2009, world energy consumption nearly doubled from the equivalent of 4.6
    billion to 8.4 billion tons of oil. Fossil fuels—coal, petroleum, and natural
    gas—represented over 80 percent of global energy consumption during
    this period.5

    This practice of fueling our economic activity using nonrenewable re-
    sources has been very effective at increasing GDP, but it is ultimately not
    sustainable. Most of the increase in energy use has occurred, and will con-
    tinue to occur, in the developing world. If the material living standards there
    were equal to those of the average American, the natural resource inputs
    required for this consumption would exceed five Earths’ worth of global
    ecological capacity.6

    Taxing the resource base of our predominantly “brown” economy—
    coal, petroleum, and many other minerals—can steer the market away
    from resource-intensive growth and toward smart-technology industries
    in renewable energy, clean water, new and better materials, and waste man-
    agement. Taxing resources and removing all resource subsidies would force
    a revaluation of resources, in turn allowing us to manage, not simply ex-
    tract, natural assets. Resource taxation will not only reduce the resource
    intensity of consumption, it has the potential to generate new revenues and
    additional financing that can be used for high-priority areas such as educa-
    tion and health care—or it can be applied against the rising cost of nature’s
    remaining resources.

    146 | State of the World 2013

    The philosophy of free markets and small government has long demon-
    ized taxation as a job-killing, “socialist” redistribution tool that robs the rich
    in order to feed the inefficiencies of “big government.” Like any tool, how-
    ever, taxes are either good or bad depending on how they are used. Using
    taxes to revalue natural resources positions an innovative Corporation 2020
    as the successful protagonist of twenty-first century capitalism.

    “Too Big to Fail” is Too Big
    Over the last few decades, “sustainability” has become nearly synonymous
    with environmental initiatives. But as has become evident over the last few
    years, businesses have not even succeeded in being financially sustainable,
    let alone environmentally sustainable. In general, it should not be worrying
    if a business is not financially sustainable, because bankruptcy is a normal
    element of a functioning market. But governments have increasingly viewed
    a diverse group of companies as “too big to fail”—a term that refers not only
    to big banks (which provide clearing and settlement, which if disrupted can
    have far-reaching economic consequences) but now includes giant insurers,
    airlines, and auto manufacturers. These companies are hotbeds of “moral
    hazard”—they are inherently incentivized to take risks that push the entire
    economic system toward instability because they are comforted by the confi-
    dence that governments will socialize their losses when meltdowns happen.

    The problem with having so many such companies is that it adds to sys-
    temic risks. Financial leverage has played a large role in each of the last four
    major economic crises in the world—the Latin American debt crisis, the
    savings and loan crisis in the United States, the Asian debt crisis, and the
    recent global financial crisis led by the housing sector. The wisdom of allow-
    ing a growing population of “too big to fail” companies yet more financial
    leverage to grow even larger is highly questionable, even when cloaked in the
    garb of promoting growth or aiding development.7

    At present, most regulators are shying away from addressing the risks
    that excess leverage imposes. Even when they do engage the idea of more or
    better controls, they focus mainly on further capital requirements for banks
    and financial intermediaries. We know this cannot be the answer because
    out of the four financial crises just mentioned, the last two happened while
    sophisticated capital adequacy regulations by the Bank for International
    Settlements and the European Community were in place for the banks in-
    volved. They are in effect leaving the better interests of society to be met
    by the “invisible hand” of markets. In other words, investor behavior is ex-
    pected to determine how much leverage is appropriate, with fund manag-
    ers becoming the unlikely conscience-keepers of society. Unfettered markets
    were never meant to solve social problems, yet the system today is set up as
    if they were.

    Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability | 147

    It is essential that we re-evaluate and rebuild the financial sector’s regula-
    tory infrastructure to better monitor systemic risk and control of leverage.
    In addition, we must explore regulatory options for nonbanking corpora-
    tions that include reasonable limitations on leverage.

    The most widespread tools to control leverage of financial institutions
    are reserve requirements and capital adequacy ratios:
    • Reserve requirements. These represent the fraction of deposits that banks

    are required to retain either as cash in the vault, as a balance directly with
    the central bank, or as government and other high-quality liquid securities.
    Reserve requirements help limit the leverage in the banking system as a
    whole and also help reduce the risk of liquidity problems.

    • Capital adequacy ratios. Whereas reserve ratios are akin to using “brute
    force” to preempt bank liquidity away from markets, capital adequacy ra-
    tios are a more subtle device in that they use the economic disincentive
    of raising the capital costs of leverage to achieve similar ends. A capital
    adequacy ratio limits an institution’s financial leverage by requiring the
    financial firm to have a minimum amount of capital—including owner-
    ship equity and other forms of long-term capital—based on a specified
    percentage of the firm’s assets.

    For nonfinancial corporations, other tools are available:
    • Consortium banking. An interesting case of nonfinancial corporations’ le-

    verage being monitored actively is India’s “consortium banking” arrange-
    ments. Under these schemes, banks form lending groups that share key
    financial information about their corporate borrowers, including informa-
    tion about their credit ratings, financial exposure, securities outstanding,
    and compliance with financial covenants. This enables the group to mini-
    mize the possibility that a borrowing firm can play banks off against one
    another in order to take on more leverage than is advisable.8

    • Eliminating the tax deductibility of interest. One significant incentive for
    corporations to increase their use of debt is the tax deductibility of interest
    expenses. This creates a clear inducement for companies to lever up, with
    governments effectively subsidizing a portion of the cost of debt. A simple
    solution would be to impose limits on the tax deductibility of interest ex-
    pense for nonfinancial corporations by phasing out or capping the total
    amount of interest deductible.

    • Strengthening disclosure requirements. Improved disclosure requirements
    need to be enacted for off-balance-sheet obligations and derivative trans-
    actions. Proper measurement and reporting of leverage is critical to the
    effective control of leverage at nonfinancial firms.

    • Constraining leverage from acquisitions. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A)
    represent an important source of leverage around the world, especially
    when they take the form of leveraged-buyout (LBO) transactions, which

    148 | State of the World 2013

    involve the heavy use of debt. Approximately 14,000 LBOs took place in
    2007, up from 5,000 in 2000. LBOs often have leverage ratios of at least 4
    or 5 and higher, meaning that the majority of the funds they use to acquire
    the new company consist of loans that must be paid back. M&A trans-
    actions that exceed a given transaction amount—such as $10 billion—
    should be subject to review and approval by that country’s central bank
    (in the United States, the Federal Reserve) in order to ensure the amount
    of leverage used is not likely to sink the company in debt and create down-
    stream economic ripples.9

    Breaking the Cycle of Advertising and Consumption
    In addition to making taxes more effective and placing limits on leverage,
    we must look closely at the demand side of the equation and ask what is
    driving today’s unsustainable level of consumption. This brings us to the is-
    sue of corporate advertising. (See also Chapter 10.) Global advertising turn-

    over is estimated to be around
    $500 billion, which is less than
    Walmart and Carrefour combined
    are worth. So while advertising is
    a relatively small global business,
    it has an inordinately high share
    of voice: it impinges on us more
    than any other communication,
    every day of the week, every week
    of the year. And every commercial
    message that enters our conscious
    or unconscious mind was placed
    there by marketing and advertis-
    ing companies.10

    Marketing and advertising con-
    vert wants into needs, sometimes
    creating new wants out of human

    insecurities, which are then skillfully transformed into new consumer needs
    that must be met. It would not be an exaggeration to say that advertising is
    the single biggest force driving consumer demand today.

    But for many consumers, advertising has become the bane of modern
    existence. So there are opposing forces at play. Consumer resistance has built
    up, and in some cases vocal consumer resistance has resulted in legislation
    to control advertising, if not ban it entirely. Consumers increasingly want
    to shut down the cacophony—or at least “talk back.” A delightful example
    of this two-way interaction is the Bubble Project, in which communication
    designer Ji Lee pasted 50,000 blank stickers that looked like “speech bubbles”

    Billboard landscape in Alexandria, Egypt.




    Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability | 149

    on advertisements throughout New York City, allowing passers-by to write
    in their reactions, thoughts, and witticisms.11

    In other parts of the world, legislation has intervened to keep public
    spaces “public.” In 2007, São Paulo became the first major city outside the
    communist world to ban almost all outdoor advertising. In a city with two
    conflicting identities—it is both the commercial capital of Brazil and the
    epicenter of gang violence and extensive slums—São Paulo’s Lei Cidade
    Limpa (Clean City Law) is now considered an unexpected success. Nearly all
    outdoor advertisements—including billboards, outdoor video screens, and
    ads on buses—were torn down, and the size of storefront signage was regu-
    lated. The law was enforced with nearly $8 million in fines. Despite protests
    and legal challenges, more than 70 percent of city residents welcomed the
    move. In fact, even Nizan Guanaes, head of Grupo ABC, Brazil’s largest ad-
    vertising group, said “I think it’s a good law. It was a challenge for us because,
    of course, it’s easier to simply throw garbage advertising all over your city.”12

    Apart from legislative actions, consumers are also increasingly unwill-
    ing to put up with advertising that is misleading. The ability to talk back
    empowers two-way communication and co-creation. Bob Garfield, journal-
    ist and advertising commentator, coined the term “listenomics” to describe
    the trend toward businesses using open-source techniques to find ideas for
    product development, marketing, production, and many other activities
    that have traditionally been controlled by isolated corporate departments.
    These companies can be viewed as either encouraging or co-opting these
    forces, depending on your viewpoint.13

    Regardless, it is clear that a certain degree of serious change in advertising
    is going to come endogenously—through the changing balance of power
    between consumer and producer. However, this is an evolutionary process
    and will take time—several decades perhaps. But what can be done over the
    next decade, given the urgency of reform in the corporate world?

    Two basic principles underlie the movement for change during this de-
    cade. The first principle for advertising goes beyond what industry self-reg-
    ulation and governmental standards generally require: corporate advertisers
    need to treat all consumers as equal, no matter where they live—whether in
    an industrial country or the developing world.

    Second, transparency and disclosure are key elements of accountable ad-
    vertising. A robust practice of disclosure around advertising can improve
    the comparison between corporate bodies and also push them to be more
    accountable. An annual Accountable Advertising Report would reveal which
    relevant industry standards have been used, provide a place to share newly
    created corporate principles on responsible advertising, and, most impor-
    tant, be a vehicle for companies to differentiate themselves from—and be
    better than—their competitors.

    150 | State of the World 2013

    Therefore in addition to following the two principles just described, four
    strategies can bring us closer to a more accountable system of advertising:
    • Disclose life span on products and in all advertisements. This would drive

    individuals to question whether they really need a new version of an item
    or whether they should purchase an item that has such a short life span in
    the first place.

    • Disclose countries of origin on the product. On the product itself, this should
    be a simple visual that highlights all the countries in which any part of
    the product was produced. While this simplifies a more formal life-cycle
    analysis process, its simplicity is what makes it effective in getting people to
    avoid products that have too many “miles” in their assembly or that come
    from countries where human rights are disrespected or nature is exces-
    sively exploited.

    • Recommend on the product itself how to dispose of it. Advertisers should
    communicate how to dispose of a product when advertising it, so that
    consumers recognize the residual or waste value of the product and the
    responsibility they have to dispose of it properly.

    • Voluntarily commit a “10 percent development donation” on total advertising
    spent in developing countries. This recommendation is specific to the devel-
    oping world: to offset “footprint” expansion in local economies, advertis-
    ers could support local sustainability projects through a 10 percent “ad
    dollars to development dollars” commitment. The benefit of a proportion
    like this is that companies might have an incentive to spend less on adver-
    tising, which in some cases may reduce consumption.

    These principles and strategies are not the only tools available to move
    us toward a more acceptable form of “accountable advertising,” but they
    would be a start—and they would be especially effective if coupled with
    additional taxes and bans on the most pernicious forms of advertising, such
    as ads that promote social ills like smoking and those that target vulner-
    able populations like children. As companies begin to think more seriously
    about both the unintended consequences of their production as well as the
    potential good they could do with their advertising, new tools and strategies
    will surely emerge.

    Taking Externalities into Account
    The modern corporation is responsible for immense negative externali-
    ties, the largest of which is most likely its impact on the environment.
    Many corporations undertake processes that have negative impacts on
    the environment, such as air pollution or deforestation. Sometimes these
    impacts are rare, catastrophic events, like BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of
    Mexico. But they can also be so ubiquitous that people do not even no-
    tice them anymore. One recent study estimates that 3,000 of the biggest

    Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability | 151

    public companies alone cause $1.44 trillion in damages from their green-
    house gas emissions.14

    On the other hand, corporations can also create positive externalities.
    One leader in creating human capital has been the Indian software giant
    Infosys. Its primary training campus in Mysore is the largest corporate uni-
    versity in the world, with the capacity to train 14,000 employees at a time.
    Simply due to the sheer scale of its training initiatives, Infosys is probably
    one of the largest generators of
    positive human-capital externali-
    ties in the world. The reason is
    that Infosys’s training programs
    enhance the earning potential
    of thousands of people, some of
    whom leave to work in organiza-
    tions elsewhere. Thus these people
    represent a positive externality for
    society for which the company
    receives no economic gain—an
    externality estimated to be worth
    over $1.4 billion in 2012.15

    It is clearly to companies’ own
    benefit to measure their positive
    externalities, but it is essential for
    the survival of the economy as a
    whole that they start measuring
    and disclosing their negative externalities as well. Our current under-
    standing of the extent to which corporations cause externalities is fuzzy
    at best. There is a common aphorism in business management that “you
    cannot manage what you do not measure.” Most corporations only mea-
    sure financial performance, not their externalities—the third-party effects
    of doing “business as usual.” The same problem is seen at the country level
    as well: governments are fixated on measuring only GDP and targeting
    its growth, forgoing many more holistic and relevant macroeconomic in-
    dicators such as Green GDP, Inclusive Wealth, and so on, which subtract
    negative environmental externalities from overall economic performance.

    We need a better accounting framework, one that reflects both positive
    and negative externalities in a corporation’s financial statements and thus
    makes transparent not only its holistic impact on the economy, society, and
    the environment, but also its exposure to risks of resource constraints and
    regulation. Furthermore, the external impacts of companies must be stan-
    dardized. (See also Chapter 13.) Although there may be a dozen ways, for
    instance, to calculate the freshwater externalities of a cement plant—across

    Part of the Infosys training campus in Mysore.


    l K



    152 | State of the World 2013

    locations, ecosystem types, and types of cement plants—there should not be
    a dozen accounting standards. On the contrary, there should be just one—
    with clear parameters and simple enough for the industry to use.

    The recently formed TEEB for Business Coalition (The Economics of
    Ecosystems & Biodiversity) has as its primary task to standardize the meth-
    odologies for calculating exactly these types of corporate externalities. As
    of November 2012, an ambitious program of first establishing priorities
    and then quantifying the top 100 global externalities has been launched. A
    mechanism of this type ensures that investors are adequately aware of the
    broad set of relevant risks faced by any corporation with large externalities,
    as opposed to the narrower risks that are currently measured and reported.16

    A uniform reporting mechanism established by combining leading cur-
    rent research on externalities valuation and risk assessment would ensure
    awareness of the current and projected magnitude of a corporation’s opera-
    tions, supply chain, and investments’ external impact on society, economy,
    and capital stock. It would also allow corporations to identify sources of
    negative and positive impacts that they can target to improve.

    Moving toward a More Responsible Corporation
    If the recommendations of this chapter are implemented—taxation shifted
    toward resource extraction, corporate leverage limited for those “too big to
    fail,” advertising made more accountable, and externalities measured and
    disclosed—the new corporations will likely look quite different from those
    of today. They will be more responsible, with goals aligned to the communi-
    ties and societies that host them.

    First of all, tomorrow’s corporation will be a “capital factory,” not just a
    goods-and-services factory. It will create financial capital for its sharehold-
    ers through its operations, but without depleting (and ideally, while grow-
    ing) natural capital, social capital, and human capital for society at large—
    the stakeholders of the corporation.

    Second, Corporation 2020 will be a community. The loss of community
    around the world is a palpable result of the dominant economic model. Cor-
    poration 2020 can be a modern-day community, tied by a shared culture
    created by its values, mission, goals, objectives, and governance. It can (and
    in the best of today’s companies, it already does) recreate the sense of belong-
    ing that has been lost due to the forces of modernization and globalization.

    Third, the corporation of tomorrow must be an institute of learning and
    skills training, providing employees with an increasing base of knowledge
    and skills with which to add value to the corporation and also add to each
    individual’s earnings profile.

    Finally, the goals of Corporation 2020 should be the goals of human soci-
    ety: increased human well-being, increased social equity, improved social and

    Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability | 153

    communal harmony, reduced ecological scarcities, and reduced environmen-
    tal risks. Profitability is undoubtedly a key objective for Corporation 2020,
    which ensures its financial sustainability while pursuing these goals, but it is
    not the only objective. There are other important goals—not just those de-
    termined by the corporation’s shareholders but also those determined by its
    stakeholders: the public, those who are affected by the corporation.

    If the ideas presented here seem complex, that is because they have to
    be. Complex problems merit complex solutions, and there are no elegant or
    easy ways to transform corporate purpose and behavior to create a sustain-
    able economy. Too many people still underestimate the urgency, extent, and
    complexity of the challenge ahead. No one institution, be it government
    or civil society or the market or the corporation itself, can succeed alone.
    And the challenge is too often presented as solely about the environment,
    or social justice, or economics. But it is in fact a challenge of survival for the
    corporation itself, for the modern economies that corporations constitute
    and operate, and for human civilization as we know it.

    Jeff Hohensee is an associate of
    the Colorado-based nonprofit
    Natural Capitalism Solutions.

    A bag of groceries carried into the house is a snapshot of the global econo-
    my. The raspberries could have come from Chile. The plastic container they
    came in could have been manufactured in Mexico from oil extracted in the
    Middle East. Even things that seem local might not be: bread baked in Los
    Angeles, for instance, could be made with wheat from the San Joaquin Valley
    in California, water from Colorado, and salt from Pakistan.

    The world’s economy is a web of activities that span the globe. The com-
    mercial activities of the world’s largest corporations extend around the
    world, collectively touching almost everywhere, and their gross revenues of-
    ten exceed those of many national economies. This economic web supplies
    the labor, materials, and resources that make the products and services we
    enjoy. The environmental and social impacts of these activities are broad
    and deep but rarely counted in corporate reporting, forcing business lead-
    ers to make decisions with partial information. But some promising recent
    trends in corporate reporting could provide regulators, investors, corporate
    decisionmakers, and community leaders with more accurate views of the
    activities that affect their companies and communities.

    Most notable in this trend is “integrated reporting,” a new form of cor-
    porate disclosure that integrates financial data with the environmental and
    social challenges that affect a company’s health. In the mid-1990s, the Prince
    of Wales initiated the Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) project in the
    United Kingdom. A4S proposed that reporting regimes integrate strategy,
    governance, and financial performance into the social, environmental, and
    economic contexts of a company. A4S’s work draws from concepts like eco-
    logical economics, natural capitalism, and full-cost accounting.1

    Numerous attempts have been made to build these concepts into cor-
    porate reporting, including Baxter’s Environmental Financial Statement,
    Puma’s Environmental Profit & Loss Statement, Wilhelm’s Return on Sustain-
    ability, Willard’s Sustainability Advantage, and Krzus and Eccles’ One Report.

    c h a p t e r 1 3

    Corporate Reporting
    and Externalities

    Jeff Hohensee

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_13, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Corporate Reporting and Externalities | 155

    Building on this work, A4S collaborated with the Global Reporting Initiative
    (GRI) to spearhead the creation of the International Integrated Reporting
    Council (IIRC). The IIRC is currently piloting an integrated report as an
    alternative to traditional corporate reports, as described later in this chapter.
    The integrated report has the potential to help corporate directors and offi-
    cers make better decisions as well as to help investors and other stakeholders
    understand better how a company is really performing and its impacts in
    local communities.2

    The global economy provides people with the food on their tables, the shel-
    ter over their heads, and many of the routine supplies of daily life. Over the
    past 30 years, in great part because of the expansion of the global econo-
    my, more than a half-billion people have been brought out
    of abject poverty. This has increased life expectancy and
    improved the quality of life. As documented throughout
    this book, however, the rapid expansion of globalism has
    also increased water and air pollution and the production
    of hazardous wastes, and it has brought most major eco-
    systems to the brink of collapse. We have lost many of the
    services these ecosystems provide, such as clean air, clean
    water, and arable soil. As global population has increased,
    so has per capita natural resource use, energy consumption,
    and demands on the environment to provide raw materials
    and other natural resources.3

    From a corporate reporting standpoint, these negative
    impacts are often considered externalities, which are costs
    (such as air pollution) or benefits from an economic activity
    that are not fully reflected in the price of the good or service
    involved. Externalities disguise the actual cost of goods by
    leaving these costs or benefits unaccounted for in product
    pricing and in corporate reporting. To take just one exam-
    ple, the emissions from the long-haul trucks used to bring
    goods to market cause air pollution that imposes health care
    costs that are not included in the price of the goods sold. In
    California’s San Joaquin Valley, it is estimated that meeting federal clean air
    standards would save the region air pollution–related health care costs of
    more than $1,600 per person a year—for $6 billion in annual savings for the
    region’s economy. Yet the cost of air pollution from long-haul trucks is not
    included in the cost of San Joaquin Valley farm goods.4

    Unreported externalities can also hide business risks. “Chemicals of con-
    cern” is a case in point. According to the California Department of Toxic









    156 | State of the World 2013

    Substances Control, “because of the many chemicals in commerce . . . and
    the increased interest by scientists and the public in understanding the types
    of toxicity that chemicals may pose, more and more scientists and toxicolo-
    gists are identifying ‘emerging chemicals of concern,’ or ECCs. . . . Some ex-
    amples of ECCs include bisphenol A, phthalates, arsenic, perchlorate, non-
    ylphenols, synthetic musks and other personal care product ingredients.”5

    Bisphenol A (BPA) illustrates the potential of an ECC to have a measur-
    able financial impact on business profit even before such chemicals are regu-
    lated. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that has been associated with a wide
    variety of health problems, including miscarriages, retarded infant brain
    development, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Evidence that BPA was a
    chemical of concern first emerged in 1931. Transparent corporate reporting
    would have notified all involved that a risk existed. Instead, more than half
    a century went by until the adverse effects of low-dose exposure on labo-
    ratory animals were widely reported in 1997. It was another decade until
    several government agencies questioned the safety of BPA, which prompted
    a public outcry. Shortly thereafter, several retailers pulled drinking bottles
    containing BPA from their shelves. In 2010, Canada became the first country
    to declare BPA a toxic substance.6

    The worst consequence of this delay in reporting, of course, is that mil-
    lions of people were fed a hazardous chemical. But the cost to companies
    of quickly transitioning away from BPA was also huge. They carried an
    unreported risk that was entirely predictable. The cost of a quick, expensive
    transition to BPA-free products could have been avoided if companies had
    acknowledged the risk and avoided using BPA in the first place. Unreported
    externalities like these burden the public, which is forced to shoulder the
    costs that companies should bear, but they also pose risks to companies
    and investors.

    The omission of externalities in corporate reporting is not a small prob-
    lem. The global value of externalities is staggering: it was estimated at nearly
    $7 trillion—11 percent of the value of the global economy—in 2008. And
    just 3,000 companies were responsible for 35 percent of these costs. Among
    the largest of the unreported externalities are those related to oil. Since the
    Industrial Revolution, this form of natural capital has been extracted and
    used in the production of electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel, fertilizer, herbi-
    cides, plastics, and explosives. The negative impacts of the petrochemical
    industries on ecosystems, cultural heritage, and economic equity—chief
    among them, climate change—have been well documented. According to
    the Principles for Responsible Investment Initiative, the environmental ex-
    ternalities of the oil and gas industries are valued at more than $300 billion
    a year. The exclusion of undisclosed externalities is a significant oversight
    that needs to be addressed.7

    Corporate Reporting and Externalities | 157

    Corporate Reporting of Externalities

    Efforts to promote corporate reporting of externalities have taken both
    mandatory and voluntary forms. A variety of regulatory bodies are respon-
    sible for what is included in mandatory corporate reporting as well as what
    is left out. In the United States, the private, nonprofit Financial Account-
    ing Standards Board sets Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
    for financial reporting. The International Accounting Standards Board sets
    International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the measure used for
    financial reporting in most other countries. GAAP and IFRS are being com-
    bined into one system through a convergence process that will eventually
    produce a unified accounting standard. This process, however, has not ad-
    dressed externalities, nor is financial reporting likely to do so soon.

    Limited progress has been made in other mandatory corporate reports.
    In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over-
    sees mandatory reporting for companies whose stock is traded in that
    country. Beginning in 1982, SEC Regulation S-K required disclosure of the
    cost of compliance with environmental regulations and the potential cost of
    legal proceedings for environmental liabilities when those costs were large
    enough to affect earnings. While not explicitly mentioning environmental
    externalities, the SEC also requires companies to disclose trends, events,
    and uncertainties that may materially (measurably) affect the company’s
    financial position.8

    After years of pressure from groups like Ceres (a nonprofit founded in
    1989 as the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies), in 2010
    the SEC took the unprecedented action of issuing an interpretative release on
    disclosure of externalities related to climate change. This guidance explains
    the SEC’s position on how climate change risk should be addressed under
    existing reporting requirements by expanding the requirement for environ-
    mental externalities to include the indirect consequences of climate change.9

    Numerous voluntary corporate reporting initiatives encourage disclosure
    of environmental, social, and governance externalities to varying degrees. In
    the 1980s, many corporations began reporting voluntarily on sustainability
    metrics. These are commonly called corporate social responsibility (CSR) re-
    ports. The pioneers of CSR reporting gave shareholders, regulators, and other
    interested parties previously unavailable views into the positive and negative
    impacts of corporate activities. While the early CSR reports were better than
    nothing, the points made there were often incomplete and, in some cases,
    intentionally misleading. By the 1990s Ceres, the World Resources Institute,
    and several other groups launched an initiative to create standards for CSR
    reporting. This effort led to the Global Reporting Initiative.

    GRI has become what many call the gold standard for CSR reporting.

    158 | State of the World 2013

    By 2008, some 80 percent of the world’s 250 largest corporations were pro-
    ducing GRI-based CSR reports. This movement dramatically improved the
    quality and transparency of corporate sustainability reporting. Yet compa-
    nies can exclude vast portions of their sustainability impacts from CSR re-
    porting and still achieve a high GRI reporting standard.10

    BP’s 2009 CSR report described
    its environmental controls and ap-
    proach to risk by stating that its
    “commitment to competence is
    through having the right people
    with the right skills doing the right
    thing supported by our leadership
    framework.” The report included
    an entire section on deep-water
    drilling that touted BP’s technical
    expertise. BP’s 2010 CSR report
    then had to address the Deepwa-
    ter Horizon oil spill in the Gulf
    of Mexico. In a sea of carefully
    worded narrative, it reported that
    almost all of the environmental
    metrics in the report improved

    over the previous several years. The metrics in BP’s 2010 CSR report prove,
    to the point of absurdity, that CSR reporting, as currently configured is in-
    sufficient to guarantee reporting of externalities.11

    Integrated Reporting
    The most promising move to include externalities in corporate reporting is
    the integrated report proposed by the International Integrated Reporting
    Council. The IIRC’s participants include the Global Reporting Initiative,
    WWF, and the World Resources Institute. The world’s largest accounting
    firms are involved, as are the key regulatory agencies responsible for cor-
    porate reporting. Diverse multinational corporations have been involved
    in establishing the IIRC framework and piloting the integrated reports, in-
    cluding AB Volvo, the Clorox Company, the Coca-Cola Company, Deloitte
    LLP, Deutsche Bank, Jones Lang Lasalle, Microsoft, Sainsbury’s, Tata Steel,
    and Unilever.12

    An integrated report, as described by the IIRC, is “a principles-based
    approach that requires senior management and those charged with gov-
    ernance to apply considerable judgement to determine which matters are
    material and to ensure they are appropriately disclosed given the specific cir-

    Flotilla of vessels working to stop the flow of oil at the site of the Deepwater
    Horizon spill.


    . C



    Corporate Reporting and Externalities | 159

    cumstances of the organization and, where appropriate, the application of
    generally accepted measurement and disclosure methods.” The conceptual
    foundation of an IIRC integrated report specifically mentions the disclosure
    of externalities:

    • Capital (resources and relationships): The IIRC’s 2011 Discussion Paper
    noted that “Integrated Reporting . . . makes visible an organization’s use
    of and dependence on . . . ‘capitals’ (financial, manufactured, human,
    intellectual, natural and social), and the organization’s access to and
    impact on them.”

    • External factors: A July 2011 draft outline notes that the framework for
    integrated reporting “is expected to discuss how external factors affect
    the organization both directly and indirectly, for example, how they af-
    fect the availability, affordability, and quality of capitals that the orga-
    nization depends upon and impacts in creating and preserving value.
    External factors include macro and micro economic conditions, market
    forces, the speed and impact of technological change, societal issues, en-
    vironmental challenges, and the legislative and regulatory environment
    in which the organization operates.”13

    The integrated report framework includes a description of a company’s
    business model that describes the forms of capital it relies on, strategic ob-
    jectives to add value to these capitals, and delivery of products or services to
    achieve these objectives.

    The IIRC challenges corporate reporting requirements, stating that poli-
    cymakers should “question capital market orthodoxy and challenge tradi-
    tional accounting practices, business models and value creation methods.
    One concern is whether capital is being allocated in the most effective way to
    achieve sustainable returns over the short, medium and long term.” This has
    far-reaching implications for sustainability. An integrated report discloses
    the external environmental and social factors that directly and indirectly af-
    fect a company. In doing this, IIRC’s integrated report effectively eliminates
    the concept of externalities by bringing indirect environmental and social
    costs inside corporate reporting.14

    The U.S. nonprofit Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
    is establishing sustainability standards that can be used in integrated re-
    porting and other forms of corporate disclosure. The SASB views the SEC
    as one of its primary stakeholders, and the Board’s objective is to create
    sustainability accounting standards for use by SEC registrants (publicly
    held companies) using the definition of materiality found in U.S. securities
    law (essentially, “big enough to matter”—which is sensitive to context, in
    that a sum that is material to a hot dog vendor would be immaterial to a
    transnational corporation).15

    Ultimately, more-relevant, transparent, and useful disclosures of nonfi-

    160 | State of the World 2013

    nancial information by SEC registrants will affect the quality of disclosures
    made by companies around the world. In using the SEC definition of mate-
    riality, SASB is creating a de facto mandatory reporting environment for dis-
    closure of material nonfinancial information. Even if the integrated report
    does not become mandatory, the SASB key performance indicators have the
    potential to credibly include externalities in mandatory investor reporting.

    The Future of Corporate Reporting of Externalities
    The persistent disconnect between “business as usual” and the need to re-
    port externalities is made clear by an Association of Chartered Certified
    Accountants 2012 survey. Forty-nine percent of the respondents identified
    natural capital as measurably valuable for businesses. The same survey notes
    that few companies include the value of natural capital in their financial
    reports. This omission puts investors, companies, and communities at risk.16

    At the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, a group of 37 investment compa-
    nies—including the International Finance Corporation, part of the World
    Bank Group—released an official Natural Capital Declaration that states
    the need to accurately calculate and disclose the value of externalities in
    corporate reporting: “It is becoming ever clearer that natural capital can
    have an impact on specific financial products, as well as on long-term
    growth. Endorsement of the Declaration represents an opportunity to
    understand how natural capital, as part of a range of other material [en-
    vironmental, social, and governance] issues, can affect your institution’s
    bottom line.” Signatories of the Natural Capital Declaration specifically
    committed to collaborating with the IIRC and other stakeholders to “build
    a global consensus around the development of Integrated Reporting, which
    includes Natural Capital as part of the wider definition of resources and
    relationships key to an organization’s success.” More than at any other time
    in history, the value of reporting externalities is being recognized as a criti-
    cal part of corporate reporting.17

    The IIRC’s work aims to fix the problem altogether. The integrated re-
    port has the potential to transform the nature of corporate reporting. By the
    beginning of December 2012, some 80 companies were piloting the IIRC’s
    integrated report. The results of these pilots will be reviewed by the IIRC,
    which includes the accounting standards boards that oversee all financial
    reporting. The groundwork has been laid for a significant change in corpo-
    rate reporting. The right players to mandate the change are at the table. The
    IIRC’s work thus has the potential to create a level playing field that requires
    all corporations to include externalities in the information they disclose
    about performance.18

    Coal, oil, and gas—fossil fuels: we can’t do without them. They are the life-
    blood of modern industrial civilization. These highly concentrated, widely
    available stores of energy have unleashed modern civilization’s astonishing
    productivity, liberating billions of people from drudgery and insecurity.
    Finding more fossil fuels and getting them to markets around the world is
    the challenge of our times.

    Fossil fuels: we must do without them. They feed the fire in the oven
    destined to bake civilization beyond recognition. When these hydrocar-
    bons from the concentrated, pressurized remains of ancient organisms are
    burned, they overwhelm the Earth’s ecosystems and condemn billions of
    people to climate-induced misery. Shifting to renewable energy sources and
    alternative ways of life is the challenge of our time.

    Two existential positions, poles apart. Both may be accurate. The contra-
    diction is the crux of the contemporary energy and environment dilemma
    and one reason governments have done so little in the face of obvious and
    ramifying threats.

    Is there a way out? Not as long as technological optimism and trust in
    the magic of “the market” sustain the belief that the growth-dependent,
    consumerist, debt-laden, risk-accumulating world is the best of all possible
    worlds. Not when those who live in this world and those who aspire to join
    it see no reason to exchange the current model for an uncertain new model.
    Not when leaders and citizens alike cannot imagine replacing the current,
    fossil-fuel-dependent economic and social system. Why? Because too many
    people believe that the next energy transition, like previous transitions—
    from human power to animal power, animal to wood, wood to coal, and
    coal to oil—will make life better for all. As happened before, they believe,
    the next energy source will spur convenience, higher speeds, greater labor
    productivity, and more consumer choice—material progress forever. The
    bridge, this view has it, is new technologies to extract and burn every last bit

    Thomas Princen is a profes-
    sor of natural resources and
    environment at the University
    of Michigan. Jack P. Manno is
    a professor of environmental
    studies at SUNY College of Envi-
    ronmental Science and Forestry.
    Pamela Martin is a professor
    of politics at Coastal Carolina

    c h a p t e r 1 4

    Keep Them in the Ground:
    Ending the Fossil Fuel Era

    Thomas Princen, Jack P. Manno, and Pamela Martin

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_14, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    162 | State of the World 2013

    of affordable oil, coal, and gas. This is the dominant worldview, what we dub
    the “industrial progressive” view.1

    It is time to choose a different view and a different future. A first step
    is to recognize that Earth’s “gift” to humanity of high-quality fossil fuels,
    those that pack the greatest energy wallop, is a one-time nonrenewing and
    diminishing reserve. There was a “before” (before the late nineteenth cen-
    tury), when fossil fuels powered only a tiny proportion of the world’s work,
    and there will be an “after,” when fossil fuels are reserved for tasks for which
    they, and they alone, are best suited. The question humanity faces at this
    historic juncture is how to navigate the transition, and how to do so given
    that the fossil fuel era will end and these fuels will be rationed—although on
    the current path, not soon enough to avert catastrophic climate and other
    environmental and social impacts.

    The choice to keep fossil fuels in the ground in the face of otherwise over-
    whelming pressures to exploit them to the end is, we have come to believe,
    the only way to ensure that greenhouse gases and other pollutants remain
    out of the atmosphere and out of our bodies. The power and momentum of
    the fossil fuel complex is simply too great. And the predominant approach
    to ground-level air pollution, high-level climate change, and petrochemi-
    cal contamination of human beings and nonhumans—that is, to manage
    fossil fuel emissions—is too ineffectual, too much of an accommodating,
    end-of-pipe approach. All too often, such an approach reduces a couple of
    centuries of history to one chemical element, carbon, when the real problem
    is upstream, in a global infrastructure and power structure that is extremely
    adept at drilling holes, blasting mountains, and laying pipes.

    The Problem: Extraction . . . Not Emissions, Fossil Fuels . . .
    Not Carbon
    The central problem is not emissions, but extraction. Put differently, it is
    not about carbon dioxide but fossil fuels—not about what comes out of the
    exhaust pipes and smokestacks but what comes out of the ground. To direct
    political attention away from end-of-pipe management to extraction is to
    be precautionary, a widely accepted approach for known toxic and ozone-
    depleting substances but not, as yet, for fossil fuels.

    A carbon focus is reductionist, possibly the greatest and most dangerous
    reductionism of all time: a 150-year history of complex geologic, political,
    economic, and military security issues all reduced to one element—carbon.
    This framing implies that the problem only arises once fuels are burned.
    It effectively absolves of responsibility all those who organize to extract,
    process, and distribute. It leaves unquestioned the legal requirement to ex-
    tract created by the selling of fossil-fuel reserves in futures markets and the
    widespread use of reserves for collateral in financial transactions. So con-

    Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era | 163

    structed, extraction is called “production,” and the burden of harm and of
    responsibility for amelioration falls on governments and consumers rather
    than on extractors. Inside the carbon logic, extraction is presumed to be a
    given—normal, inevitable, even desirable. What is more, the carbon lens
    portrays the global ecological predicament as one-dimensional: deal with
    carbon emissions, and everything else will follow.

    To focus on fossil fuel extraction, in contrast, is to ask how and why re-
    moval of these fuels is deemed inevitable and net beneficial. A fossil fuel focus
    does not take such how-and-why questions as self-evident (people want the
    energy, producers get it). It directs analytic and political attention upstream
    to a whole set of decisions, incentives, and institutions that conspire to bring
    to the surface hydrocarbons that otherwise sit safely and permanently in
    the ground. It forces us to consider that once fossil fuels are extracted, their
    by-products—ground-level pollution, atmospheric greenhouse gases, pet-
    rochemical endocrine disruptors—inevitably and unavoidably move into
    people’s bloodstream, into ecosystems, and into the atmosphere and oceans.

    To question extraction is to consider deliberately limiting an otherwise
    valuable resource, rationing and setting priorities for its uses. It is to take
    renewable energy, conservation, equity, and environmental justice seriously
    and to create the institutions, local to global, capable of doing so. It is to ask
    what the prior ethics of fossil fuel allocation have been and what, given the
    imperative to reverse course and build a sustainable society, they must be. It
    is to ask what a politics of fossil fuel resistance and abolition would be and
    to imagine a deliberately chosen post–fossil fuel world.

    All this leads to the conclusion—unthinkable for fossil fuel proponents
    and business-as-usual-only-greener proponents—that the only realistic
    means of stopping fossil fuel emissions is to keep the fuels in the ground.
    The only safe place for fossil fuels is in place, where they lie, where they
    are solid or liquid (or, for natural gas, geologically well contained already),
    where their chemistry is mostly of complex chains, not simple molecules
    like carbon dioxide, that find their way out of the tiniest crevices, that lu-
    bricate tectonic plates perpetually under stress, that react readily with water
    to acidify the oceans, and that float into high places filtering and reflecting
    sunlight, heating beyond livability the habitats below.

    And yet the fossil fuel complex is extremely powerful. That power is at
    once energetic, economic, and political. Its weakness is ultimately geologic
    and ethical.

    Fossil Fuel Influence
    One measure of the industry’s influence is the fact that 88 percent of the
    world’s energy comes from fossil fuels. (See Box 14–1.) Sixty-one percent of
    that is produced by national oil companies—created, subsidized, and defend-

    164 | State of the World 2013

    • Fossil fuels provide 88 percent of the world’s energy.

    • Fossil fuel infrastructure occupies an area the size of

    • Biofuel infrastructure roughly the size of the United
    States and India would be needed if biofuels were to
    replace fossil fuels.

    • To meet industry and agency projections of increased
    energy demands, $38 trillion in oil and gas infrastruc-
    ture is needed by 2035.

    • It takes 7.3–10 calories of energy input to produce 1
    calorie of food energy.

    • Direct fuel subsidies to agriculture in the United States
    total $2.4 billion.

    • Proven fossil fuel reserves, owned by private compa-
    nies, state companies, and governments, exceed the
    planet’s remaining carbon budget (in order to keep
    within a 2 degree Celsius temperature increase) by a
    factor of five.

    • Occupationally related fatalities among workers in the
    oil and gas extraction process are higher than deaths
    for workers from all other U.S. industries combined.

    Source: See endnote 2.

    Box 14–1. Fossil Fuels by the Numbers
    ed by national governments. Another is that the pe-
    troleum industry is the world’s largest, capitalized
    at $2.3 trillion and accounting for 14.2 percent of
    all commodity trade. What’s more, it is by far the
    most capital-intensive industry—$3.2 million is
    invested for every person employed. By compari-
    son, the textile industry is capitalized at $13,000 per
    worker, the computer industry at $100,000, and the
    chemical industry at $200,000. And the petroleum
    industry is among the most profitable. In 2008, for
    example, ExxonMobil made $11.68 billion in sec-
    ond-quarter profits, amounting to profits of some
    $1,400 per second, and it ranked forty-fifth on a
    list of the top 100 economic entities in the world,
    a list that includes national governments. In 2010,
    ExxonMobil jumped to thirty-fifth on the list, just
    behind Royal Dutch Shell.2

    Yet another indication of the influence of the
    fossil fuel complex is the flow of tax dollars to and
    from the industry. Worldwide, governments sub-
    sidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of some
    $300–500 billion per year. In the United States in
    2008, the petroleum industry paid $23 billion in
    royalties to the U.S. Treasury. In Saudi Arabia, the
    world’s largest oil producer, oil and gas account for
    90 percent of the gross domestic product while em-
    ploying only 1.6 percent of the active labor force.3

    Perhaps the industry’s greatest source of influence is its ability to ad-
    vance a vision, one of abundant and cheap energy, of powering and defend-
    ing nations, of feeding and sheltering billions of people. It is a vision with
    appeal to nearly every sector of a modern industrial society—manufactur-
    ers, investors, military and political leaders, consumers. But its appeal has
    begun to erode.

    For one, under the rubric of the “resource curse” (broadly construed),
    the social and economic costs have become well established. “The irony of
    oil wealth,” writes political scientist Michael Ross in The Oil Curse, is that
    “the greater a country’s need for additional income—because it is poor
    and has a weak economy—the more likely its oil wealth will be misused or
    squandered. . . . Since the oil nationalizations of the 1970s, the oil-producing
    countries have had less democracy, fewer opportunities for women, more
    frequent civil wars, and more volatile economic growth than the rest of the
    world, especially in the developing world.” In addition, Ross finds, “by 2005,

    Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era | 165

    at least half of the OPEC countries were poorer than they had been thirty
    years earlier.”4

    From a national security perspective, former CIA director Jim Woolsey
    says: “It was obvious that oil was dominant in a lot of places that generated
    trouble. There’s almost nothing that doesn’t get better if you move away
    from dependence on oil.” Even industry insiders have taken stock and are
    trying to imagine a different world. “The resources are there,” writes John
    Hofmeister, former president of the Shell Oil Company in the United States.
    “The question is: do we want to continue to use these fossil fuels at cur-
    rent—or increasing—rates until they are eventually exhausted? The answer,
    unequivocably, is no. The economic, social, and environmental costs of such
    an approach are becoming ever clearer and ever higher.” Or, as the German
    Advisory Council on Global Change put it, “The ‘fossil-nuclear metabolism’
    of the industrialized society has no future. The longer we cling to it, the
    higher the prices will be for future generations.”5

    In short, for all the power of the fossil fuel players, their deliberate construc-
    tion of fossil fuels’ net beneficence and inevitable use is beginning to crumble.

    A Politics of Urgent Transition
    To limit extraction, not just manage emissions, requires a particular kind
    of politics. Its thrust is accelerating the transition out of fossil fuels, con-
    fronting extremely powerful actors, and creating a norm of the good life, life
    without endless expansion and extraction.

    The politics of this transition is ultimately moral, and so the ultimate
    strategy is delegitimization. This does not mean a vilification of the fossil
    fuel industry. The industry has a century and more of vilification, starting
    with charges against Rockefeller’s Standard Oil (the “Octopus”) and con-
    tinuing through to today (Hofmeister entitled his book Why We Hate the Oil
    Companies). Nor does this mean simply a repudiation of the industry’s anti-
    democratic, anti-environmental tactics. Rather, delegitimization means the
    reconceptualizing and revaluing of fossil fuels—or, to be precise, of humans’
    relationship with fossil fuels. It means a shift in understanding of fossil fuels
    from constructive substances to destructive substances, from necessity to
    indulgence or even addiction, from a “good” to a “bad,” from lifeblood (of
    modern society) to poison (of a potentially sustainable society).6

    In other words, fossil fuels will make a moral transition in parallel to the
    material transition. Much as slavery went from universal institution to uni-
    versal abomination and as tobacco went from medicinal and cool to lethal
    and disgusting, the delegitimization of fossil fuels will flip the valence of these
    otherwise wondrous, free-for-the-taking complex hydrocarbons. And rather
    than pin blame on “big bad oil (and coal) companies” or, even worse, on “all
    of us” because everyone uses fossil fuels, delegitimization simply recognizes

    166 | State of the World 2013

    that a substance once deemed net beneficial can become net detrimental. As
    in abolition and the delegitimization of smoking, what it takes is some com-
    pelling examples (begin with climate disruption and smog, add acid rain and
    oil slicks, include carbon monoxide and scores of other air pollutants), inci-
    sive critics, effective communication, and—for the moral entrepreneurs—a
    whole lot of persistence and willingness to be vilified.7

    Delegitimization of fossil fuels would start with the simple observation
    that there are some things humans cannot handle. And for these things, hu-
    mans can decide not to use them, just as they have with respect to ozone-
    depleting substances, lead in paint and gasoline, drift nets, land mines, rhino
    horns, and someday, perhaps, nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.

    Fortunately, some bold and clever people, North and South, are already
    saying no to fossil fuels and other mined materials. Their experiments, in-
    deed their courage, suggest that such delegitimization has begun. This is
    particularly true among otherwise marginalized peoples. Their politics is
    not parochial protectionism, not localism. It is simultaneously protecting
    livelihood and the planet. Every new act of local resistance contributes to a
    new normative belief, one that says that the game is illegitimate, that it ben-
    efits a powerful few and their clients while fobbing the costs off on others in
    space and time. While such local acts of resistance are quickly dismissed as
    NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) by defenders of the fossil fuel order, from the
    perspective of global threat and globalization from below, they are part of a
    larger project of delegitimization.

    And so, what the climate scientists and others started yet cannot finish
    with their top-down, expert-led, apolitical, managerialist schemes and tech-
    nological fixes is being augmented and accelerated by moral commitments
    in small pockets all over the world. But clearly fossil-fuel-dependent societ-
    ies cannot stop cold. They can, however, start stopping now. One ethical
    justification for continued fossil-fuel-consumption is to facilitate a future
    without fossil fuels. Others are self-preservation and self-defense. What is
    more, because the transition away from current high-energy patterns will
    require considerable energy, those societies and communities deliberately
    living on little energy will have an advantage. Local action matters most in
    part because a top-down, centralized phaseout of fossil fuels by those with
    the most to lose is highly unlikely.8

    Finally, delegitimizing a substance (or a process like exploring and drill-
    ing), as opposed to condemning an actor or all of humanity, puts the focus
    on the offending substance or, more specifically, on its use. Fossil fuels are
    perfectly “natural”; traditional uses of petroleum (rock oil) for pitch, light-
    ing, and medicinal purposes were, for all we can tell, only harmful locally if
    at all. In a strategy of delegitimization, the burden shifts from the contest of
    interest groups (environmentalists versus industrialists, for example) to a

    Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era | 167

    contest over the politics of the good life. Industrialists have enacted one vi-
    sion of the good life. Its efficacy in the twentieth century can be debated, but
    the politics of delegitimization are about now and the future, including the
    distant future. It is an affirmative politics, about creating a different vision
    of the good life given the biophysical trends under way.

    Early Efforts to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground
    On the face of it, keep them in the ground, for all its environmental and
    ethical justifications, is just an idea. The world is happily (some might say
    madly) pumping oil, devouring coal, and capturing natural gas—all at re-
    cord levels. Everyone wants in the game for reasons of profit and power (or
    both), everyone from private energy companies to petrostates to investors.
    The juggernaut is rolling across the landscape; it cannot be stopped.

    Except in some places, including some of the unlikeliest of places—ma-
    jor oil-producing countries, for instance—where key actors have begun
    stopping this monstrous vehicle. None of these exceptions are successful in
    the sense of a complete shutdown of fossil fuel extraction. None are large-
    scale. But all are significant in that these actors have had the temerity to
    challenge an established order that is local, national, and international as
    well as hugely powerful. What is more, these efforts are occurring largely
    peacefully and through democratic means. And perhaps most significant,
    they are doing so at a time when the world as a whole sees no crisis, no ex-
    istential threat, just the odd pollutant to clean up, emissions to be managed,
    and efficiencies to be realized.

    In the global South, for example, coalitions of indigenous peoples, non-
    governmental organizations, and government agencies in Ecuador and Bo-
    livia have rewritten their constitutions to enshrine the right of nature and
    define a new model of sustainable development, one that excludes fossil
    fuels. In Ecuador, it is called sumak kawsay in Quichua, buen vivir in Span-
    ish, and the good life in English. The leaders there recognize that petroleum
    production will eventually decline, that there have been long-term costs to
    Ecuador, and that costs to the planet are becoming increasingly dangerous.9

    As a first step, the Yasuní-ITT Initiative proposes keeping 20 percent of
    Ecuador’s known oil reserves in the ground. It calls for coresponsibility with
    the rest of the world in avoiding emissions that the nearly 900 million barrels
    of oil in the ITT block could produce. The international community would
    pay for avoided carbon emissions to protect one of the most biodiverse spots
    on Earth and to limit in a small way global emissions. It would also protect
    the rights of at least two indigenous groups that live there in voluntary isola-
    tion. The $350 million per year that Ecuador seeks for 13 years (half of what
    they estimate the reserves would earn from oil extraction) would be placed
    in a U.N. Development Programme Trust Fund with a board of directors

    168 | State of the World 2013

    The machinery of fracking deployed at a site in Texas.

    that includes Ecuadorans as well as members of the global community. If
    successful, it would be one of the largest global environmental trust funds of
    its kind. And it would be created not by burning fossil fuels, but by keeping
    them in the ground.10

    Costa Rica, a small Caribbean country with known oil reserves offshore,
    enacted a moratorium in 2002 on oil extraction, citing ecological and so-
    cial damage. In his 2002 inaugural address, President Abel Pacheco declared
    “Costa Rica will become an environmental leader and not an oil or mining
    enclave.” He went on to say, “Costa Rica’s real oil and real gold are its waters
    and the oxygen produced by its forests.” Despite a brief encounter with the
    oil industry in the 1980s and recent considerations of natural gas explora-
    tion, Costa Rica has maintained its stance against this industry in favor of
    ecotourism and alternative energy sources and has achieved high human
    development indicators.11

    In the global North, however, fossil fuels once left in the ground as too
    expensive to retrieve are being revisited. In the United States, federally

    funded research in the 1980s led
    to major innovations in imaging
    and mapping gas-rich shale deep
    beneath the surface. Blasting the
    shale with high pressure fracking
    fluids and drilling horizontally in
    multiple directions with powerful
    new diamond-studded drill bits
    add up to what became known as
    “slick-water, high-volume hori-
    zontal hydraulic fracturing,” com-
    monly referred to as hydrofracking
    or just fracking.12

    As a result, massive amounts
    of shale gas can be reached prof-
    itably. These shale gas “plays,” as
    the industry refers to them, are

    spreading rapidly in the traditional coal and oil states: Pennsylvania, Texas,
    and West Virginia. But when landsmen began knocking on doors in rural
    New York State enticing homeowners to lease their property for access to
    the vast Marcellus Shale beneath them, a keep-it-in-the-ground movement
    came to life. Landowners, environmental activists, artists, and indigenous
    peoples organized and protested, putting pressure on state and local offi-
    cials. In 2010, New York Governor David Patterson ordered a moratorium
    on hydrofracking permits until the state completed an environmental and
    regulatory review. As of this writing, the latest state proposals would ban




    Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era | 169

    hydrofracking in the watersheds from which New York City and Syracuse
    get their unfiltered municipal supplies; surface drilling would be prohib-
    ited on state-owned land, including parks, and on forest areas and wildlife
    management areas.13

    In the process, the state Department of Environmental Conservation re-
    ceived more than 13,000 public comments overwhelmingly in opposition to
    drilling in the remaining areas. Not leaving the decision up to the state, many
    local municipalities have approved or are considering zoning ordinances and
    outright bans. These are likely to be challenged in state courts. Concerns fo-
    cus mostly on the threat to water supplies and aquifers from a process that in-
    volves the injection of large volumes of water, industrial fracking chemicals,
    and sand under high pressure. Water and contaminants are involved in every
    step of the process: transporting water to the drill site, mixing the chemicals,
    blasting the shale, recovering the fluids that come back with the gas, and,
    finally, transporting, treating, and disposing of the wastewater.14

    Among the most vocal and powerful voices in the hydrofracking upris-
    ing have been those of the indigenous peoples of New York State. Repre-
    sentatives of the traditional leadership of the Haudenosaunee (the Iro-
    quois) have pointed out that large-scale industrial drilling would likely
    disturb burial grounds and other sites of historical and spiritual impor-
    tance. They have called on the U.S. government to uphold their water and
    land rights as guaranteed in multiple treaties between the United States
    and native nations. They remind the state and its citizens that while the gas
    industry’s concern only spans the period of time when the well produces
    gas, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the land and the water for
    future generations.15

    The outcome of the anti-fracking movement in New York State remains
    inconclusive. Fracking is on hold for now, but the pressures to exploit the re-
    source are great. And conventional environmental arguments do not seem to
    be enough. What may turn out to be the most significant outcome is a pub-
    lic increasingly open to the possibility of keeping fossil fuels in the ground,
    an idea largely attributable to the new and powerful influence of Haudeno-
    saunee leaders and the introduction of indigenous perspectives and values
    into a debate that would otherwise be narrowly technical and economic.

    Farther south, long-standing resistance to destructive coal mining prac-
    tices in Appalachia appear to be taking a new turn, shifting in places from
    improving practices and cleaning up waste to ending coal extraction en-
    tirely. Around the world there are citizen-led actions to keep destructive
    substances in the ground and stop destructive practices, from uranium in
    Australia and gold in El Salvador to gold and diamonds in Guyana and oil in
    the Norwegian Arctic. These examples, though small in the larger scheme of
    global energy production and consumption, signal a rippling of resistance

    170 | State of the World 2013

    around the globe against extractivist policies and, simultaneously, support
    for a good life without fossil fuels.16

    Envisioning a Post–Fossil Fuel Era
    Imagining deliberately keeping fossil fuels in the ground, much less the end
    of the fossil fuel era, is difficult. No matter how much environmental sci-
    ence is absorbed, how much geologic and ecological perspective is attained,
    how much ethical commitment is mustered, it is hard to escape industrial
    progressivism. It just seems like all this modernity will continue, albeit with
    adjustments—an efficiency here, some greening up there.

    In fact, this pervasive impression—that the fossil fuel era has been
    around for a long, long time and will be for a long, long time to come, in-
    deed that it must be—this impression has been deliberately constructed by
    the industry and its industrial and governmental enablers. Physical reality,
    however, speaks otherwise. Unfortunately, for fossil fuel proponents any-
    way, there is just too much knowledge piled up to believe in the indefinite
    perpetuation of the fossil fuel era, and not just scientific knowledge but
    political and strategic knowledge.

    So a primary task for those who believe that the fossil fuel era will not
    continue, and yet will not end soon enough to avoid catastrophic outcomes,
    is to imagine that end. To facilitate such imagining, arguably a necessary
    precursor to designing policies and behavior change strategies, we offer two
    observations as an envisioning exercise.17

    First, the fossil-fuel era, which began in the 1890s, when fossil fuels sur-
    passed wood as the dominant energy source, is only about six generations
    old. Many of us alive now have personally known people who lived before
    the fossil-fuel era. It was not that long ago. The fossil fuel era is not that
    permanent, nor is its continuation that inevitable. Given that the initial
    stage of an energy source’s use is one where benefits are highlighted and
    costs unknown or shaded (displaced in time and space), we can expect
    that fossil fuels have the same quality, only on a far grander scale than
    anything before. Coal’s depredations—from miners’ bodies to asthmat-
    ics’ lungs, from decimated mountains in Appalachia to dug-out deserts in
    Mongolia —are well known. Coal’s early exit is virtually a no-brainer. No
    wonder the industry’s anti-climate-change activism has been so vehement.
    Oil, arguably the most consequential energy source of all time, is widely
    deemed essential (and thus the rush for alternative liquid fuels), but it too
    will eventually fade out.18

    The costs of fossil fuels, from traffic casualties to climate disruption, will
    eventually catch up. The fossil-fuel era will come to an end well before con-
    ventional analysis and decisionmaking would indicate. And just as global
    fossil- fuel production will decline as all wells and oil fields do, the industry

    Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era | 171

    will decline, too. Just because no one in the industry or anyone dependent
    on it (virtually everyone) wants to talk about this does not make it other-
    wise. Fossil fuel production and the fossil fuel industries will most assuredly

    Second, one place to start the imagining is, ironically enough, the fossil
    fuel industry itself. Preliminary evidence suggests that serious people in the
    oil, gas, and coal industries along with the automobile and petrochemical
    industries know this game cannot go on. “Energy executives know that the
    existing supply capacity from traditional sources is about tapped out,” writes
    former Shell president John Hofmeister. They know the easy stuff is effec-
    tively gone. Now, they are learning, it is also changing the climate, melting
    the very tundra their trucks depend on, blowing apart rigs they thought
    were secure. What they say publicly is different, of course. Their jobs, their
    way of life, their personal and professional identity, their future is on the
    line. They seem to pray that a miracle technology will come along to keep
    the game going a little while longer. This difficulty is perfectly understand-
    able. And yet people in equally entrenched positions (witness slavery and
    smoking) have made huge shifts in position.19

    In short, a deliberate policy, state-led or not, of keeping fossil fuels in
    the ground is at once preposterous and perfectly sensible. Stranger things
    have happened. How it would happen, at what rate, with what local effects,
    is still anyone’s guess. That fossil fuels will be in the ground and stay there
    when the fossil fuel era ends is beyond doubt. The only question is whether
    enough will stay to stabilize climate, reverse degrading trends, and avert so-
    cial calamity. Bringing about an urgent transition begins with a certain kind
    of politics, one of delegitimizing fossil fuels and humans’ deeply problem-
    atic relationship to them. This is a politics that recognizes that once fossil
    fuels are out of the ground, their by-products will permeate our bodies, the
    oceans, and the atmosphere and cause catastrophic loss. Those politics and
    the policies and economies that follow constitute a necessary first step in
    choosing to end the fossil-fuel era.

    Most discussions of the remarkable trajectory of human development in
    the past few centuries label the phenomenon the Industrial Revolution. This
    term is apt enough, although it emphasizes the industrious nature of clever
    humans. An equally important factor—if not more so—has been the abun-
    dant supply of cheap surplus energy in the form of fossil fuels. Coal fueled
    the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, opening the door to accelerated
    energy-resource discovery and exploitation. Indeed, the first major applica-
    tion of coal was to power steam engines used to pump water out of coal
    mines in order to gain access to more coal. Perhaps the Coal Revolution
    would more accurately represent the transformational change marked by
    the nineteenth century.1

    Fossil fuel stocks are known to be finite, and by most accounts their ex-
    traction rates will peak this century. Thus in the long view it is a near cer-
    tainty that the current age will be known to history as the Fossil Fuel Age. It is
    the time when humans discovered Earth’s battery—solar-charged over mil-
    lions of years—and depleted it fast enough to effectively constitute a short

    During this epoch, our unprecedented capacity to process materials,
    manufacture goods, create a “built environment,” and revolutionize agri-
    cultural productivity has translated into a world of spectacular accomplish-
    ments, advanced scientific knowledge, technology that an earlier generation
    might call magic, sustained economic growth, and a surging population of 7
    billion industrially fed human beings. These feats would not have been pos-
    sible without the bounty of fossil fuels.

    In this light, our present state can be seen as a reflection of historically
    available energy. If depicted in schematic fashion over the course of a civi-
    lization-scale timeline, the general history and future of fossil fuel use will
    very likely appear as a sharp spike. (See Figure 15–1.) Humanity now sits
    near the apex of the brief fossil fuel energy explosion and prepares to en-

    T. W. Murphy, Jr., is an associate
    professor of physics at the Uni-
    versity of California/San Diego.

    c h a p t e r 1 5

    Beyond Fossil Fuels:
    Assessing Energy Alternatives

    T. W. Murphy, Jr.

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_15, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives | 173

    ter an untested regime of unprec-
    edented scale: the loss of a resource
    that has been unquestionably vital
    to growth and development.2

    Bracketing the possible future
    paths are the optimistic scenario
    that fossil fuels are merely a kick-
    start to an ever-growing, ever-im-
    proving technological society and
    the pessimistic view that society
    will fail to find suitable replace-
    ments for fossil fuels and will ex-
    perience decline to pre-industrial
    population levels and ways of life.
    The optimistic view is clearly more
    appealing, rests on a track record
    spanning generations, and is closer
    to mainstream opinion, while the
    unpalatable pessimistic perspective seems alarmist and fatalistic. Yet com-
    plete dismissal of the pessimistic possibility carries hubristic overtones. It
    must, after all, be recognized that most of the empirical evidence in support
    of the optimistic scenario emerged in the context of abundant surplus energy
    provided by fossil fuels.

    In short, recent history has been written in fossil fuels. When produc-
    tion of these fuels declines, the prevailing narrative of growth-based hu-
    man endeavors may require significant adjustment. Any scientist will af-
    firm that indefinite growth in any physical measure is impossible. Energy
    use in the world has grown by approximately 3 percent per year for the
    past few centuries. At this rate, the current 16 terawatts (TW) of global
    power demand would balloon to equal the entire solar output in about
    1,000 years and match all 100 billion stars in our galaxy inside of 2,000
    years. Well before this—within 400 years—enough direct heat would be
    generated on Earth to bring the surface temperature to that of boiling wa-
    ter. Similarly alarming statements can be made about population, resource
    use, or anything that has seen sustained growth over the past few centuries.
    Obviously, the “normal” world of growth is a temporary anomaly destined
    to self-terminate by natural means.3

    While some current economic activities use little energy or physical re-
    sources, no activity can claim zero use. And energy-intensive activities (such
    as agriculture, transport, and thermal management) will establish a floor be-
    low which the economy cannot sink. So an end to energy or resource growth
    ultimately means an end to economic growth as traditionally defined.4




    Figure 15–1. The Transient Phenomenon of Fossil Fuels







    muscle and �rewood ?


    -6000 -4000 -2000 0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000

    174 | State of the World 2013

    Substitution and the Drumbeat of Improvement

    For indoor lighting applications, whale oil replaced beeswax; kerosene de-
    rived from coal replaced whale oil; petroleum replaced kerosene; and now we
    use electricity derived from coal, natural gas, hydropower, nuclear, biomass,
    and a smattering of renewable sources. The lesson seems clear: new, superior
    sources come to bear, rendering the prior solutions obsolete. Why should
    there be any deviation in this recurring storyline as fossil fuels give way in the
    future? Considering solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal, tidal, wave, and biofuel
    sources, it appears that the menu of substitutes is full to bursting.

    It is worth pointing out, however, that some concepts and technologies
    find no superior substitute over time; examples include the wheel, metal
    blades, window glass, and rope. Naturally, refinements accumulate, but the
    basic concepts are unrivaled and dominate for millennia. And sometimes
    once-prevalent technologies become unavailable to society without ad-
    equate substitutes, such as the recent loss of commercial supersonic transat-
    lantic flight or of U.S. human space launch capability. Perhaps these rever-
    sals are temporary setbacks, but the familiar narrative of a constant march
    toward superior substitutions and “faster, better, cheaper” practices is not an
    immutable law of nature.

    The Alternative Energy Matrix
    In exploring potential replacements for fossil energy, it soon becomes appar-
    ent that fossil fuels are unparalleled in many respects. Even though viewed as
    a source of energy from the ground, fossil fuels are perhaps more aptly de-
    scribed as nearly perfect energy storage media, at energy densities that are or-
    ders of magnitude higher than anything achieved thus far in the best battery
    technology today. The storage is nearly perfect because it is reasonably safe,
    not especially corrosive, easy to transport (via pipelines, often), lightweight
    yet dense enough to work in airplanes, and indefinitely storable—indeed, for
    millions of years—without loss of energy. No alternative storage technique
    can boast all the same benefits, be it batteries, flywheels, hydrogen, or ethanol.

    In order to make comparisons, it is helpful to create a matrix of proper-
    ties of energy sources so that the relative strengths and weaknesses of each
    are obvious at a glance. (See Figures 15–2 and 15–3.) The matrix is present-
    ed as a Figure based on 10 different criteria. White, gray, and black can be
    loosely interpreted as satisfactory, marginal, and deficient, respectively. Gray
    boxes are often accompanied by brief reasons for their classification—other
    extremes often being obvious. While some criteria are quantitative, many
    are subjective. The following 10 properties are useful for this comparison.

    Abundance. Not all ideas, however clever or practical, can scale to meet
    the needs of modern society. Hydroelectric power cannot expand beyond

    Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives | 175

    about 5 percent of current global demand, while the solar potential reaching
    Earth’s surface is easily calculated to exceed this benchmark by a factor of
    about 5,000. Abundant sources are coded white, while niche ideas like hy-
    droelectricity that cannot conceivably fulfill one quarter of global demand
    are colored black. Intermediate players that can satisfy a substantial fraction
    of demand are coded gray.5

    Difficulty. This field tries to capture the degree to which a resource brings
    with it large technical challenges. How many PhDs does it take to run the
    plant? How intensive is it to maintain an operational state? This one might
    translate into economic terms: difficult is another term for expensive.

    Intermittency. This is colored white if the source is rock-steady or avail-
    able whenever it is needed. If the availability is beyond our control, then it
    gets a gray at least. The possibility of substantial underproduction for a few
    days earns black.

    Demonstrated. To be white, a resource has to be commercially available
    today and providing useful energy. Proof of concept on paper, or prototypes
    that exhibit some of the technology, do not count as demonstrated.

    Electricity. Can the technology produce electricity? For most sources, the
    answer is yes. Sometimes it would make little sense to try. For other sources,
    it is impractical.

    Heat. Can the resource produce direct heat? This is colored gray if only
    via electric means.

    Transport. Does the technology relieve the looming decline in petroleum
    production? Anything that makes electricity can power an electric car, earn-
    ing a gray score. Liquid fuels are white. Bear in mind that a large-scale mi-
    gration to electric cars is not guaranteed to happen, as the cars may remain
    too expensive to be widely adopted.

    Acceptance. Is public opinion (judging by U.S. attitudes) favorable to this

    Figure 15–2. Energy Source Properties: Fossil Fuels


    Natural Gas


    Coal via electric(and trains?)


    for now

    for now
    for now

    via electric

    buses, trucks for heat

    satisfactory marginal
























    176 | State of the World 2013

    method? Will there likely be resistance, whether justified or not?
    Backyard. Is this something that can be used domestically, in someone’s

    backyard or small property, managed by the individual? Distributed power
    adds to system resilience.

    Efficiency. Over 50 percent earns white. Below about 10 percent gets
    black. It is not the most important of criteria, as the property of abun-
    dance implicitly incorporates efficiency expectations, but we will always
    view low efficiency negatively.

    Figure 15–3. Energy Source Properties: Alternatives to Fossil Fuels

    Solar PV






















    deep drill


    high-tech military



    R&D e�ort


    via electric
    via electric
    via electric

    via electric via electric

    via electric

    via electric not universal micro-hydro

    small scale?

    via electric

    via electric noise, birds,

    variations via electric

    via electric
    via electric
    via electric



    deep wells

    deep wells




    ethanol, etc.



    seasonal �ow

    some storage

    some R&D

    some storage
    deep drill


    satisfactory marginal de�cient






    Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives | 177

    Environmental impact has no column in this matrix, although the “ac-
    ceptance” measure captures some of this. Climate change is an obvious neg-
    ative for fossil fuels, but not so much as to curtail global demand, in practice.
    None of the alternatives presented here contributes directly to carbon diox-
    ide emissions, earning an added advantage for all entries.

    Each energy source can be assigned a crude numerical score, adding one
    point for each white box, no points for gray boxes, and deducting a point for
    each black box. Certainly this is an imperfect scoring scheme, giving each
    criterion equal weight, but it provides some means of comparing and rank-
    ing sources.

    The conventional fossil fuels each score 7–8 out of 10 possible points by
    this scheme, displayed on the right side of Figure 15–2. Natural gas must
    be divided into heating versus electricity production for a few of the scor-
    ing categories.

    The overall impression conveyed by this graphic is that fossil fuels per-
    form rather well in almost all criteria. Because fossil fuels account for 81
    percent of global energy use, they are each classified as having intermediate
    abundance. But even this is not a permanent condition—providing signifi-
    cant motivation for exploring alternatives in the first place. Getting energy
    out of fossil fuels is trivially easy. Being free of intermittency problems, fully
    demonstrated, and versatile enough to provide heat, electricity, and trans-
    portation fuel, fossil fuels have been embraced by society and are frequently
    used directly in homes. Efficiency for anything but direct heat is middling,
    typically clocking 15–25 percent for automotive engines and 30–40 percent
    for power plants.6

    The commonly discussed alternative energy approaches display a wider
    range of ratings. Immediately, some overall trends are clear in Figure 15–3.
    Very few options are both abundant and easy. Solar photovoltaics (PV) and
    solar thermal are the exceptions. A similar exclusion principle often holds
    for abundant and demonstrated/available. This uncommon combination
    plays a large role in the popularity of solar power.

    Intermittency mainly plagues solar and wind resources, with mild incon-
    venience appearing for many of the natural sources.

    Electricity is easy to produce, resulting in many options. Since the easiest
    and cheapest will likely be picked first, the less convenient forms of electric-
    ity production are less likely to be exploited (farther down the list, to the
    extent that the ordering is correlated with economic advantage).

    Transportation needs are hard to satisfy. Together with the fact that oil
    production will peak before natural gas or coal, transportation may appear as
    the foremost problem to address. Electric cars are an obvious—albeit expen-
    sive—solution, but the technology has a number of drawbacks relative to fos-
    sil fuels and does not lend itself to air travel or heavy shipping by land or sea.

    178 | State of the World 2013

    Few of the options face serious barriers to acceptance, especially when
    energy scarcity is at stake. Some energy sources are available for individual
    implementation, allowing distributed power generation as opposed to cen-
    tralized resources. For example, a passive solar home with PV panels, wind
    power, and some method to produce liquid fuels on-site would satisfy most
    domestic energy needs in a self-sufficient manner.

    Cost is not directly represented in the matrix, although the difficulty rat-
    ing may serve as an imperfect proxy. In general, the alternative methods
    have difficulty competing with cheap fossil fuels. It is not yet clear whether
    the requisite prosperity needed to afford a more expensive energy future at
    today’s scale will be forthcoming.

    The Tally for Individual Alternative Sources
    A single chapter cannot adequately detail the myriad complex consider-
    ations that went into the matrix in Figure 15–3. Many of the quantitative
    and qualitative aspects for each were developed at the Do the Math website.
    The key qualities of each resource in relation to the matrix criteria are dis-
    cussed in this section, focusing especially on less obvious characteristics.7

    Solar PV. Covering just 0.5 percent of Earth’s land area with PV panels
    that are 15 percent efficient satisfies global annual energy demand, qualifying
    solar PV as abundant. PV panels are being produced globally at 27 gigawatts
    (GW) peak capacity per year (translating to about 5 GW of average power
    added per year), demonstrating a low degree of difficulty. Most people do not
    object to solar PV on rooftops or over parking areas, or even in open spaces
    (especially deserts). Solar panels are well suited to individual operation and
    maintenance. Intermittency is the Achilles’ heel of solar PV, requiring storage
    solutions if adopted on a large scale. To illustrate the difficulty of storage,
    a lead-acid battery big enough to provide the United States with adequate
    backup power would require more lead than is estimated to be accessible in
    the world and would cost approximately $60 trillion at today’s price of lead.
    Lithium or nickel-based batteries fare no better on cost or abundance. The
    small number of suitable locales limits the potential of pumped storage.8

    Solar Thermal. Achieving comparable efficiency to PV but using more
    land area, the process of generating electricity from concentrated solar
    thermal energy has no problem qualifying as abundant—although some-
    what more regionally constrained. It is relatively low-tech: shiny curved
    mirrors, tracking on (often) one axis, heat oil or a similar fluid to drive a
    standard heat engine. Intermittency can be mitigated by storing thermal
    energy, perhaps even for a few days. A number of plants are already in
    operation, producing cost-competitive electricity. Public acceptance is no
    worse than for PV, but the technology generally must be implemented in
    large, centralized facilities.

    Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives | 179

    Solar Heating. On a smaller scale, heat collected directly from the sun can
    provide domestic hot water and home heating. In the latter case, this can be
    as simple as a south-facing window. Capturing and using solar heat effec-
    tively is not particularly difficult, coming down to plumbing, insulation, and
    ventilation control. Technically, solar heating potential might be abundant,
    but since it is usually restricted to building footprints (roof, windows), it
    gets a gray rating. Solar heating does not lend itself to electricity generation
    or transport, but it has no difficulty being accepted and almost by definition
    is a backyard-ready technology.

    Hydroelectric. Despite impressive efficiency, hydroelectric potential is al-
    ready well developed in the world and is destined to remain a small player
    on the scale of today’s energy use. It has seasonal intermittency (a typical
    hydroelectric plant delivers only 40 percent of its design capacity), does not
    directly provide heat or transport, and can only rarely be implemented per-
    sonally, at home. Acceptance is fairly high, although silting and associated
    dangers—together with habitat destruction and the forced displacement of
    people—do cause some opposition to expansion.

    Biofuels from Algae. Because algae capture solar energy—even at less than
    5 percent efficiency—the potential energy scale is enormous. Challenges in-
    clude keeping the plumbing clean, possible infection (for example, a genetic
    arms race with evolving viruses), contamination by other species, and so on.
    At present, no algal sample that secretes the desired fuels has been identified
    or engineered. No one knows whether genetic engineering will succeed at
    creating a suitable organism. Otherwise, the ability to provide transporta-
    tion fuel is the big draw. Heat may also be efficiently produced, but electric-
    ity production would represent a misallocation of precious liquid fuel.

    Geothermal Electricity. This option makes sense primarily at rare geo-
    logical hotspots. It will not scale to be a significant part of our entire energy
    mix. Aside from this, it is relatively easy, steady, and well demonstrated in
    many locations. It can provide electricity, and obviously direct heat—al-
    though usually far from locations demanding heat.

    Wind. Wind is neither super-abundant nor scarce, being one of those
    options that can meet a considerable fraction of present needs under large-
    scale development. Implementation is relatively straightforward, reasonably
    efficient, and demonstrated the world over in large wind farms. The big-
    gest downside is intermittency. It is not unusual to have little or no regional
    input for several days in a row. Objections to wind tend to be more serious
    than for many other alternatives. Windmills are noisy and tend to be located
    in prominent places (ridgetops, coastlines) where their high degree of vis-
    ibility alters scenery. Wind remains viable for small-scale personal use.9

    Artificial Photosynthesis. Combining the abundance of direct solar with
    the self-storing flexibility of liquid fuel, artificial photosynthesis is a compel-

    180 | State of the World 2013

    ling future possibility. The ability to store the resulting liquid fuel for many
    months means that intermittency is eliminated to the extent that annual pro-
    duction meets demand. A panel in sunlight dripping liquid fuel could sat-
    isfy both heating and transportation needs. Electricity can also be produced,
    but given an abundance of ways to make electricity, the liquid fuels would be
    misallocated if used in this way. Unfortunately, an adequate form of artificial
    photosynthesis has yet to be demonstrated in the laboratory, although the U.S.
    Department of Energy initiated a large program in 2010 toward this goal.10

    Tidal Power. Restricted to se-
    lect coastal locations, tidal power
    will never be a large contributor
    on the global scale. The resource is
    intermittent on daily and monthly
    scales but in a wholly predictable
    manner. Extracting tidal energy is
    not terribly hard—it shares tech-
    nology with similarly efficient hy-
    droelectric installations—and has
    been demonstrated in a number of
    locations around the world.

    Conventional Fission. Using
    conventional uranium reactors
    and conventional mining practices,
    nuclear fission does not have the
    legs for a marathon. On the other
    hand, it is certainly well demon-

    strated and has no problems with intermittency—except that it cannot eas-
    ily accommodate intermittency in the face of variable load. Compared with
    other options, nuclear power qualifies as a high-tech approach—meaning
    that design, construction, operation, and emergency mitigation require more
    advanced training and sophistication than the average energy producer.

    Acceptance is mixed. Germany and Japan plan to phase out their nuclear
    programs by 2022 and the 2030s, respectively, despite being serious about
    carbon reduction. Public unease also contributed to a halt in licensing new
    reactors in the United States from 1978 to 2012. Some opposition stems
    from unwarranted—yet no less real—fear, sustained in part by the tech-
    nical complexity of the subject. But some opposition relates to political
    difficulty surrounding the onerous waste problem that no country has yet
    solved to satisfaction.11

    Uranium Breeder. Extending nuclear fission to use plutonium synthe-
    sized from U-238, which is 140 times more abundant than U-235, gives
    uranium fission the legs to run for at least centuries if not a few millennia,

    Dam of the tidal power plant on the estuary of the Rance River, Brittany,
    France. It has been in operation since 1966.


    i 7

    Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives | 181

    ameliorating abundance issues. Breeding has been practiced in military re-
    actors, and indeed some significant fraction of the power in conventional
    uranium reactors comes from incidental synthesis of plutonium (Pu-239)
    from U-238. But no commercial power plant has been built to deliberately
    tap the bulk of uranium for power production. Public acceptance of breed-
    ers will face even higher hurdles because plutonium is more easily separated
    into bomb material than is U-235, and the trans-uranic radioactive waste
    from this option is worse than for the conventional reactor.12

    Thorium Breeder. Thorium is more abundant than uranium and only
    has one natural isotope, qualifying it as an abundant resource. Like all reac-
    tors, thorium reactors fall into the high-tech camp and include new chal-
    lenges (such as liquid sodium) that conventional reactors have not faced. A
    few small-scale demonstrations have been carried out, but nothing in the
    commercial realm; bringing thorium reactors online at scale is probably a
    few decades away. Public reaction will likely be similar to that for conven-
    tional nuclear: not a show stopper, but some resistance on similar grounds.
    It is not clear whether the novelty of thorium will be greeted with suspi-
    cion or enthusiasm. Although thorium also represents a breeding technol-
    ogy (making fissile U-233 from Th-232), the proliferation aspect is severely
    diminished for thorium due to a highly radioactive U-232 by-product and
    virtually no easily separable plutonium.

    Geothermal Heating Allowing Depletion. A vast store of thermal ener-
    gy sits in Earth’s crust, permeating the rock and moving slowly outward.
    Without regard to sustainable practices, boreholes could be drilled a few
    kilometers down to extract thermal energy out of the rock faster than the
    geophysical replacement rate, effectively mining heat as a one-time resource.
    In the absence of water flow to distribute heat, dry rock will deplete its heat
    within 5–10 meters of the borehole in a matter of a few years, requiring
    another hole 10 meters away from the previous, in repeated fashion. The re-
    current large-scale drilling operation across the land qualifies this technique
    as moderately difficult.

    The temperatures are marginal for running heat engines to make elec-
    tricity with any respectable efficiency (especially given the existence of many
    easier options for electricity), but at least the thermal resource will not suffer
    intermittency problems during the time that a given hole is still useful. Kilo-
    meter-scale drilling hurdles have prevented this technique from being dem-
    onstrated at geologically normal (inactive) sites. Public acceptance may be
    less than lukewarm given the scale of drilling involved, dealing with tailings
    and possibly groundwater contamination issues on a sizable scale. While a
    backyard might accommodate a borehole, it would be far more practical to
    use the heat for clusters of buildings rather than for just one—given the ef-
    fort and lifetime associated with each hole.

    182 | State of the World 2013

    Geothermal Heating, Steady State. Sustainable extraction of geothermal
    heat—replenished by radioactive decay within Earth—offers far less total
    potential, coming to about 10 TW of flow if summed across all land. And to
    get to temperatures hot enough to be useful for heating purposes, boreholes
    at least 1 kilometer deep would be required. It is tremendously challeng-
    ing to cover any significant fraction of land area with thermal collectors 1
    kilometer deep. As a result, a gray score for the abundance factor may be
    generous. To gather enough steady-flow heat to provide for a normal U.S.
    home’s heating demand, the collection network would have to span a square
    200 meters on a side at depth, which is likely unachievable. (Note that ordi-
    nary geothermal heat pumps are not accessing an energy resource; they are
    simply using a large thermal mass against which to regulate temperature.)

    Biofuels from Crops. While corn ethanol may not even be net energy-
    positive, sugarcane and vegetable oils as sources of biofuel fare better. But
    these sources compete with food production and arable land availability. So
    biofuels from crops can only graduate from “niche” to moderate scale in the
    context of plant waste or cellulosic conversion. The abundance and demon-
    stration fields are thus split: food crop energy is demonstrated but severely
    constrained in scale. Cellulosic matter becomes a potentially larger-scale
    source but is undemonstrated (perhaps this should even be black). Growing
    and harvesting annual crops on a relevant scale constitutes a massive, per-
    petual task and thus scores gray in difficulty.

    If exploiting fossil fuels is akin to spending a considerable inheritance,
    growing and harvesting our energy supply on an annual basis is like getting
    a manual-labor job: a most difficult transition. The main benefit of biofuels
    from crops is the liquid fuel aspect. Public acceptance hinges on competi-
    tion with food or even land in general. Because plants are only about 1–2
    percent efficient at harvesting solar energy, this option requires the com-
    mandeering of massive tracts of land.13

    A few other sources not discussed here—ocean thermal, ocean currents,
    wave energy, and two flavors of fusion—all score 1 point. Notably, the ex-
    treme technological challenge of mastering fusion just to provide another
    avenue for electricity production puts this technique at a disadvantage in
    the matrix.14

    The Fossil Fuel Gap
    The subjective nature of this exercise certainly allows numerous possibilities
    for modifying the box rankings in one direction or the other. The matrices
    embody some biases, but no attempt by anyone would be free from bias. The
    result, in this case, is dramatic. Even allowing some manipulation, the sub-
    stantial gap between the fossil fuels and their renewable alternatives would
    require excessive “cooking” to close.

    Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives | 183

    The lesson is that a transition away from fossil fuels does not appear at
    this time to involve superior substitutes, as has been characteristic of our en-
    ergy history. Fossil fuels represent a generous one-time gift from the earth.
    From our current vantage point, it is not clear that energy—vital to our eco-
    nomic activity—will be as cheap, convenient, and abundant as it has been
    during our meteoric ascent to the present.

    Adding to the hardship is the fact that many alternative energy technolo-
    gies—solar, wind, nuclear power, hydroelectric, and so on—require sub-
    stantial up-front energy investments. If society waits until energy scarcity
    forces large-scale deployment of such alternatives, it risks falling into an En-
    ergy Trap in which aggressive use of energy to develop a new energy infra-
    structure leaves less available to society in general. (See Chapter 7.) If there
    is to be a transition to a sustainable energy regime, it’s best to begin it now.15

    Phillip Saieg is an accredited
    professional under the Leader-
    ship in Energy and Environ-
    mental Design program of the
    U.S. Green Building Council
    and an account executive for
    McKinstry, a U.S.-based energy
    services company.

    The vast majority of carbon emissions into Earth’s atmosphere are energy-
    related, stemming from the combustion of fossil fuels. Curtailing these
    emissions is crucial to mitigating climate change. The supply-side option for
    reducing fossil-fuel combustion is renewable energy, and significant efforts
    are being made in that direction. (See Chapters 8 and 15.) However, there
    are currently only weak market incentives to develop renewable energy at a
    scale relative to coal and natural gas. The U.S. Energy Information Adminis-
    tration estimates that the average levelized costs (without accounting for cli-
    mate change and other externalities) of producing electricity in the United
    States from natural gas generation plants entering service in 2017 will be
    $66.10 per megawatt-hour, while the equivalent costs for utility-scale wind
    power will be $96. So although it is critical to increase the use of renew-
    able sources of energy, the current cost gap between renewables and fossil
    fuel generation, along with supply integration issues, is impeding large-scale
    adoption of renewables.1

    But there is a quicker and more financially feasible way to lessen the
    amount of carbon being added to the atmosphere. Focusing on the demand
    side of the energy equation—increasing energy efficiency—can dramati-
    cally reduce the relative percentage of emissions created by energy genera-
    tion, relieve the high demand for increased energy production, and ulti-
    mately reduce carbon emissions.

    In the United States, the transportation and industrial sectors each use
    about one quarter of all the energy consumed, while buildings consume
    nearly half in the course of heating, cooling, ventilating, and lighting their
    spaces. Worldwide, buildings account for nearly 16 percent of all energy
    consumption. And with little of the building stock being built new—from 2
    percent of U.S. commercial floor space to as much as 10 percent in India—
    most opportunities to improve efficiency over the next several decades will
    be in the existing building stock.2

    c h a p t e r 1 6

    Energy Efficiency in the
    Built Environment

    Phillip Saieg

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_16, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment | 185

    This lesson has begun to sink in: many countries, including a number
    in the developing world, are taking building efficiency seriously. India and
    China, for example, have begun paying much closer attention to natural gas
    and electricity consumption as these begin to play a larger role in their grow-
    ing built environment. Several countries in the Middle East, including Alge-
    ria, Egypt, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates, have launched efficiency
    programs. These initiatives, such as energy-conservation building codes and
    high-performance building standards, are responses to the asymmetrical
    growth of energy consumption and population growth. In industrial coun-
    tries such as the United States, energy consumption rises at an annual rate of
    1.3 percent while population grows 0.8 percent; in India, energy consump-
    tion is exploding by 4.3 percent a year while population grows 1.3 percent.3

    Energy Efficiency as a Financial Opportunity
    Efficiency is an investment opportunity as well as an environmental one.
    In July 2009, the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company did
    a comprehensive study of the U.S. building stock and found that if off-the-
    shelf energy efficiency measures were put in place across the sector, total
    U.S. energy consumption would decline by 23 percent, yielding more than
    $1.2 trillion in savings for an investment of $520 billion. These measures
    included retrofitting existing buildings with more-efficient lighting and up-
    dated heating and cooling equipment, as well as insulating walls and roofs,
    upgrading windows, and optimizing building system controls. Separately,
    McKinsey also published an analysis and ranking of the most cost-effective
    strategies for reducing carbon emissions. For example, the report concluded
    that for a given amount of money, installing building insulation would yield
    greater net savings than solar photovoltaic panels.4

    McKinsey’s analysis confirmed that energy efficiency strategies routinely
    yield better emission reduction results than supply-side solutions like solar
    or wind energy because energy efficiency strategies offer larger carbon sav-
    ings at lower costs. Energy efficiency, in fact, often wins out as a high-yield
    financial investment strategy when compared with more traditional invest-
    ments like stocks or bonds. According to the average of 100 years of U.S.
    market data, the stock market will return about 10 percent on any given
    investment (although any given investment in the stock market can result
    in huge gains or massive losses, of course). But according to the American
    Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the average financial return on
    investment for efficiency is more like 20 percent. When these energy ef-
    ficiency projects are guaranteed using a methodology called performance
    contracting, they become extremely low-risk, high-yield investments—and
    as one result, the energy performance contracting business has now grown
    to over a $5-billion-per-year industry.5

    186 | State of the World 2013

    Though McKinsey and other analysts have identified a vast opportunity
    for the reduction of carbon emissions and economic development, the idea
    of addressing buildings as “green buildings” or “energy-efficient buildings” is
    relatively new to the traditional real estate market. There is, however, a clear
    business case for renovating buildings to meet high efficiency standards,
    such as those set by the Energy Star program of the U.S. Environmental Pro-
    tection Agency (EPA) and by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental
    Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). An
    Energy Star Leader building is one with an energy efficiency score calculated
    by EPA to be at least 75, meaning that the building is in the seventy-fifth
    percentile for efficient buildings. A LEED-certified building has been evalu-

    ated under USGBC’s nationally accepted
    third-party assessment program and its
    construction and operations have been
    confirmed to be high-performance and
    sustainable. Despite the recent recession,
    the number of green buildings in the
    United States has grown significantly.
    This trend is predicted to continue and
    to shift even more toward retrofit and
    renovation projects.6

    Businesses that invest in a sustain-
    able building and have it certified under
    either the Energy Star Program or the
    LEED program are typically differenti-
    ated from the market norm by premi-
    ums in property value, rental rates, and

    occupancy rates. They are also more likely to mitigate risks to owners and
    tenants, such as rising utility costs, new regulations and standards, and a
    negative reputation. In 2008 the Urban Land Institute had this to say about
    green buildings: “Green will be measured by the business community, regu-
    lators, savvy consumers. . . . stay on top of green or eat everyone’s dust.
    There will be differentiation over the long run, adapt or get crushed.” Five
    years later, the Institute noted that “major tenants willingly pay high rents
    in return for more efficient design layouts and lower operating costs in
    LEED rated, green projects. . . . Green buildings with high ratings under the
    [LEED] program and energy-efficient systems leapfrog the competition.”7

    The numbers bear out these claims. On average, a 10 percent reduction
    in energy use in certified buildings results in an increase of 1.1–1.2 percent
    in market value. The aggregate value of the U.S. commercial green real estate
    market is expected to grow by 18 percent annually, from $35.6 billion in
    2010 to $81.8 billion by 2015. And with 185 million square meters of floor

    LEED Certified Gold condos in a renovated and retrofitted building in
    Hoboken, New Jersey.


    r B


    Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment | 187

    space in LEED-certified buildings and another 650 million square meters
    registered to become certified, sustainability investments are seen to create
    even larger market differentiation.8

    Reorienting the Commercial Real Estate Market
    The commercial real estate market is beginning to take notice of these
    evolutionary developments toward sustainable buildings. One milestone
    reached in 2010 was a concerted effort by the Appraisal Foundation—
    which is responsible for publishing standards, appraiser qualifications, and
    guidance regarding valuation methods and techniques—to begin to ac-
    count for the increased value imparted to a building by its energy efficiency
    and sustainability features. The foundation and the U.S. Department of En-
    ergy signed a memorandum of understanding to promote consistent and
    fair appraisal standards and practices with respect to energy-efficient and
    sustainable buildings.9

    A second development is the emergence of asset rating. Many building
    operational rating systems are in use today, such as the EPA’s Energy Star
    Portfolio Manager, which is used to rate building energy efficiency in per-
    centile terms compared with other similar buildings. These focus on on-
    going energy usage with the intent of improving operations. Asset rating,
    however, focuses on the energy performance of a building’s component
    parts, enabling direct comparisons of performance among similar build-
    ings regardless of hours of operation, tenant behavior, how well the systems
    are operated and maintained, and other factors that can have significant
    impacts on energy consumption. Asset rating of a building’s systems (such
    as lighting, heating and cooling, and insulation) in terms of their energy
    efficiency offers a new way to objectively value property, creating value for
    high-performance systems.10

    These developments have helped to unlock energy efficiency in com-
    mercial buildings. Building owners, in response to seeing value beyond
    the simple payback from spending less on energy, have started changing
    the way they evaluate building performance upgrades. Traditionally own-
    ers have performed straightforward return on investment (ROI) calcula-
    tions to show how energy efficiency measures can repay an investment,
    and this has been the tool of choice for evaluating whether to upgrade a
    building’s efficiency.

    ROI calculations are a key part of the evaluation process and often help
    set priorities for upgrades, but they do not give the whole picture. If an
    ROI calculation yields a payback period longer than an owner plans to hold
    on to the building, the incentive for the upgrade disappears. Commercial
    buildings typically change hands every two to four years, which makes the
    acceptable payback period fairly short. The owner in these cases usually

    188 | State of the World 2013

    chooses to implement only efficiency measures with short payback times,
    thus excluding many options that might yield deeper savings over the life
    of the building.

    Since green building has caught on, however, and tenant demand for sus-
    tainable buildings has increased, many commercial building owners have
    broadened their evaluation tools and are using a net present value (NPV)
    method that takes into account not just payback but total asset value (the
    sum of the incoming and outgoing cash flows) to help them make efficiency
    upgrade decisions. Because NPV can be realized before and in the sale of
    a building, owners are now willing to make strategic efficiency upgrades
    whose payback times extend beyond their terms of ownership.

    Efficiency Policy
    In addition to the rise of market demand and the realized financial returns
    from energy-efficient buildings, a supportive policy framework has grown
    around the green building movement. In addition to U.S. Department of
    Energy investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in energy efficiency
    projects, President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative is partnering with the
    public and private sectors to invest $4 billion in energy efficiency. And many
    state and city governments have begun passing energy efficiency legislation.11

    According to the Institute for Market Transformation, many local ju-
    risdictions—including Austin, Texas; Washington, DC; New York City;
    Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; Seattle; and the states of California and
    Washington—now have disclosure policies requiring owners of com-
    mercial buildings of a certain size (usually over 5,000 square feet) to re-
    port the buildings’ annual energy consumption. Thirty-two countries in
    Europe as well as China and Australia have also adopted disclosure poli-
    cies. In New York City, commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet are
    required to undergo an efficiency auditing and evaluation process called
    retro- commissioning every 10 years to ensure that their owners learn about
    opportunities for efficiency improvements.12

    While it is clear that great environmental benefits can result from these
    policy changes, the justification for most of the policy programs and leg-
    islation has been rooted in promoting energy efficiency as a valid tool
    to drive economic growth. President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative
    “seeks to tap into job-creation potential with a suite of policies designed
    to encourage the pursuit of energy efficiency.” The administration claims
    that the initiative has led to the creation of 114,000 jobs. Many local gov-
    ernments have also been using environmental policy as a tool for boosting
    economic growth, citing job creation and the value of efficiency as an in-
    novative approach to help balance the books in a struggling economy. A
    good number of them have undertaken efficiency strategies to reach their

    Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment | 189

    climate goals as well: at least 141 U.S. cities have registered Climate Action
    Plans and more than 1,000 have signed on to the U.S. Conference of May-
    ors’ Climate Protection Agreement.13

    Many nations have also instituted green building codes and standards.
    Between Australia’s Green Star program, Canada’s Green Globes, China’s
    Three Star Program, and Britain’s BREEAM program, to name just a few,
    almost every nation has begun requiring some level
    of sustainable building be incorporated into the
    their built environment in the last 10 years. Even
    Sudan has acknowledged this need by reducing fees
    and customs on liquid petroleum gas stoves in or-
    der to promote use of this energy source instead of
    inefficient biomass, which causes deforestation.14

    The untapped energy savings waiting to be
    harvested from existing building stock are vast.
    And while certain barriers still block this harvest,
    it is clear from the private and political support
    for sustainable buildings that an energy-efficient
    future is good for everyone. While realizing eco-
    nomic savings and improving the world’s well-
    being through a sustainable built environment,
    the problems of excessive energy consumption
    and greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed. As
    Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The problems
    of life are insoluble on the surface and can only
    be solved in depth.” Focusing on energy efficiency
    and creating sustainable buildings is essential to
    mitigate environmental risk, create long-standing
    jobs, sustain local governments, and help design a
    future that leverages waste to prosperity.15

    One Angel Square in Manchester, England, is planned to
    be a BREEAM Outstanding building.



    Danielle Nierenberg is the for-
    mer director of the Nourishing
    the Planet program at World-
    watch Institute. This chapter is
    based on Eating Planet 2012 by
    the Barilla Center for Food &

    In Ahmedabad, India, some women farmers and food processors are chang-
    ing the way Indians eat. These women belong to the Self-Employed Wom-
    en’s Association (SEWA), a trade union that brings together more than 1
    million poor women workers, 54 percent of whom are small and marginal
    farmers. In India, 93 percent of women working outside the home do not
    belong to a union, making them nearly invisible—they do not have access to
    credit, land, or financial services, including bank accounts. But when SEWA
    involves women in food production and processing, it is helping them im-
    prove their livelihoods by becoming more self-sufficient.1

    SEWA members sort, package, and market rice under their own label.
    At a SEWA-run farm outside the city, women are growing organic rice
    and vegetables and producing organic compost on what was once consid-
    ered unproductive and “marginal” land. “We now earn over 15,000 rupees
    [$350] per season, an amount we had never dreamed of earning in a life-
    time,” says Surajben Shankasbhai Rathwa, who has been a member since
    2003. These women earn more and eat better than before, and they are
    providing an important community service by producing healthy, afford-
    able, and sustainably grown food to local consumers, who usually cannot
    afford high-quality food.2

    But the women in SEWA are not only interested in what is going on in
    their own communities—they are interested in what farmers are doing to
    combat climate change, conserve water, and build soils thousands of miles
    away, in places like sub-Saharan Africa. During a meeting in early 2011, the
    women of SEWA made it clear that they wanted to learn from their coun-
    terparts elsewhere who face the same challenges—erratic weather events,
    soil degradation, high food prices, poverty, and malnutrition—throughout
    India, Africa, and other parts of the developing world. And while SEWA’s
    training farms and agricultural credit services will not change the global
    food system on their own, they are an important step toward enabling agri-

    c h a p t e r 1 7

    Growing Food—and Solutions

    Danielle Nierenberg

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_17, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Agriculture: Growing Food—and Solutions | 191

    culture not only to feed the world but also to nourish livelihoods, environ-
    mental sustainability, and vibrant rural and urban economies.3

    Agriculture is at a turning point. More than 1 billion people in the world
    remain hungry and 2 billion suffer micronutrient deficiencies. (See Figure
    17–1.) Over the last three decades the western food system has been built to
    promote the overconsumption of a few consolidated commodities—includ-
    ing rice, wheat, and maize—and
    has neglected nutrient-rich indig-
    enous foods that tend to resist heat,
    drought, and disease. One result is
    that 1.5 billion people in the world
    are obese or overweight and thus at
    higher risk of diabetes, cardiovas-
    cular disease, and other maladies.
    Moreover, vast amounts of food
    are wasted in both rich and poor
    countries, agriculture accounts for
    one third of global greenhouse gas
    (GHG) emissions, food-related
    diseases are on the rise, and the
    environmental impacts of agricul-
    ture—including deforestation, wa-
    ter scarcity, and GHG emissions—
    are increasing.4

    The global food system needs a
    strategy and vision to nourish peo-
    ple and the planet by finding ways to make food production and consump-
    tion more socially just and economically and environmentally sustainable.

    Food for All
    Hunger and malnourishment continue to be a cruel reality for many of the
    world’s poor. More than 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are con-
    sidered undernourished by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
    (FAO). Asia has the greatest number of undernourished people, with 578
    million out of the world’s 2010 total of 925 million. In Latin America and
    the Caribbean, where hunger receded dramatically throughout the 1990s,
    the number is 53 million.5

    Food prices also continue to rise. Since 2007, FAO’s Food Price Index has
    recorded a 70 percent jump in international food prices. (See Figure 17–2.)
    World Bank data show that food prices increased 15 percent for many de-
    veloping countries between October 2010 and January 2011 alone, which
    pushed an estimated 44 million people into poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa




















    Source: FAO

    Figure 17–1. Number of Undernourished People in the
    World, 1969–2011









    878 853 845 825 857





    192 | State of the World 2013

    and South Asia, many
    farmers and consumers
    are earning just $1–2 a
    day, making any increase
    in food prices especially
    painful. Instead of being
    able to buy nutritious
    beans, eggs, meat, or veg-
    etables, many households
    can afford only nutrient-
    poor staple crops such as
    rice or cassava.6

    Governments, develop-
    ment agencies, nongov-
    ernmental organizations
    (NGOs), and funders
    tend to invest in increas-

    ing production and improving yields rather than in more-neglected parts of
    the food system that have the potential to improve livelihoods, decrease mal-
    nutrition, and protect the environment. What is needed is more investment
    to prevent waste from field to fork and a stronger focus on food aid and local
    school nutrition programs.7

    Food waste can total an astonishing 30 percent of yearly harvests. In
    poorer countries, crop storage remains woefully inadequate, wasting crops
    in the places that need them the most. Farmers generally do not have access
    to proper grain stores, drying equipment, fruit crates, refrigeration, or other
    post-harvest storage and processing technologies.8

    Even wealthy nations with climate-controlled storage units, refrigeration,
    drying equipment, chemicals that inhibit fungi and molds, and plant breeds
    designed to extend shelf life still squander vast amounts of food, throwing
    away cosmetically imperfect produce, disposing of edible fish at sea, overor-
    dering stock at grocery and “big box” stores, and purchasing too much food
    for home consumption. Much of it ends up in landfills instead of in stomachs.

    In 1974, the first World Food Conference called for a 50 percent reduction
    in post-harvest losses over the following decade. Nearly 40 years later that
    goal is still not met, and waste prevention efforts remain vastly underfunded.
    Few donors invest in helping farmers and food processors find better ways to
    store and manage crops post-harvest, and wealthy consumers remain unin-
    formed about the environmental impact of their (over)buying habits.9

    But reducing this waste can be simple, inexpensive, and effective. Con-
    sider, for example, food contamination by aflatoxin, a toxic fungus that is
    caused almost exclusively by the consumption of food that has become




    Source: FAO

    Figure 17–2. Food Price Indices, 1990–2012

    1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012


    Cereal Price


    Dairy Price Index

    Sugar Price IndexMeat Price Index
    Food Price Index
    Oils Price Index

    Agriculture: Growing Food—and Solutions | 193

    moldy due to poor storage. The International Institute of Tropical Agricul-
    ture is working with farmers to apply a non-toxic, locally occurring strain of
    the fungus prior to harvest. The new strain, trademarked as Aflasafe, safely
    outcompetes and virtually eliminates the toxic strain, making it an effective
    bio-control with the potential to save farmers millions of dollars per year
    and simultaneously protect human health.10

    There are also novel and income-generating ways of transforming food
    so that it does not go to waste. Solar-powered driers and dehydrators are
    helping farmers around the world preserve abundant harvests of mangoes,
    papayas, and other fruits, providing important vitamins and nutrients to
    people all year long.

    Some consumers are also changing their eating and buying habits to re-
    duce waste. In the United Kingdom, the campaign Love Food, Hate Waste
    educates citizens about food waste. The group’s work has promoted the re-
    cycling of over 1 billion plastic bottles a year and has helped divert 670,000
    tons of food from landfills in the last decade, saving consumers over $970
    million annually.11

    Food for Sustainable Growth
    Twenty years ago, organic agriculture, conservation farming, and other agro-
    ecological practices were considered backward and inadequate ways to feed
    the world. Today, agriculture is emerging as a solution to the planet’s press-
    ing environmental problems—and agroecological approaches are seen as the
    way forward in a world of declining fossil fuel resources and increasing hun-
    ger and poverty. Several major research reports have demonstrated that food
    production can help address climate change, unemployment, urbanization,
    desertification, water pollution, and other environmental challenges.12

    The Green Revolution technologies of the past, although effective at in-
    creasing yields in the short term, tended to focus narrowly on yields and
    very little on biological interaction. Nearly 2 billion hectares and 2.6 billion
    people have been affected by significant land degradation resulting from
    large-scale agricultural practices associated with the Green Revolution.
    Today, 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals are for agricultural irrigation,
    causing salinization of water in industrial and developing countries alike.
    The overuse and misuse of artificial fertilizers and pesticides has produced
    toxic runoff that has created coastal dead zones and reduced biodiversity.13

    Although the Green Revolution is considered a “success,” its benefits are
    unevenly spread. The most striking results in decreasing poverty and in-
    creasing crop yields were seen in South Asia, while people in sub-Saharan
    Africa have remained poor and undernourished. Many of the poorest of the
    poor “have gained little or nothing,” according to the International Assess-
    ment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

    194 | State of the World 2013

    (IAASTD), a landmark report on global agricultural knowledge released in
    2008. Dr. Robert Watson, director of IAASTD, said that “we are putting food
    that appears cheap on our tables; but it is food that is not always healthy and
    that costs us dearly in terms of water, soil, and the biological diversity on
    which all our futures depend.”14

    A return to agroecology, which is a sustainable and environmentally
    friendly approach to food production, does not mean a return to old-fash-
    ioned or outdated practices. On the contrary, such approaches are highly
    complex, relying on the extensive knowledge of farmers and an understand-
    ing of local ecosystems. Agroecology mimics nature and integrates crops
    and livestock with the environment. For example, crops such as maize,
    wheat, sorghum, millet, and vegetables are being grown around the world
    alongside Acacia, Sesbania, Gliricidia, Tephrosia, and Faidherbia trees. These
    agro-forested trees provide shade, improve water availability, prevent soil
    erosion, and add nitrogen—a natural fertilizer—to soils. Integrating trees
    with crops can double or even triple yields over those obtained when crops
    are grown without a canopy.

    Farmers in Japan are also finding ways to add nutrients to crops with-
    out expensive artificial fertilizers or toxic pesticides. By using ducks instead
    of pesticides for pest control in rice paddies, for instance, farmers have in-
    creased their incomes and provided additional protein for their families.
    The ducks eat weeds, weed seeds, insects, and other pests, and their drop-
    pings provide nutrients for the rice plants. In Bangladesh, the International
    Rice Research Institute reports that these systems have resulted in 20 percent
    higher crop yields and that farmers using this method have seen their net
    incomes rise by 80 percent.15

    Agroecological practices even help farmers cope with natural disasters. A
    2001 study compared “conventional” and “sustainable” farms on 880 similar
    plots of land after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1999. The re-
    searchers found that the farms engaged in agroecological or sustainable land
    management practices had higher resistance to the storm.16

    Food for Health
    Hunger and obesity are both tied to inadequate nutrition and poor agricul-
    tural infrastructure, and investments in agriculture and hunger relief have
    often failed to deliver nutritionally. Focusing on agricultural yield and calor-
    ic intake has interfered with the actual delivery of vital nutrients, especially
    in fetuses and children under age three, yet this is what funding agencies,
    donors, and governments still tend to do. Over the last 20 years, food output
    in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia has become more concentrated in raw com-
    modities, including maize, wheat, and rice, and less focused on nutritious
    indigenous foods, like millet, sorghum, and vegetables.17

    Agriculture: Growing Food—and Solutions | 195

    Vegetables are a luxury for many of the world’s poor, as many farmers who
    once grew vegetables have had to focus their attention on staple crops. But
    vegetable production is the most sustainable and affordable way to alleviate
    micronutrient deficiencies among the poor. Micronutrient deficiencies lead
    to poor mental and physical development, blindness, and anemia, especially
    among children, and they degrade performance in work and in school.18

    Many low-income and middle-income communities face the double
    burden of under- and overnutrition. Obesity and malnutrition are the
    most obvious symptoms of our broken global food system: some 2.5 bil-
    lion people worldwide suffer from one or the other. While poor nations re-
    ceive a great deal of attention for high malnutrition rates, researchers and
    policymakers have paid less attention to the prevalence of
    noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascu-
    lar and respiratory diseases as well as type 2 diabetes, that
    result from unhealthy and inadequate diets. Sixty-three
    percent of global deaths are caused by NCDs, and this rate
    is expected to rise.19

    Efforts to make agriculture healthier are being made
    in laboratories and at numerous conferences but also at
    the grassroots level in kitchens and backyards all over the
    world. One successful model is The Food Trust in north
    Philadelphia in the United States. The Trust runs commu-
    nity-based nutrition and food systems programs that have
    helped reduce the number of obese children there by half.
    A more broadly based U.S. program is Food Corps, one of
    the newest parts of the AmeriCorps program. Food Corps
    is working to address the country’s childhood obesity epi-
    demic by focusing on nutrition education, school gardens,
    and farm-to-school programs. Food Corps service mem-
    bers partner with local organizations to support commu-
    nity initiatives that are in touch with local needs, while also
    bringing in new energy and ideas. American children on
    average receive only 3.4 hours of nutrition education each year, but students
    in schools working with Food Corps will receive at least 10 hours.20

    Surprisingly, the lack of nutritious food extends into many hospitals.
    Even rich-country hospitals can fail on this score: the Texas Children’s Hos-
    pital in Houston, for instance, is home to a McDonald’s restaurant. Hospi-
    tals in California, Ohio, Minnesota, and several other states also house fast-
    food restaurants. Health Care without Harm (HCWH), an international
    health coalition, is working to leverage the purchasing power of hospitals
    and health care systems to support food that is more nutritious and envi-
    ronmentally friendly. HCWH member Catholic Healthcare West, a 41-hos-

    Tomatoes growing at the World Vegetable Center
    in Arusha, Tanzania.





    196 | State of the World 2013

    pital system in Arizona, Nevada, and California, recently announced a part-
    nership with Murray’s Chicken, a New York producer, to supply its hospitals
    with chicken raised without antibiotics or arsenic feed additives. In South
    Africa, HIV/AIDS patients at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital receive
    training in permaculture, irrigation, water conservation, food, nutrition,
    and indigenous medicinal plants. The patients are able to cultivate and har-
    vest a garden at the hospital and are encouraged to bring home nutritious
    vegetables, fruits, and herbs.21

    Food for Culture
    The disconnection between young people and the global food system is
    growing. Most young people do not grow up wanting to be farmers. And
    consumers all over the world have forgotten basic cooking skills because
    of an overreliance on processed foods. Agricultural diversity is declining:
    most diets in rich countries consist of just six foods, including maize, wheat,
    rice, and potatoes. Agriculture is looked down upon as a career and is often
    viewed as work for the poor or people who have no other options. Farmers
    also lack access to markets, making it hard for them to earn an income from
    their work.

    In villages outside of Kampala, Uganda, however, something unusual is
    happening among young people. For the first time, many of them are ex-
    cited about being involved in agriculture—and instead of moving to the city
    after they finish primary school, many are choosing to stay in their commu-
    nities to become involved in raising food.22

    Betty Nabukalu, a 16-year-old student at Kisoga Secondary School, man-
    ages her school’s garden. She explained how a project called Developing
    Innovations in School Cultivation has taught students “new” methods of
    planting vegetables. Before, she says, “we used to just plant seeds,” but now
    she and the other students know how to fertilize with manure and compost
    and how to save seeds after harvest. She says they have learned not only
    that they can produce food but that they can also earn money from its sale.
    Thanks to their school food program, students no longer see agriculture as
    an option of last resort but as something that they can enjoy, is intellectually
    stimulating, and will provide a good income.23

    Successful programs that turn farming regions into vibrant places where
    young people want to live and work have led to smarter land use, increased
    production, and stronger interest in agriculture among the next generation.
    Another way to help young people become more excited about agriculture
    is by incorporating information and communications technology into the
    process of farming.24

    One obstacle faced by farmers worldwide is the lack of agricultural exten-
    sion services. In sub-Saharan Africa, extension agents who used to provide

    Agriculture: Growing Food—and Solutions | 197

    information to farmers about weather, new seed varieties, or irrigation tech-
    nologies have been replaced by agro-dealers who sell artificial fertilizer or
    pesticides to farmers, often with very little education or training about how
    to use those inputs.25

    But in Ghana, farmers are benefitting from better-trained extension of-
    ficers. At the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at Cape
    Coast University in southern Ghana, learning takes place in classrooms,
    fields, and farms. Extension officers are working with professors to find con-
    text-specific ways to improve food production in their particular communi-
    ties. “One beauty of the program,” says Dr. Ernest Okorley of the School of
    Agriculture there, “is the on-the-ground research and experimentation. . . .
    It allows the environment to teach what should be done.”26

    Growing a Better Food System
    It is clear that we need a better recipe for ensuring that agriculture contrib-
    utes to health, environmental sustainability, income generation, and food
    security. The ingredients will vary by country and region, but there are sev-
    eral key components that will lead to healthier food systems everywhere.

    Investing in Agroecological Food Systems. Although many authoritative
    reports point to the need for more investment in agroecological technolo-
    gies and practices that alleviate hunger and poverty, little attention is given
    to ensuring that farmers know about these. In October 2011, philanthropist-
    farmer Howard G. Buffett called on the agricultural development commu-
    nity to “get loud and get busy” to ensure that sustainable crop production
    is “back on the table” at the annual climate change meetings, at the 2012
    United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, and with
    every major agricultural donor and government in the world.27

    In March 2012, the Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature (LPFN)
    initiative brought together farmers, policymakers, food companies, conser-
    vation agencies, and grassroots organizations in Nairobi in one of several
    meetings to develop a long-term strategy to scale up and support agro-
    ecological solutions. LPFN is documenting integrated farming landscapes
    around the world to strengthen policy, investment, capacity building, and
    research in support of sustainable land management. This sort of research
    can encourage policymakers to restore investment in agriculture, which has
    fallen precipitously from $8 billion in 1984 to $3.5 billion in 2005.28

    Initiatives like Feed the Future and the Global Agriculture and Food Se-
    curity Program (GAFSP) could have a huge impact on malnutrition, ac-
    cess to markets, and farmer incomes—if they were fully funded. Feed the
    Future is the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative; GAFSP is a
    multinational program formed to assist in the monitoring and evaluation
    of the $1.2 billion in pledges made by the Group of 20 industrial nations in

    198 | State of the World 2013

    2009. Unfortunately, these programs have received very little of the funding
    pledged by donor countries, private businesses, and NGOs.29

    Recognizing Agriculture’s Multiple Benefits. Farmers are business peo-
    ple, educators, and stewards of the land. Finding ways to compensate these
    women and men for their multiple roles will become increasingly important
    as agricultural challenges increase.

    Women farmers, for example, make up as much as 80 percent of the ag-
    ricultural labor force in some countries but are often denied basic benefits
    like land tenure, education, and access to banks. Organizations, policymak-
    ers, and community members should recognize women’s rights and involve
    women in decisionmaking processes.30

    Innovative organizations are also compensating farmers for the ecosys-
    tem services their lands provide. And the Rainforest Alliance is working with
    millions of farmers around the world to ensure that sustainably grown crops
    get a premium price from consumers in wealthy nations so that the benefits
    of agroecological practices are recognized. Other projects involve paying
    farmers for sequestering carbon in their soils.31

    Cultivating Better Livelihoods. Building a better food system does not
    mean producing more food—the world can already feed 9–11 billion people
    with the food grown today. It means addressing poverty. More than 2 billion
    people live on less than $2 per day, global unemployment is at a record high,
    and poor households in the developing world spend 70 percent of their in-
    come on food.32

    Financial speculation on the price of food has contributed to volatility
    in agricultural markets, with grave impacts on the livelihoods of small-scale
    farmers, many of whom still lack access to the most basic aspects of domes-
    tic support, including land, insurance, bargaining power, and credit (despite
    the expansion of microfinance and other ways of providing financial sup-
    port; see Box 17–1). Food prices were nearly 20 percent higher in 2011 than
    in 2010 due to such speculation. Price volatility hurts these farmers, who
    need stable markets and a fair price for their yields. Clamping down on food
    price speculation—especially prices for maize, wheat, and rice, the three
    most heavily traded food commodities, which supply the bulk of dietary
    calories for 2 billion poor people—would be a major step forward for both
    farmers and the hungry.33

    Additionally, farmers need access to markets where they can get a fair
    price. Institutions such as agricultural cooperatives can help farmers oper-
    ate more efficiently and earn more money than they can as individuals. By
    helping farmers come together to grow, distribute, and sell food, coopera-
    tives function as businesses and social groups, enhancing communities’ eco-
    nomic powers as well as their social service networks.34

    Farmers also need better access to information about prices and mar-

    Agriculture: Growing Food—and Solutions | 199

    Since Mohammad Yunus launched the Grameen
    Bank in Bangladesh in 1976, microcredit has
    become a celebrated tool to help relieve poverty
    and foster entrepreneurism among the poor.
    Initially conceived as a purely charitable tool for
    alleviating poverty, microcredit has become micro-
    finance and now includes loans, insurance, and sav-
    ings products. Currently there are an estimated 500
    million microsavings accounts around the world.
    As demand for these services grew, many providers
    aimed to make microfinance profitable, allowing it
    to attract investor capital and thus achieve greater
    scale. The microfinance industry has exploded to
    include over 1,000 institutions serving an estimated
    85 million clients.

    After an initial burst of wild enthusiasm, there
    is now a growing debate about the effectiveness
    of these credit mechanisms as tools for ending
    poverty. This is especially true where the focus on
    scalability has caused lending institutions to neglect
    impoverished rural populations. The farmers who
    can take out loans sometimes borrow for costly
    agricultural inputs and then become trapped in a
    vicious cycle of crop failure and debt. Particularly
    troubling are the reports of up to 200,000 farmer sui-
    cides in India, where farmers have borrowed to buy
    expensive genetically modified organisms, chemical
    fertilizers, and pesticides.

    But there is another way to help poor farmers
    gain access to financial services: village savings and
    loan associations (VSLAs), which were pioneered
    by CARE in West Africa. VSLAs typically have 20–30
    members who meet weekly to pool their savings
    and create a loan fund. With the help and training
    of a facilitator, the members draft bylaws and elect
    leaders. At the beginning of the investment cycle,
    each member deposits an agreed-upon amount.
    Then the group meets weekly, and individual mem-
    bers make further deposits as determined by the
    group’s bylaws. After 12 weeks, each member may
    take out a loan for up to three times the amount he
    or she has saved.

    Groups typically have many more savers than
    borrowers, which ensures that there are adequate
    funds for those who wish to borrow. The invest-
    ment cycle is short, usually 12 months. At the end,
    members receive back their shares plus a portion of
    any accrued interest or capital gains from fines and
    fundraising. The group can then choose whether to
    initiate a second VSLA cycle.

    VSLAs have dramatically improved members’
    lives and communities. Successful businesses create
    new jobs, and the interest raised by the bank stays in
    the local community. The groups also often establish
    their own charitable funds to help members meet
    various needs, such as education fees for their chil-
    dren, medical expenses, or emergencies.

    The benefits of VSLAs go far beyond economics,
    however. Weekly meetings strengthen communi-
    ties and provide opportunities for personal growth,
    education, and the development of various talents
    and business skills. Those who succeed in businesses
    also reach out to help others, so the entire commu-
    nity benefits. In recent impact evaluations of Plant
    With Purpose’s Tanzania VSLA groups, it was found
    that each group member shared his or her agricul-
    tural training with on average more than 20 others.

    Plant With Purpose—a nonprofit based in
    California that works to transform lives in rural
    areas where poverty is caused by deforestation—is
    using VSLAs as a vital part of an integrated strategy
    to address environmental and economic needs.
    The weekly meetings provide a platform to teach
    farmers skills that increase agricultural productivity,
    help gain access to markets, promote crop diver-
    sification, reduce deforestation, and help adapt to
    the challenges of climate change. By offering such
    training, VSLAs can provide an entirely new skill set
    of agroecological methods, empowering farmers to
    make a living in ways that also restore and protect
    fragile environments.

    —Doug Satre
    Plant With Purpose, California

    Source: See endnote 33.

    Box 17–1. promoting Sustainable agriculture through Village Banking

    200 | State of the World 2013

    kets. Information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones,
    are enabling farmers to obtain real-time data about market prices, which
    is helping them make better-informed decisions about crop production.
    Services such as FrontlineSMS allow farmers not only to get real-time food
    price data but also to connect with one another and with potential consum-
    ers, increasing their market size.35

    The Emergence of Agriculture as a Solution
    Governments need to do more to recognize the inherent right of every hu-
    man being to safe, affordable, and healthy food and back up that right with
    appropriate policies. Countries such as Ghana and Brazil have already re-
    duced the number of people suffering from hunger through effective gov-
    ernment action, such as national school feeding programs and increased
    support for agricultural extension services.36

    The projects highlighted in this chapter are exciting because they ex-
    emplify how agriculture is emerging as a solution to global problems by
    reducing public health costs, making communities everywhere more liv-
    able, decreasing poverty, creating jobs for young people, and even reducing
    climate change.

    Some innovative programs and individuals are working to ensure that
    everyone has access to nutritious, healthy, sustainable, and justly grown
    food. From SEWA in India and villages in rural Uganda to research insti-
    tutes and governments all over the world, there is a growing realization of
    the positive impact that agriculture can have on livelihoods, nutrition, and
    the environment. And these are exactly the sort of innovations that should
    attract the support of governments, the private sector, and the international
    funding and donor communities.

    Indigenous peoples are the caretakers of many of the last biodiverse places
    on Earth. Even though they only constitute 5 percent of world population
    and occupy 20 percent of the earth’s surface, they live in 80 percent of the
    world’s biological diversity hotspots. They are therefore critical to ecosystem
    health and should be recognized as major stakeholders and leaders in the
    global sustainability movement.1

    Through millennium-tested traditional ecological knowledge, land-
    based lifeways, and a holistic, ethical relationship to the earth, indigenous
    peoples have a lot of practice in sustainable living. These cultures, with their
    diverse knowledge systems and integrated life-enhancing practices, can pro-
    vide relevant and timely examples of how to live sustainably within local
    ecosystems. They can also provide principles and lessons for the industrial
    world to relearn how to become native to place.

    Indigenous peoples everywhere are critical protectors of biodiversity,
    more often referred to by native peoples as homelands, territories, sacred
    lands, or simply “all our relations.” One of the most significant ways indige-
    nous peoples have practiced and demonstrated a sustainable relationship to
    native lands and waters is through the tending, harvesting, hunting, grow-
    ing, and cultivating of native foods. Living requires eating, eating means tak-
    ing life, and taking life requires (or at least implies) a philosophy, a process,
    and a coherent system or “cosmovision” for acquiring an adequate amount
    of food and nutrition to sustain people and thrive as a culture.

    Acquiring food from the earth is both an art and a science. Native food-
    ways traditions are complex, diverse, and beautiful systems that connect
    nature and culture and that provide both physical survival and cultural
    meaning to a people. Indigenous foods and lifeways are an ideal example
    of the profound interface of biological and cultural diversity—or what Yu-
    chi professor and author Dan Wildcat refers to as the nature-culture nexus.

    Embedded within native food traditions are diverse knowledge systems and

    Melissa K. Nelson (Turtle
    Mountain Chippewa) is an
    associate professor of American
    Indian studies at San Francisco
    State University and president
    of the Cultural Conservancy.

    c h a p t e r 1 8

    Protecting the Sanctity of
    Native Foods

    Melissa K. Nelson

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_18, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    202 | State of the World 2013

    native sciences, languages and distinct cultural heritages, and unique em-
    bodied life-affirming practices. They are connected to soils and songs, seeds
    and stories, ancestors and memory, taste and rain, dance and medicine, and
    nourishment and place.2

    According to many native traditions, to live well is the goal of life. And to
    live well means not only sustaining foods and a lifestyle but actually regen-
    erating the ecological systems people depend on and enhancing their hap-
    piness and spirit. So there is an emphasis not only on sustaining basic needs
    over time but on actually regenerating the resources, or “relatives,” that pro-
    vide the raw materials for food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. In this sense,
    indigenous livelihoods are about surviving and thriving in a place where
    all beings in the circle of life thrive together. This philosophy and practice
    of thriving in place is best demonstrated in the many complex foodways of
    indigenous peoples.

    Sacred Foods of the Americas and the Pacific
    Native Americans are the originators and caretakers of many staple foods
    globally. Many of these foods are considered sacred and have profound
    teachings and practices associated with them. Corn (Zea mays), for example,
    is one of the staple indigenous foods of the Americas and has become an
    important food crop globally. Through numerous creation stories, corn is
    known as “Corn Mother” in many Native American cultures. It is considered
    a sacred relative and a source of life. Rituals, myths, ceremonies, offerings,
    dances, and songs all praise the value and sacredness of this native cultivated
    plant. Whether in the heart of Oaxaca in Mexico, the Rio Grande River val-
    ley of New Mexico, the Saint Lawrence river valley of the Haudenosaunee,
    the Yucatan Peninsula of the Maya, the Canadian Plains of the Cree, or the
    Andean highlands of the Quechua and Aymara, you can find indigenous
    peoples cultivating, praising, and eating corn.

    Corn has been tragically compromised by genetic engineering, and na-
    tive farmers are working hard to preserve the heirloom varieties and protect
    them from genetic contamination and further industrial commodification.
    As the late Seneca scholar and farmer John Mohawk has said, trouble comes
    when people start growing food for money rather than for nutrition. He
    also shared the prophecy that warned of a negative shift in the world when
    sacred corn was fed to machines rather than to people. And this is happen-
    ing now, as 40 percent of the corn grown in the United States is converted to
    ethanol for machines.3

    For Hawaiians, the origin food taro (Colocasia esculenta) or kalo is the
    major staple food of the Pacific. Hawaiians know this food as an elder
    brother in their origin stories, and they value him as a sacred ancestor. He
    represents a type of mytho-geneology common among native peoples glob-

    ally. Kalo too has been threatened, as scientists at the University of Hawaii
    attempt to patent it and genetically alter it. In 2002, three taro varieties were
    patented, and in 2003, three Hawaiian varieties were genetically modified
    without any public debate or consultation with Native Hawaiian farmers,
    who have worked with this plant for thousands of years. Hawaiian farmers
    and activists as well as other concerned citizens protested, wrote letters, and
    educated the public about this ethical violation of the sacred kalo plant and
    of Hawaiian lifeways.4

    In 2006, the University of Ha-
    waii withdrew its patents on the
    three varieties and agreed to stop
    genetically modifying Hawaiian
    forms of taro. Researchers con-
    tinue to experiment with modify-
    ing a Chinese form of taro, how-
    ever. According to the nonprofit
    group Hawai‘i SEED, “Native Ha-
    waiians, taro farmers and Hawaii
    SEED continue to fight back by
    supporting legislation that places
    a moratorium on the cultivation
    and experimentation of GMO [ge-
    netically modified organism] taro
    in the lab and field.” In 2008, Na-
    tive Hawaiians and allies drafted
    legislation that banned GMO taro and corn from the Big Island of Hawaii.
    Bill 361 legally protects taro and coffee from genetic engineering on the Big
    Island. Due to strong public support, the Hawai‘i County Council unani-
    mously passed this bill, although the mayor later vetoed it. Protecting indig-
    enous foods that are considered ancestors and practicing the traditional Ha-
    waiian philosophy of aloha ‘aina, “to love that which nourishes you,” is still
    a major struggle and challenge for Hawaiians and native peoples globally.5

    In the heart of North America, members of the Anishinaabeg/Ojibwe/
    Chippewa nation are concerned about the sanctity of their food manoomin,
    or wild rice (Zizania aquatica). This food was given to the Ojibwe by the
    Creator in a sacred story of migration and helped the ancestors locate their
    homelands on the Great Lakes. Winona LaDuke and her nonprofit organi-
    zation, the White Earth Land Recovery Project & Native Harvest program,
    are actively protecting this sacred staple food and have secured laws in Min-
    nesota to oversee any research proposed on manoomin. This is the only na-
    tive rice in North America and is a significant food source for many Native
    American nations in the Great Lakes of the United States and Canada. It is

    Protecting the Sanctity of Native Foods | 203

    Harvested taro root that has been boiled in preparation for being cleaned and
    mashed into poi.






    204 | State of the World 2013

    Freshly hand-harvested wild rice steaming over the coals of an open fire to
    decrease its moisture content.


    highly nutritious, delicious, and has made it into the mainstream food in-
    dustry as a unique rice dish.6

    Most of the commercially available “wild” rice is cultivated, paddy rice,
    not a true wild rice any more. Industrial agriculture has been cultivating wild
    rice in nonnative habitats like inland northern California. Cultivating wild
    rice threatens the native ecosystems in the Great Lakes and other landscapes,
    where it requires a lot of water to grow well. This ex-situ cultivation prac-

    tice undermines the integrity of
    the wild rice and its true value as
    a hand-harvested wild rice and an
    economic asset to the Ojibwe wild
    rice gatherers who depend on its
    sale as part of their seasonal liveli-
    hood. As LaDuke has pointed out,
    “Our manoomin grows nowhere
    else in the world, and our people,
    the Anishinaabeg from these Great
    Lakes reservations, intend to keep
    this tradition alive, vital and nur-
    turing our souls and our bellies.”7

    These sacred, totem foods—
    corn, taro, wild rice—have been
    passed on for generations and
    traded with other tribes and com-
    munities for human and econom-

    ic well-being for centuries and millennia. They are often seen as intimate
    relatives. It is tragic that they are now being threatened with life patent-
    ing and genetic modification, as Claire Cummings clearly outlines in Un-
    certain Peril. Protecting the foodways of native peoples requires protecting
    and restoring the sanctity of native seeds and resisting the industrial com-
    modification of these invaluable food sources. We see positive examples of
    this happening, as just described in Hawaii and Minnesota. Internationally,
    indigenous farmers in the province of Cuzco, Peru, have been successful in
    banning GMO potatoes, another global staple food at its center of origin.
    The larger context of these important bans and laws is the question of who
    owns and controls these native lands and waters—and their indigenous
    foods—in the first place.8

    Environmental Context of Native Foods
    Protecting native foods is about territory—land and water rights. It is im-
    portant to assess the conditions of the native habitats that are the source of
    these local foods and determine who owns and controls them. Because Na-

    Protecting the Sanctity of Native Foods | 205

    tive Americans control only 4 percent of U.S. land, they are not likely to have
    control or access to much of the land that provides their indigenous foods.9

    Most lands, rivers, and lakes in the United States are under private own-
    ership, in public parklands, or in other federal lands, such as those under
    the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. military.
    Creating access agreements and cooperative management plans for the na-
    tive biodiversity of these lands is an important strategy that many tribes and
    traditional practitioners are using to reconnect with their ancestral harvest-
    ing sites. Federal agencies often benefit as well from the indigenous resource
    management practices of native peoples, whose land care practices, such as
    small-scale controlled burning, often enhance biodiversity. Ecological resto-
    ration is often incorporated into these practices, helping to clean up toxic
    landscapes and restore ecosystem health.10

    There is also a growing native land trust movement in the United States
    as more and more tribes buy back their ancestral lands for both traditional
    and contemporary uses. As Slow Food founder and president Carlo Petrini
    noted in May 2012, “It would be senseless to defend biodiversity without
    also defending the cultural diversity of peoples and their right to govern
    their own territories. The right of peoples to have control over their land, to
    grow food, to hunt, fish and gather according to their own needs and deci-
    sions, is inalienable.”11

    Another key factor in assessing access to native lands and waters for tra-
    ditional food harvesting is environmental quality. An assessment needs to
    take place to ensure that the foods grown in a specific place have not been
    contaminated by pesticides, industrial runoff, or other types of pollution.
    Many native food plants, like watercress and piñon pine, are seen as “weeds”
    and useless shrubs by government agencies and nonnatives, and they are
    unfortunately destroyed with herbicides and pesticides. Toxic exposure is
    thus a very real threat to traditional food gatherers when they do not own
    the land where they gather.

    In addition, many animal food sources bioaccumulate toxins. So when
    native people eat their traditional meats—whether it is fresh fish or deer,
    moose, ducks, seal, or caribou—they can be exposed to high levels of such
    toxins as mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other per-
    sistent organic pollutants. This exposure has become so extreme that often
    mothers’ breast milk is considered toxic due to the high levels of industrial
    chemicals in it. As Mohawk midwife and environmental health researcher
    Katsi Cook says, “women are the first environment,” so whatever happens to
    the environment will happen to women’s bodies.12

    The Arctic peoples of the far north are experiencing this health crisis in a
    major way because their traditional diet consists primarily of high-protein,
    high-fat meat foods. Inuit women’s breast milk has 5–10 times the level of

    206 | State of the World 2013

    PCBs as the breast milk of women in southern Canada. Even with these
    risks, Arctic people are still hungry for their ancestral foods instead of the
    imported western diet. As Canadian writer Lisa Charleyboy has noted, “for
    at least some Inuit, the value of eating the foods of their ancestors is worth
    the cost. ‘Contaminants do not affect our souls,’ [Inuit activist Ingmar]
    Egede said. ‘Avoiding our foods from fear does.’”13

    Without healthy seeds, lands, and waters, native foods will continue to
    be compromised, damaged, and made scarce, and native health will suffer.
    Native peoples are seeking to ban GMO foods with legislation and to estab-
    lish GMO-free zones in local communities, create access and cooperative
    management agreements with agencies and private landowners, develop
    ecological restoration plans to clean up contaminated sites, and engage in
    and purchase back land through native lands trusts. Native peoples and food
    activists are also exploring unique partnerships and programs to safeguard
    these foods. The growing need for global food security and food justice has
    inspired many food groups to partner with native communities and orga-
    nizations to educate the general public about the true value of native foods
    and their significance for biodiversity conservation and cultural heritage
    and health.

    New Partnership for Food Security
    One major example of new partnerships is Native American and indigenous
    participation in the international Slow Food movement. Slow Food Interna-
    tional and Slow Food USA are interconnected grassroots membership orga-
    nizations that promote good, clean, fair food for all. There are over 100,000
    members globally. Two of their programs are the Ark of Taste and the Pre-
    sidia. According to the Slow Food USA website, “the Ark is an international
    catalog of foods that are threatened by industrial standardization, the regu-
    lations of large-scale distribution and environmental damage. The US Ark
    of Taste is a catalogue of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. By
    promoting and eating Ark products we help ensure they remain in produc-
    tion and on our plates.”14

    One way Slow Food protects the Ark of Taste foods is through the
    Presidia program. A Presidium in this context is a “garrison” or fort that
    aims to protect endangered foods. Local projects work to improve the in-
    frastructure of artisan food production. The Presidia aim to guarantee a
    viable future for traditional foods by stabilizing production techniques, es-
    tablishing stringent production standards, and promoting local consump-
    tion of endangered foods.15

    Many important Native American foods and beverages are in the US
    Ark of Taste and are part of the Presidia program, including Anishinaabeg
    manoomin, Navajo-Churro sheep, Arikara yellow bean, greenthread tea,

    Protecting the Sanctity of Native Foods | 207

    O’odham pink bean, Tuscarora white corn, Hopi mottled lima beans, tradi-
    tional Hawaiian poi (kalo) and sea salt, and the Ozette potato. Slow Food is
    highlighting the significance of these foods because they are at risk biologi-
    cally and as culinary traditions, are sustainably produced, have great cultural
    or historical significance, and are produced in limited quantities. The main
    factor also for Slow Food is that they have outstanding taste, even though
    taste itself is often culturally conditioned and will vary greatly. Some Na-
    tive American organizations, such as the White Earth Land Recovery Project
    (with Anishinaabeg manoomin) and Diné bé Iiná (with the Navajo-Churro
    sheep), are working directly with Slow Food to gain support and recognition
    for their food traditions through that network.16

    Cultural Heritage and Traditional Ecological Knowledge
    A crucial aspect of protecting native foodways is recognizing and honoring
    the ecological knowledge of elders and traditional food gatherers, because na-
    tive foods cannot be protected without their hands-on knowledge—how to
    grow, nurture, harvest, process, cook, and
    feast on them. This requires intergenera-
    tional knowledge transmission. It is the
    elders who retain an understanding of
    living off the land before stores and com-
    modity foods dominated native diets. It is
    the elders who know how to gather and
    prepare tule bulbs as foods, as the Paiute
    do. Or how to gather and process the Cali-
    fornia acorns, as the Pomo do. Or how to
    hunt and prepare a moose for a feast, as
    the Cree do. Or how to take an heirloom
    tepary bean and grow it in a beautiful des-
    ert garden, as the Tohono O’odham do.

    The keys to cultural health include
    strong, healthy bodies for all and also
    healthy elders who feel valued and ap-
    preciated. In healthy communities, elders
    and youth still have a deep relationship and a system of knowledge sharing,
    often through storytelling, the arts, and hands-on practices like farming.
    When young people are able to learn the traditions from their elders, their
    identities are reinforced and invigorated, their sense of pride in their heri-
    tage increases, and their overall wellness improves significantly.

    Elders, knowledge holders, and traditional practitioners often teach
    through stories and demonstrations. Through them they impart the im-
    portance of the “original instructions”—a tribe or community’s enduring

    Navajo chef Walter Whitewater giving a hands-on lesson to Native
    children about Native American foods and cooking.





    208 | State of the World 2013

    values, insights, and worldviews about life-enhancing practices that take
    care of the gifts of life, of food, of water, of all the relations that make life
    possible. Intergenerational knowledge transmission and these philosophical
    and ethical teachings can be seen as parts of the intangible cultural heritage
    of native foodways.

    Combating Health Disparities and Improving Native
    Native foodways are tied to sustainable living in very practical environmen-
    tal ways and through the revival of cultural memory and heritage. Most di-
    rectly, native foodways are critical channels for maintaining physical health
    and solving contemporary health problems such as diabetes and obesity.
    This topic is beginning to be incorporated into tribal and higher educa-
    tion curricula. As native chef and culinary anthropologist Lois Ellen Frank
    has noted, “Young, educated Native American activists, such as students at
    the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are
    beginning to foster a dialogue about how to decolonize their diets and their
    bodies by recovering their ancestors’ gardens and foodways.” IAIA has in-
    corporated an “indigenous concept of Native American food” into its re-
    quired science class for all students as part of the four-year degree program,
    regardless of the student’s major.17

    Western doctors are also taking note of how returning to indigenous
    diets can significantly improve health. The Physicians’ Committee for Re-
    sponsible Medicine has worked with native chefs Lois Ellen Frank (Kiowa)
    and Walter Whitewater (Navajo) in sponsoring cooking classes at IAIA and
    the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center, focusing on plant-based ancestral foods
    of the Southwest. After just eight weeks, native students and participants of
    these classes lost weight, lowered blood sugar levels, in some instances were
    able to decrease their diabetes medication while working with medical pro-
    fessionals, and felt much healthier.18

    This significant correlation between eating native foods, decreasing dia-
    betes, and improving overall wellness has been clearly demonstrated by
    the Tohono O’odham Community Action organization and its significant
    work to combat the diabetes epidemic in its tribal community. With Tohono
    O’odham, Seri, Yaqui, and other tribal and nonnative participants, this rela-
    tionship was passionately demonstrated in the Desert Walk for Biodiversity,
    Heritage and Health co-organized and documented by Gary Paul Nabhan
    in 2000. During this intertribal, multicultural pilgrimage, nearly 200 peo-
    ple walked 240 miles while sustaining themselves only on desert foods and
    medicines—as well as on songs, stories, and prayers to feed the soul. Again,
    people lost weight, lowered their blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and felt
    renewed and reconnected to their ancestral lands and diets. 19

    Protecting the Sanctity of Native Foods | 209

    Native Food Alive and Well

    Today indigenous food sovereignty is being reasserted, enacted, and ex-
    plored in many diverse ways in Native America. Ojibwe and other native
    professors and students are working on “decolonizing your taste buds” pro-
    grams in Native Studies classes and in reservation cultural centers. Miwok
    and Lakota youth are growing intertribal urban gardens in cities like Oak-
    land and Detroit. Western Shoshone environmental directors are building
    soil and storing water with permaculture rain gardens in the Great Basin
    desert. Wailaki gatherers harvest kelp, dulse seaweed, and red abalone on
    the northern California coast for their elders and for ceremonies. Pueblo
    farmers continue to shape and eat from their desert landscapes with dry-
    land farming methods. Native chefs teach indigenous nutrition and Native
    American cuisine in tribal colleges and culinary schools.20

    The native foods movement is alive and well in Turtle Island (as North
    America is known by some Native Americans) and throughout the world.
    This movement continues to grow and thrive in a modern context. Native
    elders, young people, leaders, students, and tribal members are protecting
    the sanctity of native foods for cultural health and environmental justice,
    despite continued industrial efforts to marginalize, commodify, and devalue
    these original foods.

    Indigenous peoples are asserting food sovereignty as an indigenous right
    and responsibility and a human right for all peoples and future generations.
    They are “re-indigenizing” bodies and minds and lands and communities
    through native foodways. Native foods are sacred and irreplaceable. They
    are markers of diversity and are often keystone species for the health of an
    ecosystem and the health of a people. Indigenous knowledge and foodways
    are viable and potentially essential alternatives to modernity that remind us
    all that we can become native to place and serve as regenerative elements in
    our local foodsheds and ecosystems.21

    Rebecca Adamson is a Chero-
    kee and the founder of First
    Peoples Worldwide. Danielle
    Nierenberg is the former direc-
    tor of the Nourishing the Planet
    program at Worldwatch Insti-
    tute. Olivia Arnow is a senior at
    Vassar College.

    For most of the last century, the Maasai faced the threat of eviction by the
    Kenyan government and outside corporations eager to profit from Maasai
    lands. These semi-nomadic pastoralists have lived for centuries on areas that
    are now part of Kenya and Tanzania. But they have often been denied many
    basic human rights, including food security, safe drinking water, and ad-
    equate sanitation.1

    In August 2010, things changed for the Maasai. A new Kenyan consti-
    tution was passed. It recognized the traditions, customs, languages, and
    rights of Kenya’s indigenous peoples and acknowledged the legitimacy of
    hunter-gatherer, pastoral, and nomadic ways of life. These policy changes
    would not have come to pass without the support and strength of indig-
    enous grassroots organizations. Mary Simat, executive director of Maasai
    Women for Education and Economic Development, embarked on a major
    initiative, with funding from First Peoples Worldwide, to familiarize Maasai
    villagers with the new constitution, issuing Maasai-language copies of it and
    conducting workshops in communities.2

    The changes to the constitution are having immediate impacts. Land re-
    form initiatives authorize land use according to the Maasai’s own customs;
    by entrusting revenues to county and local authorities, the land reform poli-
    cies create a channel for regular funding for local priorities. In addition, the
    Maasai are now recognized, for the first time, as important stewards of the
    land whose environmental knowledge and practices—including rotational
    livestock grazing and the fostering of beneficial wildlife habitats—can help
    build resilience to climate change, improve water conservation, and protect
    biodiversity. And this shows policymakers and communities the importance
    of acknowledging the longstanding relationships of indigenous peoples to
    their lands and their commitment to sustainability. These sorts of victories
    by indigenous peoples are becoming more common in Asia, Latin America,
    and North America as well as Africa.

    c h a p t e r 1 9

    Valuing Indigenous Peoples

    Rebecca Adamson, Danielle Nierenberg, and Olivia Arnow

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_19, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Valuing Indigenous Peoples | 211

    Indigenous peoples inhab-
    it more than 85 percent of the
    earth’s protected areas. Their
    territories span most of the last
    remaining biodiversity-rich con-
    servation priority areas, and they
    maintain traditional land claims
    on 18–24 percent of Earth’s land
    surface. But reports from the In-
    ternational Funders for Indig-
    enous Peoples suggest that only
    about 1 percent of the billions of
    dollars spent each year on philan-
    thropy goes to indigenous peoples
    and the ecosystem services they
    support, including biodiversity
    protection. The wealth of natural
    resources preserved within indigenous territories presents an enormous
    opportunity to expand conservation strategies on a scale that will help al-
    leviate hunger and poverty while also conserving and protecting Earth’s
    natural resources.3

    Forced Evictions
    Despite the important role indigenous peoples play in protecting natural
    resources, their contributions are often overlooked. Even at its best, conven-
    tional or science-based conservation can ignore or marginalize the steward-
    ship of indigenous peoples. And at its worst, western approaches to conser-
    vation can lead to their violent eviction.4

    Evictions in the name of nature conservation or preservation are not a
    new phenomenon. In North America, the Miwok and Awahneeshi people
    were removed from Yosemite Valley to preserve land for the national park
    in 1906. Although they used the woods, waters, and plains of Yosemite, they
    were not considered a part of this wilderness and were evicted or killed.5

    Governments still use conservation to forcibly relocate and intimidate
    ethnic groups, including in Central Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Rather
    than protesting these actions or withdrawing support, conservation groups
    have ignored them. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), for example,
    does conservation work in Myanmar—work criticized by human rights ad-
    vocates. By 2000, Myanmar had designated over 15,000 square kilometers of
    protected areas in 31 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. When evidence
    surfaced that the government was killing and evicting ethnic minorities in
    the interest of “conservation,” WWF and other groups closed down their

    Young Maasai herder approaches a mixed herd of cattle and goats.


    s L



    212 | State of the World 2013

    programs there. WCS, however, continues to manage conservation pro-
    grams in Myanmar.6

    Forced evictions devalue not only the importance of indigenous commu-
    nities but also the traditional ecological and agricultural knowledge these
    groups possess. It is true that rapid urbanization and the expanding global
    population over the coming decades will inevitably lead to a scaling up or
    overhaul of many traditional methods of food production, such as foraging
    and wild fishing. But evicting people from their native lands and relocating
    them to urban slums without training, education, or adequate compensa-
    tion is not a sustainable solution to the problem of feeding the world. Clear-
    ing forests and evicting families to grow sugarcane or maize does not neces-
    sarily lead to less malnutrition or better incomes for indigenous farmers.
    Farm families evicted from their land are often forced to rely on imported
    and processed foods, rather than being able to grow their own nutritious
    foods, keep livestock, and rely on their local communities for their food and
    other needs.

    By removing indigenous groups from their lands or recklessly exploit-
    ing natural resources such as minerals and forests, corporations and gov-
    ernments are effectively erasing thousands of years of practiced traditional
    ecological knowledge—the cumulative body of experience an indigenous
    group has collected over generations, encompassing knowledge, practices,
    and beliefs about their customary lands. (See Table 19–1.)7

    In 2007 and 2008, food price spikes plunged millions of people into
    poverty and food insecurity, derailing years of international development
    work and aid. The World Bank estimates that at least 44 million people
    were driven into poverty as a result of higher food prices. Helping indig-
    enous communities maintain their traditional knowledge and ways of life
    can avoid the expenditure of billions of dollars in emergency aid, as well as
    protect the natural environment that indigenous peoples have cultivated
    for many generations.8

    Fighting Back
    Indigenous communities all over the world are fighting for the right to free,
    prior, and informed consent (FPIC) whenever an action may affect their
    lands, values, or rights. FPIC states that anyone who wishes to use custom-
    ary land belonging to indigenous communities must enter into open, non-
    coercive negotiations with them. Private corporations, national govern-
    ments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and even entire industries
    have begun enforcing the principle of FPIC for indigenous communities.9

    The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
    endorsed in 2007, provides an international legal framework and court of
    public opinion that can be used to slow down commercial development.

    Valuing Indigenous Peoples | 213

    table 19–1. Indigenous peoples’ resources: What’s at Stake?

    Indigenous Group and
    Endangered Resource

    Why Endangered

    Why Resource is Valuable

    Mangyan Peoples of the
    Philippines—Forests of
    Occidental Mindoro

    Large mining corporations are
    threatening to destroy ancestral
    lands to profit from gold, natural
    gas, and minerals worth millions
    of dollars.

    Deforestation threatens the livelihoods of
    forest-dwelling indigenous communities in
    the Mindoro region. Without the food and
    shelter resources traditionally provided by
    the forest, indigenous communities will be
    forced to rely on unpredictable markets for
    their income. Traditional knowledge about
    agriculture, which is critical to the food
    security of the communities, may be lost if
    there is no land to plant indigenous crops.

    Ogiek Peoples of
    Kenya—Mau forest

    Since 2009, the Kenyan govern-
    ment has evicted thousands of
    Ogiek people from their ancestral
    forest, ostensibly to reforest the
    area. But over the last two de-
    cades the government has sold
    parcels of the forest for agricultural
    development, both degrading the
    forest and forcibly evicting Ogiek
    tribespeople, who have sustainably
    managed the forest for centuries.

    The forest stores and channels rain that is
    essential for irrigation and hydroelectric
    power, and it also absorbs and stores
    carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The
    storage of rainwater, as well as the cooler
    temperatures resulting from forest cover,
    previously kept malaria outbreaks at bay—
    but the incidence of malaria is on the rise
    now that the forest is being degraded and

    Imraguen in
    Mauritania—Mullet fish

    In 2006, Mauritania sold fishing
    rights to the European Union in
    exchange for a reduction in public
    debts. Fishing fleets from western
    countries often obtain the fishing
    rights, employ local fishers, and
    freeze the catch to be sent else-
    where for processing, mainly
    to North Africa and Europe.

    Traditional knowledge of catching and pre-
    paring mullet is being lost, resulting in the
    disappearance of a significant element of
    Imraguen cultural identity. The waters off
    Mauritania are among the few left in the
    world that are still well stocked with fish—
    demonstrating the ability of the Imraguen
    to manage their fisheries sustainably over
    long periods of time. At a time when large-
    scale and industrial fishing practices have
    depleted many global fish stocks, pre-
    serving and scaling up Imraguen fishing
    practices can help reverse overfishing and
    restore sustainable fish populations.

    Aboriginal communities
    of northern Australia—
    Burn-control strategies/
    fire management

    Throughout the twentieth cen-
    tury, forced removals kicked many
    aboriginal communities off their
    lands. Fierce dry-season blazes have
    destroyed biodiversity and emitted
    tons of greenhouse gases into the

    Aboriginal fire management techniques
    have been crucial in helping manage habi-
    tats and food resources across northern
    Australia for millennia. If these strategies
    are not followed, Australia’s biodiversity
    will be seriously threatened.

    Source: See endnote 7.

    214 | State of the World 2013

    Corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Suncor have all an-
    nounced policies on indigenous peoples recently, and a shareholder meeting
    of Newmont Mining Corporation voted 96.4 percent in favor of reducing
    company conflicts with indigenous peoples.10

    In the northern Pacific island of Sakhalin, over the past 15 years the liveli-
    hoods of the Evenk, Nivkh, Nanai, and Uilta peoples have been threatened
    by companies eager to extract oil. The pipelines, processing facilities, and
    other industrial sites have degraded the island’s biodiversity and decreased
    food production. In response, Shell International has made efforts to main-
    tain a decent quality of life for the indigenous communities, in keeping with
    the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that were ad-
    opted in June 2011.11

    Shell repainted its ships when the Inuit elders told them that red disrupts
    sea mammal behavior. The company implemented a Sakhalin Indigenous
    Minorities Development Plan and engages with Sakhalin’s indigenous
    groups to address community grievances, improve health care and educa-
    tion facilities, and preserve and study traditional languages. There are also
    efforts under way to establish indigenous peoples consultancy services for
    companies working on native lands, giving indigenous peoples the ability to
    influence corporate policy and engage in a business relationship with com-
    panies that would normally be adversaries.12

    Protecting People and the Planet
    Respecting indigenous peoples and their practices is a potentially invaluable
    resource in combating climate change. The Accra Caucus on Forests and Cli-
    mate Change, a network of NGOs representing about 100 civil society and in-
    digenous peoples’ organizations from 38 countries, determined that the key to
    reducing deforestation is to respect the rights and realities of indigenous peo-
    ples and forest-dwelling communities. Its 2010 report, Realizing Rights, Pro-
    tecting Forests: An Alternative Vision for Reducing Deforestation, features case
    studies from Brazil, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador,
    Indonesia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania and concludes that a hu-
    man rights-based approach should be applied to all policy and development
    planning, including for agriculture, forests, and the Reducing Emissions from
    Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiatives of the United Nations.13

    Well-planned and targeted grants can help indigenous communities pre-
    serve their livelihoods. First Peoples Worldwide has developed a progressive
    and innovative funding model that promotes indigenous-led projects that
    establish indigenous control of indigenous assets. The Keepers of the Earth
    Program issues grants of $250 to $20,000 for projects in land conservation,
    climate change, and food security, and it strives to protect indigenous rights
    to subsistence hunting and gathering, access to sacred sites, and customary

    Valuing Indigenous Peoples | 215

    cultural practices while simultaneously protecting biodiversity and sustain-
    able economic production.14

    Although traditional grants can help alleviate immediate or short-term
    problems, they can sometimes ignore the values and longer-term needs of
    the communities receiving the support. A value central to indigenous com-
    munities is egalitarian and inclusive development—development that does
    not benefit some at the expense of
    others. This was explicitly demon-
    strated when First Peoples held a
    roundtable meeting in Kenya in
    May 2009 to discuss funding avail-
    able for community stewardship
    projects throughout Africa. As
    part of this meeting, the group was
    offered funding from the Keepers
    of the Earth Fund, and the partici-
    pants worked together to decide
    how to allocate the funding.15

    The deliberations lasted nearly
    an hour, with ideas ranging from
    giving money to the one commu-
    nity that needed it the most to di-
    viding it in equal or unequal parts
    or using it to facilitate regional
    plans. Representatives of the Mbendjele community in the Democratic Re-
    public of Congo were so adamant about sharing the funds equally that the
    Mursi representatives from Ethiopia, who thought they needed the funds the
    most, conceded. The decision was so simple in the end: the Mursi respected
    the Mbendjele and their beliefs enough to follow their lead to split the funds
    equally because access to funding was so limited. While many foundations
    view this kind of funding as the least strategic form of development, indig-
    enous communities measure the success of a development project by its ho-
    listic, inclusive results, and they are more willing to work with foundations
    if they feel these and other values are being heard.16

    Many other groups are also working to protect indigenous peoples and
    their assets. The Cultural Conservancy, an organization dedicated to em-
    powering indigenous cultures in the direct application of their traditional
    knowledge and practices on ancestral lands, works on a variety of projects
    to help indigenous communities protect and revitalize native lands and
    cultures. One of its projects, the Native Circle of Food Program, provides
    educational workshops and creates urban and rural native gardens, in ad-
    dition to promoting seed saving, coalition building, and public education

    A Mangyan village on Mindoro Island, Philippines, where mining interests are
    threatening to deforest ancestral Mangyan lands.





    216 | State of the World 2013

    projects to restore Native American traditional ecological and nutritional
    knowledge. Through its work, the Cultural Conservancy hopes to restore
    biodiversity within North America’s food supply and to protect and en-
    hance biological diversity in general.17

    By providing the necessary framework—and taking a hands-off ap-
    proach—these organizations and many others allow indigenous groups to
    take charge of projects that protect their assets. With this kind of support,
    indigenous peoples can work toward maintaining their economic and cul-
    tural self-determination in the twenty-first century, all while protecting the
    environment and preserving cultural identity.

    Maintaining indigenous self-determination needs to become a collabor-
    ative effort among governments, policymakers, NGOs, private corporations,
    and indigenous groups themselves. The actors will vary from one country
    or region to another, but there are some key components that will not only
    help indigenous economic development but also increase food security, pro-
    tect biodiversity, and create resilience to climate change.

    Policies that Protect Indigenous Peoples. Giving recognition to indig-
    enous groups, respecting their differences, and allowing them all to flourish
    in a truly democratic spirit can help prevent conflict. In 2010, the Republic
    of Congo granted indigenous peoples there (10 percent of the total popula-
    tion) access by law to education and health services. This law is the first of
    its kind on the African continent and marks a significant step in recognizing
    and protecting the rights of marginalized indigenous peoples worldwide.
    The law also mandates punishments and fines for anyone who uses indig-
    enous persons as slaves.18

    Policies like free, prior, and informed consent can help ensure open, non-
    coercive negotiations between indigenous groups and those interested in us-
    ing land belonging to indigenous communities. According to Article 10 of
    the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Indig-
    enous Peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.
    No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent
    of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair
    compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.”19

    Corporate Engagement with Indigenous Peoples. While corporate pres-
    ence in indigenous communities may be inevitable, corporations can work
    with indigenous groups to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Businesses
    and corporations involved in the use and extraction of natural resources on
    indigenous peoples’ lands should consider their relations with indigenous
    communities a crucial part of their business practices.

    Indigenous peoples are pivotal in changing corporate behavior. Indig-
    enous groups, with the support of NGOs and other organizations, are voic-
    ing their opinions on land development and encouraging communities to

    Valuing Indigenous Peoples | 217

    set and enforce environmental standards. Corporations can reciprocate by
    partnering with indigenous peoples in project planning, design, and deci-
    sionmaking. Mutual benefits can be achieved, such as when corporations
    build local mapping centers and indigenous groups include local land uses
    on the maps. This gives companies the information they need for their op-
    erations and the indigenous groups the information they need for environ-
    mental monitoring, agriculture, hunting, fishing, and other practices.

    Unique Grantmaking and Funding Strategies. NGOs and other organi-
    zations need to develop funding models that support and suit indigenous
    needs. Foundations and aid agencies in the United States often lack specific
    strategies for working with indigenous peoples, but if these funding initia-
    tives can tap into the capacities and resources of the communities they are
    serving, their work could be far more effective.

    By adhering to the cultural values of indigenous communities and
    adopting more holistic approaches that engage these communities effec-
    tively, foundations and aid agencies will be able to ensure that the projects
    they fund provide the greatest benefit to all. Through small grants, public
    forums, private discussions, and the transfer of research and information
    relevant to indigenous peoples, outside groups can change international
    public opinion, mobilize relevant groups to secure policy reform, and shift
    the focus of indigenous economic development from income maintenance
    to a full use and appreciation of indigenous assets and knowledge.

    In 1968—during the first manned voyage to orbit the moon—Astronaut
    William Anders took the famous photograph known as Earthrise, which
    graphically depicts Earth as a small oasis in a dark, cold, hostile space. En-
    vironmentalists used Earthrise to spread their message of the need to care
    for our fragile planet, and it played a pivotal role in catalyzing the great
    environmental campaign successes of the 1970s in the United States, such
    as Earth Day, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the creation of the
    Environmental Protection Agency.1

    There is another more subtle message embedded in the Earthrise pho-
    tograph. It was taken by a species able to travel beyond Earth by building
    a human-friendly, short-term, artificial environmental system. In both the
    spaceships we build and Spaceship Earth on which we live, our survival is
    at stake.

    Finding a new set of myths and stories that remind us frequently of our
    dependence on planet Earth and our role as stewards is essential in this An-
    thropocene epoch, when humanity is having a severe impact on the bio-
    sphere—enough even to disrupt life itself. Many religions are trying to do
    just that, reminding their adherents of the lessons from their stories about
    stewardship, protecting the earth. The Judaic concept of a covenant or le-
    gal agreement between God and humanity can be extended to all creation.
    Christianity’s focus on sacrament and incarnation can be interpreted as a
    lens through which one can see the entire natural world as sacred. The Is-
    lamic vice-regency concept teaches that the natural world is not owned by
    humans but rather given to them in trust, implying a responsibility to pre-
    serve all of creation. But modern science, too, has much to contribute to
    people’s understanding of our beginning and our future.2

    One story that is now known globally and understood by billions of
    people is the story of humanity’s evolution—what E. O. Wilson, the Pulit-
    zer Prize–winning Harvard entomologist, calls “probably the best myth we

    Dwight E. Collins chairs the
    MBA Program at the Presidio
    Graduate School in San Fran-
    cisco and is president of the
    Collins Educational Founda-
    tion. Russell M. Genet is an
    astronomer and a Research
    Scholar in Residence at Califor-
    nia Polytechnic Institute in San
    Luis Obispo. David Christian
    is a professor of history at
    Macquarie University in Sydney,
    Australia, and primary founder
    of the academic discipline of
    Big History.

    c h a p t e r 2 0

    Crafting a New Narrative to
    Support Sustainability

    Dwight E. Collins, Russell M. Genet, and David Christian

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_20, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Crafting a New Narrative to Support Sustainability | 219

    will ever have.” This story starts 13 billion
    years ago with the Big Bang and contin-
    ues into the future beyond Homo sapiens
    and toward new species into which even
    humans may evolve. But it also includes
    much more beyond humans and planet
    Earth, the “billions and billions” of stars
    and planets where processes similar to
    those here on Earth are likely taking
    place. What is exciting is that there are
    now efforts around the world to draw on
    this evolutionary story—which has been
    incorporated into an academic discipline
    often called Big History—to help human-
    ity set a course to a sustainable future.3

    Teaching Big History
    Courses on Big History are now being
    taught in some 50 colleges and univer-
    sities around the world—from Harvard University and the University of
    Amsterdam to the American University in Cairo and the International State
    University in Moscow. Big History courses offer semester-long or year-long
    accounts of the history of the cosmos, of life and civilization on planet
    Earth, and of humanity’s place within the universe. These courses, by their
    very nature, are interdisciplinary, multiscalar, and both global and cosmic in
    their perspective. Often they take as their central theme the idea of increas-
    ing complexity.4

    These courses typically begin by explaining what Big History is, often
    comparing it to traditional origin stories. They then launch into a narrative
    that begins with the Big Bang, explaining the key ideas of Big Bang cosmol-
    ogy in language that nonscientists can grasp. The creation of stars is the next
    chapter in the story. With the appearance of stars, a universe that was previ-
    ously both homogenous and quite simple suddenly acquired new chemical
    elements and energy flows of increased intensity. The narrative then moves
    on to the dispersal of these new chemical elements from dying stars, a story
    that helps explain the appearance of chemically complex objects such as
    planets. Describing the creation of these new chemical elements sets up the
    story of planets in general and our own solar system in particular, preparing
    students for the history of Earth and its life.

    The emergence of life seems to have been made possible by these chemi-
    cally complex environments with a liquid solvent (water) and gentle energy
    flows that allowed the evolution of increasingly sophisticated molecules. The



    220 | State of the World 2013

    story of life and its evolution on Earth leads to the appearance of our own
    species some 200,000 years ago. Many Big History courses identify our spe-
    cies as distinct because of our capacity for “collective learning”—the ability
    to share ideas so efficiently that the information learned by individuals be-
    gins to accumulate in the collective memory from generation to generation.
    This creates a level of technological creativity that no other species has been
    able to match in the almost 4 billion years that life has existed on Earth.5

    The final parts of the story describe the results of this collective learning.
    As humans learned to ever more successfully exploit their environments,
    they evolved ever larger, complex, populous, and energy-hungry societies.
    Today, in the Anthropocene epoch, for better or worse humans have ac-
    quired the power to transform the biosphere. It is natural, therefore, that Big
    History courses end by considering where the story is headed—the story of
    humans and the biosphere, and also the story of the planet, the solar system,
    and even the Universe as a whole.6

    There are different schools of thought when teaching Big History. Some
    focus more on Earth and its origins; others, on life in the universe. But what-
    ever way you slice it, Big History gets to some of the biggest questions of
    time, space, and our survival.7

    For example, Big History raises the question of whether the history of
    our own species is unique. Is it possible that there have been many examples
    of other species beyond Earth capable of collective learning and able as a
    result to accumulate new technologies over many generations? Assuming
    such species exist, we can make some plausible generalizations about the
    likely shape of their histories. And these generalizations can help place our
    own predicament into a larger context.

    It seems likely that other collective-learning species might pass through
    similar stages in their histories as their knowledge base and technological
    resources accumulate. One line of discussion hypothesizes three stages. In
    Stage 1, childhood, these species accumulate a growing body of knowledge
    about their environment. This gives them increasing power to extract re-
    sources from their environment and support ever larger and more complex
    communities. Barring extreme events such as asteroid strikes, they eventu-
    ally reach Stage 2, adolescence. In this stage, they have accumulated so much
    power over their environment that they can now transform their planet,
    although it is not yet clear if they have the wisdom needed to use their power
    well. This potential mismatch of power and wisdom may create a bottle-
    neck, difficult to pass through, and this may explain why we have not heard
    from other such species although we have been listening for over half a cen-
    tury. Is it possible that all such species are like galactic fireflies, only briefly
    flashing on and off, here and there? Perhaps our species has reached this
    adolescent phase.8

    Crafting a New Narrative to Support Sustainability | 221

    The primary impediment to making it through our bottleneck is the run-
    away success of our species. Like other species capable of collective learning,
    we presumably have not only the ability to fill our own niche but also, be-
    cause we keep accumulating new technologies, the ability to fill and overex-
    ploit almost every niche on Earth. Through our cultural evolution, we have
    developed powerful machines, tapped fossil fuels, and are now rapidly trans-
    forming the biosphere. So far, other species have lacked the power or fore-
    sight to restrain us. Our cultural evolution has been too fast for their genetic
    evolution to counter.

    Thanks to our capacity for collective learning, there is a potential path-
    way through the bottleneck. We can become the first species on Earth to
    develop the effective planet-wide evolutionary foresight we will need if we
    are to avoid the dangers of ecological overreach and death as a civilization.
    Effective planet-wide action based
    on foresight is the key to a flour-
    ishing future. Science provides the
    foresight, while long-view narratives
    such as Big History can energize the
    public will, enabling politicians to
    make wise, long-term choices.9

    In summary, from a cosmic per-
    spective, sustainability can be seen as
    the requirement for civilizations of
    species capable of collective learning
    to safely negotiate their bottlenecks,
    to pass through their adolescent
    stages to Stage 3: planet-wide coop-
    erative maturity leading to a flour-
    ishing future. The cosmic perspective
    presented by this Big History narra-
    tive places the question of sustain-
    ability into a nonconfrontational context. It also provides a foundation of
    meaning upon which we can unite and align our ethics of exploration and
    environmental stewardship in pursuit of a common goal: negotiating a way
    through our cosmic bottleneck to reach Stage 3 of our history.

    Can Big History Courses Change Attitudes?
    The Big History Project, founded by Bill Gates and David Christian, is bring-
    ing this curriculum into high schools by building what will eventually be a
    free online syllabus in Big History. A two-year pilot offering of the course
    began in 2011 at individual high schools in the United States. In 2012, schools
    from Australia, the Netherlands, Scotland, and South Korea joined the pilot.

    The Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro is one of the largest shantytowns in
    South America, with over 200,000 inhabitants.




    222 | State of the World 2013

    Eventually, using feedback from these pilot high schools, the syllabus will be
    revised. In late 2013, it will be made freely available to high schools as well as
    individual learners. Systematic feedback from high schools will also provide
    valuable data about the capacity of such courses to change the way students
    think about issues such as sustainability. The eventual goal of this project is
    to see Big History taught in a majority of high schools throughout the world.
    Already Big History is catching on in high schools, colleges—with some, like
    Dominican University of California, even requiring all undergraduates to
    take this course—and even science museums.10

    Adults may react in different ways when exposed to the Big History ac-
    count. For some, it may generate an awareness that they should change their
    behavior. But they may need more support for change because, for example,
    they are caught up in the paradigm of well-being defined by the material
    things that surround them. Others may react by initiating a change in person-
    al values and priorities for what has meaning out of a heightened awareness
    of their interconnectedness with all life. Still others may need to connect the
    contents of the account to their spiritual identity in order to change behavior.
    They may look to practices like Religious Naturalism, an approach to spiri-
    tuality with a focus on the religious attributes of the universe and nature.11

    In any case, a great deal of anecdotal evidence from many Big History
    courses taught at the college level over the last 20 years suggests the powerful
    ability of these programs to transform a student’s perspectives with respect
    to the major global challenges of the Anthropocene epoch. Big History has
    the capacity to expand our vision of humanity and its trajectory just as the
    Earthrise picture changed how the first astronauts and cosmonauts viewed
    their home planet. Here, for instance, is the reaction of one student to a Big
    History course taught in the United States:

    When I was first asked to consider my role in the universe four months
    ago . . . I do not think I fully realized there was even a living commu-
    nity around me, never mind an Earth full of other humans and an
    entire universe beyond. . . . But after this long, incredible voyage of
    exploration . . . I have a newfound sense of what the universe is. I have
    learned . . . that we are all part of the Global Future, and I can make a
    difference in my life as well as the lives of others. . . . My role is now to
    change my ways and respect this beautiful planet that granted us life,
    and to get others to join me.12

    This anecdotal evidence suggests that students learning the new narra-
    tive can change their “reality map,” resulting in more-sustainable behavior.
    This hypothesis can be tested in a rigorous systematic way using before-
    and-after surveys.

    Since 2009, staff from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) have
    been giving presentations on climate science to high school assemblies

    Crafting a New Narrative to Support Sustainability | 223

    across the United States. Their presentations incorporate animation, music,
    and documentary footage of students taking on climate-related projects in
    their schools. In three years, ACE has engaged over 1.3 million students and
    won numerous awards for their innovative presentation style. Before-and-
    after ACE surveys have measured students’ knowledge, attitude, behaviors,
    and intentions related to climate and energy. The results suggest that stu-
    dents have the potential to shift their attitudes and behavior in response to
    a creatively crafted message about climate science. Before an ACE assembly,
    37 percent of 1,388 students surveyed passed a test on climate science; after
    the assembly, the pass rate rose to 56 percent. And the share of students
    categorized as concerned or alarmed about climate change rose 43 percent.
    The key seems to be presenting compelling information in an engaging for-
    mat that incorporates a sense of hope and empowerment. A course in Big
    History, given that it is taught over several months, is likely to have an even
    greater impact on attitudes and behaviors than a one-time high school as-
    sembly engagement.13

    The Future of Big History
    As Spaceship Earth speeds toward the brick wall of its own planetary fi-
    niteness, Big History has great potential as a teaching vehicle to change the
    attitudes of its passengers about sustainability. However, a more critical
    need is to educate its pilots—our leaders in business and government—in
    Big History.

    Graduate schools of management could, for instance, offer a one-semes-
    ter Big History course at the beginning of their Masters of Business Admin-
    istration and Public Administration (MBA/MPA) curricula. Knowledge of
    Big History grounds us in how to live as good citizens of Earth. Hence, this
    strategy could strengthen MBA/MPA programs by teaching students how
    to weave Earth citizenship values into the leadership cultures of public and
    private institutions.

    A small number of graduate programs have already made substantial
    headway in this direction. One is the 10-year-old San Francisco-based Pre-
    sidio Graduate School, which offers a dual MBA/MPA degree in sustain-
    able management. This program integrates sustainability values and tools
    for conducting business and managing public institutions throughout every
    course in its curricula. Addressing the sustainability dimension of business-
    es and public policies requires students to learn how to think at a global level
    with a sense of the broadest impacts of decisions. The primary discipline
    used by the school to teach this skill is “systems thinking,” developed and
    popularized by Jay Forrester, Donella and Dennis Meadows, and others at
    the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s. It was used in con-
    nection with the discipline of system dynamics invented by Forrester and

    224 | State of the World 2013

    found in this team’s famous work for the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth.
    Systems thinking is mathematics- and logic-based, with a focus on concepts
    like feedback loops and leverage points within a system.14

    The discipline of Big History offers a complementary approach to teach-
    ing a student to think globally. The student assimilates a breadth of knowl-
    edge that by its very nature requires him or her to think from a global/cos-
    mic perspective. Big History and systems thinking are two very different
    approaches to achieving similar learning outcomes. A course in Big Histo-
    ry—with its broad opportunity for use of both cognitive and affective learn-
    ing modalities—could augment a student’s knowledge of systems thinking,
    providing the student with an even stronger sense of the interconnectedness
    of all things in space and time.

    It remains to be seen whether or not we Earthlings will safely negoti-
    ate Spaceship Earth’s bottleneck and advance from our civilization’s reck-
    less adolescence to a state of sustainable and flourishing maturity. Anec-
    dotal evidence indicates that teaching people Big History can help on this
    journey. These courses educate students toward sustainable behavior by
    enabling them to understand the sustainability challenge in the broadest
    context and by deepening their understanding of what it means to be a
    good citizen of Earth. They teach us how to think in terms of multiple
    time scales and across disciplines. Offering such courses in our high schools
    and institutions of higher learning can provide the education that both
    the passengers and the pilots of Spaceship Earth need to steer a safe course
    through our bottleneck.

    The Big History narrative gives new meaning to our journey to a state of
    true sustainability and flourishing. It anchors the journey’s starting point,
    and its unified perspective serves as a constant reminder of why we are on
    the journey and why we should not divert from its path. This cosmic narra-
    tive was eloquently expressed by Carl Sagan when he ended the thirteenth
    and final episode of Cosmos—“Who Speaks for Earth?”— with these words:
    “Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. We speak for Earth. Our
    obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to
    that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring!”15

    Kathleen Dean Moore is
    Distinguished Professor of
    Philosophy, School of History,
    Philosophy, and Religion, at Or-
    egon State University. Michael
    P. Nelson is Ruth H. Spaniol
    Chair of Natural Resources,
    professor of environmental
    ethics and philosophy, and lead
    principal investigator of the H. J.
    Andrews Long-Term Ecological
    Research Program at Oregon
    State University.

    In the summer of 2012, some 10 percent of the earth’s land baked under
    intense heat, a tenfold increase from baseline years. Ninety-seven percent
    of the surface of the Greenland ice sheet warmed enough to show signs of
    thawing. The temperature in the state of Kansas broke 115 degrees—an all-
    time record. And the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 62.3 percent of the
    United States was suffering from moderate to extreme drought. Hot, dry
    weather also scorched Moscow, which was cloaked in haze from wildfires.
    All but 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean was ice-free that summer, the lowest
    point since measurements began at 50 percent in the late 1970s.1

    Startling changes, to be sure. But along with the increases in tempera-
    ture has come an important expansion in the world’s understanding of the
    environmental emergencies that beset the planet. The waves of climate and
    other environmental change are scientific issues. They are also technological
    and economic issues. What is new and significant is an increasing awareness
    that environmental emergencies, especially those caused by rapid climate
    change, are fundamentally moral issues that call for a moral response.

    The call for a response based on justice, compassion, and respect for hu-
    man rights comes from scientists as well as activists and moral and religious
    leaders. Averting climate change, NASA scientist James Hansen says, “is a
    great moral issue” that he compares to the fight against slavery; it is an “injus-
    tice of one generation to others.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu writes,
    “Climate change is a moral challenge, not simply an economic or technologi-
    cal problem. We are called to honor our duties of justice. . . . We are called
    to honor our duties of compassion.” Environmental issues are human rights
    issues, former Inuit Circumpolar Council Chair Sheila Watt-Cloutier writes:
    “We are defending our right to culture. . . . We are defending our right to be
    cold.” And the Dalai Lama says that a “clean environment is a human right like
    any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that
    the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than when we found it.”2

    c h a p t e r 2 1

    Moving Toward a
    Global Moral Consensus on
    Environmental Action

    Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_21, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    226 | State of the World 2013

    The emerging global consensus about the moral implications of envi-
    ronmental crises is an important development, given the underlying logic
    of policymaking. That logic is expressed in the form of the practical moral
    syllogism: Any argument that reaches a conclusion about what we ought to
    do must have two premises. The first premise is factual, based on empirical,
    usually scientific, evidence—This is the way the world is, and this is the way
    the world will be if it continues on this path. But facts alone do not tell us what
    we ought to do. For that, we need a second premise. The second premise is
    normative, based on our best judgment of what is right and good, what is of
    value, what is just, what is worthy of us as moral beings—This is the way the
    world ought to be. From these two premises together, but from neither alone,
    we can devise policies that empower our values and embody our visions of
    the world as it ought to be.

    This logic helps explain some of the impasses blocking action to avert the
    emergencies. It helps explain a strategy of climate change deniers, for exam-
    ple. Given the logic of the practical moral syllogism, individuals who would
    reject climate action and the changes it would require can either deny the
    science that supports action or deny collected human wisdom about how
    the world ought to be. Unsurprisingly, they choose to attack the science. It
    is far easier to pick a fight about, say, whether dramatically increasing levels
    of carbon dioxide will help or hurt humankind than to quarrel about, say,
    whether we have a moral obligation to protect children from harm.3

    The logic also helps explain the frustration of scientists, who see an as-
    tonishing decoupling of scientific consensus and public belief, as well as, in
    some cases, an inverse correlation between the amount people know about
    climate change and the political will to act. Indeed, scientists have heroically
    expanded knowledge and explained it to the public on the assumption that
    if people only knew, if they only knew, then they would act. This, unfortu-
    nately, is a fallacy. Better to say, if people only knew the facts about the harm-
    ful effects of climate change on the human prospect, and if they affirmed
    basic principles of justice and compassion, then they would act. It is from
    the partnership between science and ethics that policies are born. For this
    reason, university departmentalization and the myriad isolations of exper-
    tise, science/religion divides, and other forces that weaken the connection
    between the realm of the first premise (generally science and technology)
    and the realm of the second premise (literature, art, religion, indigenous
    wisdom, ethics, history) have made it harder to devise effective policies.

    Shared Moral Principles That Require Action
    Hidden behind the well-publicized disagreements about climate change is a
    body of shared wisdom about fundamental moral principles of human and
    political action. Just as the world’s scientists are achieving a hard-won global

    Moving Toward a Global Moral Consensus on Environmental Action | 227

    consensus about the facts, it is possible to move toward a global consensus
    about basic principles of morality. This section looks at just a few of the
    principles fundamental to a global moral response to climate change and
    other environmental crises.

    Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person. This basic
    moral principle, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is echoed
    in constitutions around the world. If there is a fundamental, globally shared
    moral vision, this is it. If we accept what scientists tell us about the effects
    of environmental assaults, and if we accept this definition of human rights,
    it follows that the carbon-spewing nations are embarking on the greatest
    violation of human rights the world has ever seen. The consequences of
    global warming and widespread environmental degradation—flooding
    people from their homes, exposing them to new disease vectors, disrupting
    food supplies, contaminating or exhausting freshwater sources, uprooting
    the material bases of traditional cultures—are a systematic denial of human
    rights. By whom? By the wealthy nations and the wealthiest subpopulations
    of all nations, who cannot or will not stop releasing more than their fair
    share of carbon into the atmosphere. For what? For the continuing con-
    sumption of material goods and the accumulation of wealth. “An environ-
    mental human rights movement is the vision under which I labor,” writes
    biologist Sandra Steingraber, “from which I am not free to desist, and which
    may, if we all work together, become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”4

    Justice, and intergenerational justice in particular, requires an equita-
    ble distribution of benefits and burdens. Climate change is not only a viola-
    tion of rights; it is a violation of the principles of justice. The people who are
    suffering and will suffer the most severe harms from climate change (at least
    in the short term, until it engulfs us all) are unlikely ever to see the putative
    benefits of the profligate use of fossil fuels and natural resources. Moreover,
    they are the people least responsible for causing the harm. The people who
    are causing the harm are off-loading its consequences onto those least able
    to speak in their own defense. Who are the voiceless? They are future people,
    who do not exist and so cannot defend themselves against the profound
    destabilization of the world. They are plants and animals and ecosystems,
    destroyed wholesale to support the lifestyles of the present. They are mar-
    ginalized people everywhere—economically marginalized and geographi-
    cally marginalized, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the circumpolar regions, in
    low-lying islands, in areas of flood or drought or disease or famine. And
    they are children. That is a violation of distributive justice.

    Humans have an absolute obligation to protect children from harm. The
    suffering of any child is unjust. Small children can never deserve to suffer,
    because they can never do a wrong that might justify suffering in return. But
    adults are harming children, even as (especially as) we believe we are acting to

    228 | State of the World 2013

    provide for them. It is ironic that the amassing of material wealth in the name
    of very privileged children will harm them in time. Consider the poison in
    the plastic car seat, the disease in the pesticide-treated fruit, the coal company
    in the college investment portfolio, the mall where there had been frogs, the
    carbon load of a distant summer camp. But the harm that adult decisions
    will do to the children who are not as privileged is not just an irony; it is a
    violation of our obligation to protect them. The world’s less privileged chil-
    dren are the ones who will suffer the most as seas rise, fires scorch cropland,
    diseases spread north, and famine returns to lands that had been abundant.
    At this point in history, few can claim the excuse of ignorance. Few can claim
    they are acting unintentionally. The damage to children’s future is a deliber-
    ate theft. “This is not the future I want for my daughters,” President Barack
    Obama has said. “It’s not the future any of us want for our children.”5

    We have an obligation as moral beings to act with compassion. Of all
    the virtues that a human being can possess, the greatest may be compas-
    sion. Compassion: to “feel with,” to imagine ourselves in another’s place.
    Understanding the joys or sufferings of others, the compassionate person is
    joyous or suffers too. Thus the truly compassionate person strives to create
    conditions that bring forth joy and to prevent or diminish conditions that
    create pain. But the price of the accelerating use of fossil fuels and the waste
    of natural thriving will be paid in human and animal suffering. If virtuous
    people are compassionate, if compassionate people act to reduce suffering,
    and if climate change will cause suffering around the world, then we who
    call ourselves virtuous have a moral obligation to avert the effects of the
    coming storms.

    It is wrong to wreck the world. “A thing is right when it tends to preserve
    the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community,” conservationist
    and ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote. “It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” By
    this principle, the waste and spoilage that cause climate change are wrong.
    The timeless unfurling of the universe, or the glory of God, or an unknown
    mystery, or all of these together have brought the Earth to a glorious fecun-
    dity, resilience, and beauty. To let it all slip away because we are too preoccu-
    pied to save it? That is wrong. And when the destruction is done knowingly
    and in exchange for something of far lesser value, this is immorality at its
    most incomprehensible. A full appreciation of the beauty and wonder of
    the world calls us to action. If this is the way the world is—beautiful, aston-
    ishing, wondrous, awe-inspiring—then this is how we ought to act in that
    world: with respect, with deep caring and fierce protectiveness, and with a
    full sense of our obligation to the future, that this world shall remain.6

    Moral integrity requires us to make decisions that embody our values. It
    is possible to believe the world is trapped between two unacceptable alterna-
    tives. One is the moral complacency that comes from blind hope. The other

    Moving Toward a Global Moral Consensus on Environmental Action | 229

    is the moral abdication that comes from blinding despair. Certainly, there
    is good reason for despair. Vermont Law School professor Gus Speth wrote,
    “All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and ecosystem and leave
    a ruined world to our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly
    what we are doing today.”7

    But to think that hope and despair are the only two options is a false di-
    chotomy. Between them is a vast and fertile middle ground, which is integri-
    ty: a matching between what we believe and what we do. To act justly because
    we believe in justice. To act lovingly toward children because we love them.
    To refuse to allow corporations to make us into instruments of destruction
    because we believe it is wrong to wreck the world. This is moral integrity.
    This is a fundamental moral obligation—to act in ways that are consistent
    with our beliefs about what is right. And this is a fundamental moral chal-
    lenge—to make our lives into works of art that embody our deepest values.

    A Competing Moral Value that Blocks Climate Action
    Even as consensus grows on the moral necessity of climate action, disagree-
    ment grows as to the proper steps to take. A substantial minority of the U.S.
    populace, for example, believes that the steps required to combat climate
    change are wrong, primarily because they limit personal freedom. It is surely
    correct that effective climate action will increase social constraints. It will re-
    quire limiting the freedom of commerce, limiting the freedom of consumer
    choices, and, in a variety of ways, limiting the freedom of some to benefit
    at the expense of others. Climate policy disputes are one manifestation of a
    division between those who think the primary purpose of government is to
    bring people to common action, so they can do together what none of them
    can do alone, and those who think the primary purpose of government is to
    protect individual freedom of self-development and self-realization.8

    Either way, freedom has value as a means to the ends people seek. That
    value raises a paradox of unsurpassed importance: If unfettered freedom
    unleashes a climate chaos that threatens to undermine the great systems
    that sustain our lives and nations, then what will be left of freedom? What
    the world faces is a choice between social constraints democratically chosen
    and the fierce, uncontrollable, lethally unleashed constraints of flood, fire,
    and the societal chaos that will accompany rapid ecological changes. (See
    Box 21–1.)9

    From Moral Imperative to Moral Action
    Work is advancing on many fronts to harness the power of moral conviction
    in efforts to slow climate destabilization and ecological disruption. Moral
    arguments about climate change do not have to be abstract and complex;
    recent scholarship suggests powerful new frames for moral arguments. Ac-

    230 | State of the World 2013

    cordingly, the world is now seeing strong, innovative moral climate change
    initiatives based on moral rights, conscientious objection, and religious con-
    viction, to name a few, and new efforts to reimagine ethics as well as the
    institutions that embed moral values.10

    Moral Rights. The Earth Charter in 2000 was the first global effort to
    expand moral consideration to the earth. It called for “respect for the Earth
    and life in all its diversity,” recognizing that “every form of life has value
    regardless of its worth to human beings.” Since then, many nations have for-
    mally granted moral standing and legal rights to the earth. Ecuador declared
    in 2008 that Nature has the “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate
    its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” In La Ley
    de Derechos de la Madre Tierra (the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth), Bo-
    livia defined 11 rights for the environment in 2011, including “the right to
    life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from hu-
    man alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the

    It is possible that planetary civilization will move
    smoothly into the future through prudence and grace,
    with all its ethical wisdom intact. But what if we fall hard
    into a future marked by chaos, scarcity, and calamity?
    What of ethics then?

    Moviemakers like to portray a post-apocalyptic
    world as post-moral—solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and
    short—governed by animal instincts unrestrained by
    human decency. It is certainly a possible scenario, and
    even a probable one if we fail to act to prevent global
    average temperature increases from reaching high-
    end projections of 6 degrees Celsius. But of course this
    Hobbesian future is not the only scenario. It is possible
    that ethics will not disappear but will change. Among
    the expected casualties of ecological collapse may be
    those parts of western ethics-as-usual that have not
    served us well. In a world in which there are few good
    consequences to be found, for example, we might see
    the end of utilitarianism, which judges the moral-
    ity of acts by the desirability of their consequences.
    We might see as well the end of egoism or radical
    individualism, as ecological collapse forces us finally to
    accept that we humans are created and defined by our
    relation to cultural and ecological communities—that
    we flourish not as isolated utility-maximizers but as

    members of communities of interdependent parts.
    What will replace the ethics that no longer serve

    us well? When we study terrible times (concentration
    camps, wars, the forced relocations of Native Ameri-
    cans, and many more examples), we most often see
    moral behavior based on personal integrity, by which
    people choose to do what is right for no other reason
    than because it is right. To act justly because we believe
    in justice. To act compassionately because we believe
    in compassion. “When we are no longer able to change
    a situation,” wrote Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust
    survivor Viktor Frankl, “we are challenged to change
    ourselves.” This may be the one choice remaining to us
    even in the darkest futures we can imagine: “Everything
    can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the
    human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any
    given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way,”
    Frankl noted. Making difficult choices, helping others
    get through the demanding and grim ecological transi-
    tions of the future—these may be true acts of moral
    courage. But the fact is, we have the opportunity to be
    morally courageous right now, choosing to match our
    actions to our beliefs about what is right and good, just
    and beautiful, worthy of us as moral beings.

    Source: See endnote 9.

    Box 21–1. ethics at the end of the World

    Moving Toward a Global Moral Consensus on Environmental Action | 231

    right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified
    or genetically altered.”11

    These laws have the important effect of changing the burden of proof,
    so that anyone who would do harm to the earth must provide good reasons
    why this is justified. But efforts to encode obligations to the earth do not
    stop there. For example, a campaign is under way in Britain to make “eco-
    cide” an international crime comparable to genocide and likewise action-
    able as a fifth “crime against peace” that can be tried by the International
    Criminal Court.12

    Conscientious Action. The world is seeing an increase in direct action or
    civil disobedience that is guided by moral integrity—the refusal to acquiesce
    passively in actions believed wrong. For example, 12,000 people surrounded
    the White House in November 2011 to push President Obama to keep his
    campaign promise to “end the tyranny of oil.” More than 200 were arrested,
    including event organizer Bill McKibben, who wrote, “This is, at bottom, a
    moral issue.” In Sydney, Australia, a crowd of 10,000 cheered Climate Proj-
    ect coordinator Nell Schofield when she decried the government’s lack of
    action as “not only embarrassing, . . . [but] morally reprehensible.” Around
    the world, thousands have been arrested in demonstrations against fracking,
    mountaintop removal, open-pit mines, and other particularly destructive
    industrial practices.13

    In July 2012, the first-ever nationwide anti-fracking rally in Washington,
    D.C., demonstrated the increasing solidarity of secular and religious envi-
    ronmental activists. Catherine Woodiwiss of the Center for American Prog-
    ress noted that the protests were “couched in sweeping moral language—an
    example of the increasingly values-based lens being applied to public dis-
    course about climate change and green energy technology.”14

    Faith-based Action. A growing number of religious denominations and
    leaders continue to move into the world of environmental activism, driven by
    a sense of moral responsibility to address human injustice, to relieve human
    suffering, and to serve their Creator as stewards of divine creation. In the past
    year, religion-based campaigns included a Global Day of Prayer for Creation
    Care organized by the Evangelical Environmental Network, with presenta-
    tions by evangelical leaders from the United States, Europe, Latin America,
    and Africa. Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, a newly formed collaborative
    endorsed by 45 groups and scores of religious leaders, sponsored a Cultural
    Implications of Climate Change program with talks by leaders from Chris-
    tian, Islamic, Jewish, Baha’i, Hindu, and Native American faith traditions. To
    traditional religious concerns of social justice and compassion, these initia-
    tives bring a powerful commitment to “creation care,” the obligation to pro-
    tect divine creation and to honor Nature—a spiritual imperative especially
    strong in indigenous religions, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.15

    232 | State of the World 2013

    Reimagining Ethics.
    Evolutionary science,
    ecological science, and
    almost all the religious
    and spiritual traditions
    of the world tell us that
    human/nature dualism
    and human exceptional-
    ism are fundamentally
    mistaken; rather, humans
    are deeply of the earth,
    embedded in emergent
    systems that are inter-
    connected, interdepen-
    dent, finite, and beauti-
    ful. Recognizing that a
    truly adaptive civilization
    will align its ethics with
    the ways of the earth, a

    number of organizations are articulating or calling for an earth-based eth-
    ic to replace anthropocentric utilitarianism, which measures acts by their
    usefulness to human ends. An example of such an ethic is the Blue River
    Declaration, written by an interdisciplinary seminar convened by the Spring
    Creek Project in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains in 2011. The authors con-
    cluded: “Humanity is called to imagine an ethic that not only acknowledges,
    but emulates, the ways by which life thrives on Earth. How do we act, when
    we truly understand that we live in complete dependence on an Earth that is
    interconnected, interdependent, finite, and resilient?”16

    Reimagining Institutions. An ethic of care for the earth calls into ques-
    tion many of the institutions of “business-as-usual,” including the corpora-
    tion. Traditional corporations maximize for one and only one value: share-
    holder profits. So far, 12 states have passed legislation to create a new kind
    of corporation, called the B-corporation—the “B” standing for benefit. B-
    corporations integrate social benefit directly into the missions and charters
    of their businesses, offering if not a moral shift, at least a moral promise. By
    November 2012 there were 650 B-corporations in 60 industries in 18 coun-
    tries, with a combined worth of $4.2 billion.17

    A Paradigm Shift in Worldviews
    Along with these moral responses to climate change comes the call for a
    Great Turning, as Joanna Macy puts it, toward a paradigm shift in world-
    view, away from the conviction that humans are separate from and supe-

    Activists deliver petitions with 160,000 signatures to ban fracking to New York Governor
    Cuomo’s office in October 2012.





    Moving Toward a Global Moral Consensus on Environmental Action | 233

    rior to the rest of creation. Humans are part of this world, fully and deeply
    nested into intricate, delicately balanced systems of living and dying that
    have created a richness of life greater than the planet has ever seen. In our
    common origins and in our common fates, in the interdependence of our
    functioning, we and the rest of the natural world are kin. Because we are
    part of the earth’s systems, humans are utterly dependent on their resilience
    and thriving. How soon we grasp that reality will determine not only our
    ecological and social future but our moral future as well.18

    In Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, two vast political gatherings deliberated
    about the future of sustainability. On the campus of RioCentro, heads of
    state, ministerial representatives, and other national delegates sat in con-
    ference chambers and roundtable rooms at the United Nations Conference
    on Sustainable Development, attempting to negotiate formal agreements on
    sustainable development. Across the city, in Flamengo Park, civil society and
    citizens’ groups struck a sharp contrast at the People’s Summit—with an
    impassioned festival atmosphere of tent talks, demonstrations, and partici-
    patory events. Agendas ranged from agroecological farming to alternative
    currencies, renewable energy to recycling, and the rights to land, water, re-
    productive choice, and alternative ways of living with nature.1

    The political strategies and styles on display could not have been more
    different. They exemplified contrasting approaches to the fractured poli-
    tics of sustainability: global versus grassroots, top-down versus bottom-up,
    state-led versus citizen-led, formal versus informal. Cross-cutting these were
    distinctions between dominant “reformist” approaches, seeking sustainabil-
    ity through tweaks to existing social and economic systems under the cur-
    rent rubric of “green economies,” and more-marginal “radical” arguments
    that sustainability requires more-fundamental overhauls of social and eco-
    nomic systems, whether based on anti-capitalist or socialist principles or on
    alternative eco-philosophies.2

    Both gatherings made it clear that sustainability is not primarily a techni-
    cal challenge. It is fundamentally a matter of politics. What political strate-
    gies are needed to break the political logjam? Sustainability is not just one
    thing, and there is a need to recognize the multiple sustainability goals and
    possible futures given priority by different people and groups and across
    scales, as well as the disputes and trade-offs among them. The challenge is
    thus to open up the politics of sustainability to recognize and enable nego-
    tiation among different possible pathways.

    Melissa Leach is a social
    anthropologist and Professorial
    Fellow at the Institute of Devel-
    opment Studies, University of
    Sussex, United Kingdom. She
    directs the ESRC STEPS (Social,
    Technological and Environmen-
    tal Pathways to Sustainability)
    Centre, an interdisciplinary re-
    search and policy engagement
    organization with partners in
    Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

    c h a p t e r 2 2

    Pathways to Sustainability:
    Building Political Strategies

    Melissa Leach

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_22, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies | 235

    Pathways and Politics

    Pathways of change toward sustainability must steer us toward a safe ecolog-
    ical and economic operating space for humanity, as well as toward a social
    space that respects basic standards of human dignity, well-being, and rights.
    This challenge is inherently political, requiring the recognition and realign-
    ment of the political-economic interests, institutions, and power relations
    that constrain us to well-worn pathways. Examples of such pathways include
    fossil-fueled energy regimes that have developed along with incumbent
    political interests, patterns of economic activity, and established technolo-
    gies and infrastructures in both older and newly industrializing countries
    and the heavily industrialized agriculture and high meat consumption that
    threaten biodiversity, land, and freshwater use and that are interlocked with
    the political-economic interests of the food industry and the lifestyles and
    preferences of many consumers.3

    Yet the challenges do not stop there. Even agreeing on the general need
    to move toward sustainability leaves us facing a multiplicity of diverse pos-
    sible goals and related pathways. In global, national, and local settings, there
    are inevitably contested versions of sustainability and “sustainable devel-
    opment,” implying different winners and losers. These specificities were
    glossed over in the 1987 definition of sustainable development by the World
    Commission on Environment and Development, and they are equally
    downplayed in current debates around “the future we want.” Seeking “true
    sustainability” requires addressing far more precisely who exactly “we” are in
    different contexts and whose needs and goals are at stake.4

    To consider just one example, take the challenge of combating hunger in
    various rural settings across the world. Does sustainable development mean
    improving food security through boosting agricultural productivity, using
    modern plant breeding and genetic engineering to roll out technical solu-
    tions at scale? Or does it mean tackling diverse local food insecurities shaped
    by ecological, market, social, and institutional contexts through farmer-par-
    ticipatory approaches? Or some other approach not yet developed?

    The same abundance of choices arises with respect to energy, water, and
    many other sustainability challenges. Of course, these are not clear-cut
    either-ors. What might work, or be desirable, will vary from place to place
    and for different groups of people. And keeping open a diversity of policy,
    technology, and economic options and approaches is itself desirable. Given
    the complexities and uncertainties surrounding so many environmental and
    economic processes, it makes sense to avoid putting all our eggs in one bas-
    ket. Diversity of possible pathways also allows for decisionmakers and users
    to select, adapt, and innovate creatively to suit what inevitably are highly di-
    verse contexts and values. The point, though, is that not all pathways can be

    236 | State of the World 2013

    pursued; there are always going to be trade-offs between and controversies
    about alternatives. Politics and power are thus critical at this level, too, in
    shaping which possible versions of sustainable development are recognized
    and how these disputes play out in global, national, and local settings.

    This means that the challenge for sustainability politics is not just to at-
    tempt a shift or a reorientation from unsustainable pathways to sustain-
    able ones, as if this were about redirecting a super-highway. And it is not
    just about building support for top-down, singular policy, technological,
    and economic approaches to sustainable development of the kind that have
    dominated so much debate and attempted action. The challenge is also
    to open up understanding and action around sustainability to reveal and
    empower alternative pathways that might currently be hidden, including
    those that emerge from the experiences, knowledge, and creativity of poorer
    women and men, rural and urban dwellers, and citizens and small busi-
    nesses in particular places.

    How might this be done? There are no simple answers. Four practical
    ways forward are offered here: deliberating goals, mobilizing citizens, build-
    ing networks, and exploiting openings in political and policy structures. Po-
    litical strategies and actions along these lines are already unfolding around
    the world and offering valuable lessons, guidelines, and clues for those seek-
    ing transformative change. Taken together, these four strategies offer ways
    of bridging and connecting top-down and bottom-up as well as reformist
    and radical approaches.

    Deliberating Goals. Strategies for deliberative governance aim to bring
    diverse people and perspectives together into forums for debate, dialogue,
    negotiation, and engagement around particular problems. These in turn
    draw on ideas of direct and participatory democratic politics, in which
    people with a stake in an issue engage directly in forums where it will be
    debated or decided rather than just through voting for political candidates
    to represent them. Giving voice to alternative perspectives that may point
    in sustainable directions is, in itself, a way to counter lock-in to singular,
    dominant pathways.5

    There are many examples of such deliberative approaches convened by
    governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or researchers and
    linked with an array of practical tools and methods. Many have a local fo-
    cus. Community trade-off assessments have been pioneered in Guyana, for
    example, in which local community members assess different sustainable
    development options in terms of their own worldviews and aspirations. In
    India, citizens’ juries have been used to open up discussion of genetically
    modified crops and sustainability among farmers, businesses, and political
    leaders. Other examples aim to link local perspectives with national actors
    and policies. Thus, for instance, multicriteria mapping (MCM) methods

    Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies | 237

    have been used effectively to generate debate about different goals and path-
    ways for agricultural development in dryland Kenya in the context of cli-
    mate change. (See Box 22–1.) “The pyramid” is a deliberative framework
    and approach that has been used to promote participatory dialogue and
    target setting in forestry policy at the national level in Brazil and elsewhere.6

    Deliberative dialogues have also been attempted at the global scale. For
    several years starting in 2003, for instance, the International Assessment of
    Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development had over
    900 contributors from across the world discussing possible futures for ag-
    ricultural development. The process had some success in opening up what
    had been a rather black-and-white debate about the merits of high-tech
    modern biotechnology and market-based solutions, highlighting the need
    for varied social and technical approaches suited to different socioeconomic
    and agroecological conditions.7

    And in 2012 an innovative attempt was made to enrich the Rio+20 Con-
    ference through a process to include civil society perspectives and priorities.
    The Rio+20 Dialogues for Sustainable Development, initiated by the gov-
    ernment of Brazil and supported by the United Nations, involved a multi-
    stage process of online discussion; selection and open online voting on 10

    Four out of five people in Kenya rely on agriculture.
    There is a virtual “lock-in” to maize—the region’s cultur-
    ally and politically valued staple crop—as the dominant
    pathway to food security. Amid growing concern with
    climate change in Sakai, a semiarid and risk-prone
    area, a Kenyan and British research team facilitated a
    deliberative process using multicriteria mapping to
    identify and explore how farmers might better deal
    with the challenges posed by frequent droughts. Farm-
    ers identified nine possible pathways, differentiated
    according to whether they depended on high or low
    levels of external inputs, such as commercially bought
    seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation, and the farmers’ respec-
    tive focus on maize or on other crops such as sorghum,
    cassava, vegetables, or tree fruits. Using the MCM tool,
    different groups—including richer and poorer farmers,
    crop researchers, policymakers, extension workers, and
    executives in commercial seed companies—appraised
    these different pathways. The MCM software package
    helped stakeholders to identify criteria of their own

    choosing; to score each pathway numerically against
    all criteria, providing both “optimistic” and “pessimistic”
    scores; and to weight the relative importance they
    attached to each criterion. The MCM tool then provided
    the stakeholders with a graphic representation of their
    comparative assessments of all the pathways. This
    provided a powerful basis for debate and discussion
    about the ways they had scored each pathway and
    their underlying reasoning.

    The MCM exercise revealed the interests of many
    poorer and women farmers, especially, in diversifica-
    tion into non-maize crops. But it also revealed farmers’
    concerns and uncertainties about their ability to sell dif-
    ferent produce, as well as the strong political-economic
    interests of agricultural researchers and seed compa-
    nies in a continued focus on maize. By making these
    interests and ambiguities explicit, the MCM-assisted
    deliberation paved the way for better-informed and
    more-inclusive dialogue about policy options.

    Source: See endnote 6.

    Box 22–1. Multicriteria Mapping of agricultural pathways in Dryland Kenya

    238 | State of the World 2013

    recommendations; a live discussion at Rio Centro that involved further rec-
    ommendations from expert panels, public discussion, and a vote; and pre-
    sentation of the recommendations to a roundtable of leaders gathered for
    the high-level segment of the Rio+20 Conference. Unfortunately, although
    more than 63,000 people from 193 countries cast nearly 1.4 million votes,
    the ballot was on recommendations that had been watered down through
    the Internet-mediated process to an almost meaningless level of general-
    ity—and with no compulsion for those leading the intergovernmental dia-
    logue to respond.8

    Whatever the setting or scale, experience with such approaches to delib-
    erating goals suggests a range of lessons and challenges. Politics and power
    relations often pervade deliberative processes themselves, making it vital to
    attend carefully to who has framed the agenda. Which issues and angles are
    included and which are off-limits? Who is represented and who is not? Which
    voices dominate the dialogue and which remain marginal? Facilitating delib-
    erative dialogues involves negotiating such relations, balancing the needs of
    different participants, remaining as open and inclusive as possible, recogniz-
    ing conflict and dissent as valid contributions, and encouraging learning.9

    There is value in recognizing diversity and making conflicts and trade-offs
    explicit rather than acceding to an apparent consensus view that in some cases
    might merely represent the interests of the contextually powerful and in oth-
    ers may be a lowest common denominator that loses the richness and sharp-
    ness of participants’ views. In the Rio Dialogues, for instance, the knowledge
    and ideas captured through the online process were both more radical and
    more detailed and specific than the handful of final recommendations.

    A related challenge concerns whether such deliberation over goals is ac-
    tually allowed to shape wider political or policy processes. Despite the inno-
    vative opening up of the Rio Dialogues, for example, the intergovernmen-
    tal process was not geared up to receive the resulting recommendations. In
    some cases governments have convened public participation processes only
    to ignore inconvenient outcomes that challenged established policy direc-
    tions. Policy processes must be opened up in order to profit from the plural-
    ity of views. Involving decisionmakers themselves in deliberative approaches
    can help by getting them to engage with other stakeholders.

    Mobilizing Citizens. Deliberating goals may play a role in directing and
    opening up alternative pathways to sustainability. But especially where po-
    litical and economic positions are entrenched and power relations are deep-
    ly unequal, this will not be enough. There are many examples of citizens
    expressing themselves around sustainability more spontaneously, linked
    with action and activism of various kinds. Such active citizen mobilization
    suggests further crucial political strategies in directing and opening up path-
    ways to sustainability.

    Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies | 239

    As many of the Rio People’s Summit events showed, citizen mobiliza-
    tion is not always geared to building consensus. It can also involve dissent,
    protest, and resistance against state, global, or business interests. Such an-
    tagonistic counterpolitics is an important complement to argumentation,
    deliberation, and reasoning, and it can be crucial both in getting new issues
    and directions onto political agendas and in seeing them through.

    For example, water issues in
    India have generated many ex-
    amples of activism and mobiliza-
    tion. Large dams and river-linking
    systems have often been under-
    taken there by government and
    industry, with international back-
    ing, as large-scale technological
    “solutions” to assumed problems
    of water scarcity (and now in re-
    sponse to the need for low-carbon
    hydroelectric energy systems).
    These have long been a focus of
    mobilization and protest. Anti-
    dam movements such as the Save
    the Narmada Movement globally
    projected citizens’ concerns about
    the loss of forest-based livelihoods
    and cultural values threatened by upstream flooding, about whether India’s
    Sardar Sarovar Dam would really resolve the downstream water problems
    of local farmers and pastoralists, and about the elite industrial and political
    interests perceived to drive large dam approaches.10

    Linking up with similar movements across the world, the Narmada
    mobilization helped to provoke a wave of questioning (for instance, in the
    report and guidelines issued by the World Commission on Dams) around
    the appropriateness of large-scale engineering technologies compared with
    approaches that are better attuned to local ecological and social conditions.
    More recently, while the life-and-death struggle for villagers faced with sub-
    mergence by the Sardar Sarovar Dam continues, mobilization and protests
    around water in India, as elsewhere, have come to focus more on the prob-
    lems of large-scale privatization of water resources and “water grabbing”—
    another blanket solution to so-called problems of scarcity that threatens to
    ride roughshod over the rights and concerns of marginalized people.11

    Activism relevant to sustainability can be motivated and held together by
    quite diverse concerns that are not always labeled “environmental.” It may
    reflect shared struggles for livelihoods and justice, as in the dams example,




    The Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in India.

    240 | State of the World 2013

    or struggles for sociocultural autonomy and identity, as in many indigenous
    peoples’ movements around the world. Or it may reflect frustration with
    the perversities and injustices of dominant political-economic systems, in
    which their (un)sustainability is only one concern. The Occupy movement
    in many countries following the financial crisis of 2008–09, protesting the
    inequity of global and national economic orders, is an example.12

    Movements often draw together people of diverse backgrounds and posi-
    tions who coalesce around a particular issue and moment. Contemporary
    forms of sustainability activism are not directed just at governments and
    corporations but also at regional and global arenas and agencies such as the
    World Bank and International Monetary Fund and, as the Occupy move-
    ment shows, the networks of powerful actors who steer dominant political,
    economic, and environmental pathways. Citizen mobilization also involves
    a wide range of political styles and tactics—from face-to-face demonstra-
    tions, marches, and sit-ins to media campaigns, claims through legal chan-
    nels, and the use of online forums and social media. The most successful
    mobilizations have often combined tactics in shifting combinations, gearing
    them to unfolding political processes.13

    While mobilization often starts locally and retains local roots, in this Age
    of the Internet it increasingly also links participants in many local sites into
    global movements. Some become formalized, such as the international peas-
    ant movement La Via Campesina, which links land rights activist groups
    across the world and has campaigned successfully for the introduction of
    voluntary guidelines to regulate global land deals. Events such as the World
    Social Forum or the People’s Summit in Rio offer venues in which local
    movements can build their connections and find common ground. Such
    “globalization from below” is particularly significant for sustainability is-
    sues, which have both global and local manifestations.14

    Building Networks. Multiple actors and institutions—governments,
    businesses, civil society groupings, and international agencies—have long
    been involved in making and implementing sustainability-related policy
    and political decisions. Increasingly, state power has diminished and altered
    with the rise of public-private partnerships, market actors, and new mecha-
    nisms—from financial instruments to green corporate accounting and eco-
    system service payments. The disappointing outcomes of Rio’s multilateral
    negotiations are intimately linked with these developments. They might be
    lamented as a political crisis for sustainability insofar as governments, which
    are at least formally accountable downward to their citizens and upward
    to agreed global regulations, are losing their power—to be replaced by an
    unaccountable world of green wheeling and dealing. But the move to net-
    worked governance also opens up new opportunities for political strategies
    in resteering and building pathways to sustainability. If it is networks that

    Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies | 241

    now steer politics and policy, then sustainability strategies need to first un-
    derstand how they operate and then identify and build alternative networks
    to influence or counter them.15

    For example, interactions among ministries of agriculture, seed compa-
    nies, agro-dealers, and NGOs have emerged as central to the shaping of agri-
    cultural policies in many African settings. Equally, new networks linking elec-
    tricity supply companies with government agencies and consumer groups
    have helped steer policy in the energy sectors of many countries. Such net-
    works often operate across national borders and across spatial scales; indeed,
    multilevel approaches to politics and governance are particularly significant
    for environmental problems whose causes and manifestations so often cut
    across local and global levels. Multiscale networks have emerged particularly
    fast in the climate and energy realm. Climate policy and politics now involve
    international institutions; carbon-market arrangements; nongovernmental,
    civic, and business groups; national ministries; technical agencies and supply
    firms; and formal and informal consumer institutions.16

    Where powerful networks are supporting unsustainable pathways, politi-
    cal strategies may be geared toward undermining them or influencing them
    to bring about change. Likewise, alternative networks may be built up to
    counteract dominant ones or support alternative political or policy ideas.
    Understanding where the power lies—knowing which actors and institu-
    tions are important, understanding the jostling of positions and interests
    at global, national, and local levels, and tracing the connections between
    them—helps to identify who to target, where, and with what sorts of mes-
    sage. Experience points to the importance of informal “shadow networks”
    (such as the networks of scientists, activists, and local people who have made
    the case for adaptive river basin management in Southeast Asia) and their
    coordinated efforts to develop alternatives, build the case for them, and
    identify and exploit political opportunities.17

    Exploiting Openings. Can alternative ideas and options for pathways to
    sustainability, and for generating support and momentum for these through
    citizen mobilization and network-building, trigger the required shifts in
    political-economic and policy direction? Sometimes current structures and
    regimes are too deeply entrenched, too powerful and resilient, for change to
    happen just in response to a push from outside. In these circumstances, cri-
    sis can create opportunity. Breakages or openings in existing structures can
    provide political windows for new ideas and network positions.

    Effective leveraging of policy or political change demands an aptitude
    for seizing particular policy opportunities as they arise. Such opportunities
    may be triggered by acknowledged crises in the management of a particular
    issue. To take one example, the Florida Everglades in the United States un-
    derwent four transformations in management during the twentieth century

    242 | State of the World 2013

    as changing conditions triggered successive crises and new management
    needs to control unwanted floodwater, sustain the water supply for a grow-
    ing population, control the nutrients associated with land-use interactions,
    and then begin restoring the ecosystem.18

    Opportunities may also be triggered by wider political transitions and
    changes, for instance by an election or civil conflict that brings in a new
    government. In a number of countries the financial crises since 2008 have
    been seen as an opportunity for fundamental challenges to economic or-
    ders. Movements and coalitions advocating new approaches to green, ser-
    vice, and employment-oriented economies have actively sought to insert
    their arguments into this political window. But the opening has been con-
    strained by the ability of dominant banking and financial infrastructures
    and interests to bounce back and reassert their power. Nor is there any
    guarantee that policy reforms and transformations enacted in moments
    of opening will necessarily stick. Even legislation can be undone. Atten-
    tion therefore also needs to be given to the conditions that make shifts po-
    litically durable. This in turn requires strategies and approaches that build
    up networks and critical masses of public support once a change has hap-
    pened, to ensure that newly established pathways to sustainability continue
    to build strength and momentum.

    Toward Transformative Change
    The political challenge of building pathways to sustainability is urgent. It
    involves both realigning current pathways toward a safe and socially just
    operating space and opening up sustainability politics to facilitate debate
    and negotiation. Without such an opening up, sustainability politics and
    policies risk imposing blanket targets and “solutions” that do not fit real,
    diverse ecological and social contexts, and over time they will simply fail or
    provoke resistance.

    State-based and multilateral politics still have key roles to play in negoti-
    ating pathways to sustainability, but they need to be reinforced and comple-
    mented by the political strategies just described of deliberation, citizen mo-
    bilization, network-building, and exploitation of political openings. Each
    of these clusters of strategies transcends distinctions between reformist and
    radical approaches. Identifying and pursuing alternative pathways to sus-
    tainability will involve both approaches in different measures and combina-
    tions, depending on the issue and context.

    These strategies also connect people and places across local, national,
    and global scales, blurring distinctions between global and grassroots ac-
    tion. Increasingly, sustainability politics must connect bottom-up with top-
    down and be concerned not just with the allocation of material resources,
    ecological space, status, and authority but also with who defines the future

    Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies | 243

    and what perspectives and experiences matter. Opening up sustainability
    is about cultivating a wider breadth of knowledge and experience to define
    goals and appropriate ways of reaching them, enabling the diversity that is
    required to respect different ecological and social contexts and to keep op-
    tions open in the face of the unexpected.

    Political contexts also matter. Political histories, cultures, and styles of
    decisionmaking vary between nations, regions, and localities and around
    particular issues—shaping which political strategies and combinations are
    feasible and desirable. A diversity of strategies and styles will therefore be
    needed, adapted to issues and settings, from within the repertoire laid out
    here of deliberating goals, mobilizing citizens, building networks, and ex-
    ploiting openings. With these strategic options, we will be better equipped
    to meet the major political challenge of building a future we can all want,
    a future that keeps humanity within a safe and just operating space while
    striving for inclusive processes that recognize the diverse sustainable futures
    that people do not just want but need.

    In one of the most iconic ads of the twentieth century, a Native American
    (actually, it was an Italian dressed up as a Native American) canoes through
    a river strewn with trash. He disembarks and walks along the shore as the
    passenger in a car driving past throws a bag of litter out the window. As the
    camera zooms in to a single tear rolling down his cheek, the narrator an-
    nounces, “People start pollution. People can stop it.”1

    This 1971 ad, just a year after the first national Earth Day celebration, had
    a huge impact on a generation awakening to environmental concerns. Chil-
    dren and young adults watched it over and over, shared the faux-Indian’s
    grief, and vowed to make changes in their individual lives to stop pollution.
    That response was exactly what the ad’s creators hoped for: individual ac-
    tion. For the ad was produced not by a campaign to protect the environment
    but by a campaign to protect the garbage-makers themselves.

    In 1953, a number of companies involved in making and selling dispos-
    able beverage containers created a front group that they maintain to this day,
    called Keep America Beautiful (KAB). Since the beginning, KAB has worked
    diligently to ensure that waste was seen as a problem solved by improved in-
    dividual responsibility, not stricter regulations or bottle bills. It even coined
    the term “litterbug” to identify the culprit—individuals. By spreading slo-
    gans like “people start pollution, people can stop it,” KAB effectively shifted
    attention away from those who design, produce, market, and profit from all
    those single-use disposable bottles and cans that were ending up in rivers
    and on roadsides. As part of this effort, KAB created the infamous “crying
    Indian” ad against litter.2

    It worked. Over the last few decades, the theme of the individual’s role
    in wrecking the environment, and the individual’s responsibility in fixing
    it, has only grown stronger—driven not just by KAB but by hundreds of
    businesses, by the government, even by well-meaning individuals and or-
    ganizations. Today, lists of “10 simple things you can do to save the envi-

    Annie Leonard is the host
    and author of the Internet film
    and book, The Story of Stuff,
    and codirector of The Story of
    Stuff Project.

    c h a p t e r 2 3

    Moving from Individual Change
    to Societal Change

    Annie Leonard

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_23, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change | 245

    ronment” abound. The Lazy Environmentalist website will send you regular
    emails with tips on greening your shopping and household maintenance,
    implying that we really can save the environment without even breaking a
    sweat. Recyclebank, which is sponsored by Coca-Cola, rewards individuals
    for increasing their use and recycling of single-use beverage containers and
    other packaging. Participants who throw more single-use containers into
    the recycling bin are rewarded with more points—points that can be used
    to go shopping.3

    Picking up litter, carrying reusable bags to the store, biking instead of
    driving—all these are good things to do and there are many reasons to do
    them. They demonstrate our concern to those around us, hopefully pro-
    viding inspiration and social proof for friends and neighbors to follow our
    lead. Greening our small daily acts brings into alignment our values and our
    actions, which feels good. As political science professor Michael Maniates
    says, “Small, everyday acts of green consumption are important moments of
    ‘mindful living’: they serve as daily reminders of our values, and of the larger
    struggles before us. But these individual actions are puny when compared
    to the challenges before us, and can’t achieve the kind of change we desper-
    ately need today.” As explained in The Story of Change, the latest Internet
    film by The Story of Stuff Project, these small actions are a fine place to start.
    But they are a terrible place to stop.4

    The Behavior-Impact Gap
    Even if we could convince everyone to make all the adjustments advocated
    by the Lazy Environmentalist or the “10 simple things” lists, it simply would
    not significantly change our environmental trajectory—which is headed
    toward an ecological cliff. Maria Csutora of Corvins University in Buda-
    pest has studied the gap between pro-environment attitudes and behaviors
    and actual environmental impacts, a problem she calls the Behavior-Impact
    Gap, or BIG, problem. (See Figure 23–1.) The BIG problem occurs when
    green-oriented behavior change is adopted with the expectation of making
    change, but little or no positive environmental impact follows.5

    Csutora explains that the “BIG problem means that even when consum-
    ers act in an environmentally aware manner, their carbon footprint or eco-
    logical footprint may improve only slightly, if at all. Wishful thinking about
    prospective gains from pro-environmental behavior is common, which is
    actually more a policy-making problem than a consumer behavior prob-
    lem.” The result, in Csutora’s words, is that “environmental actions may
    serve as green means for relieving our guilty ecological consciences without
    actually or genuinely reducing impacts.”6

    There are many theories as to why the BIG problem exists. Some scien-
    tists attribute the lack of meaningful impact of all these green activities to

    246 | State of the World 2013

    the rebound effect: our tendency to
    increase our use of more-efficient
    appliances. The most common ex-
    ample of this is the driver who gets
    a new hybrid car, doubling his gas
    mileage, but then ends up doubling
    the miles driven in part because
    driving is relatively cheaper, can-
    celling out the benefit. Or the ur-
    ban dweller who, able to live a car-
    free lifestyle, uses the thousands of
    dollars she saves each year from not
    owning a car to take an exotic far-
    off vacation, burning more carbon
    in one week than she would have in
    an entire year of driving.

    Others point out that individu-
    als may think they are engaging in
    pro-environment behavior, such
    as buying shampoo with the terms

    “natural” or “organic” on the label, when in reality the products they buy do
    not differ in environmental impacts from conventional products. Or people
    may decrease one environmentally destructive behavior with good inten-
    tions, only to offset the gains by increasing a different and more destructive
    activity. An example of this is the individual who decreases meat consump-
    tion out of environmental concern, only to then increase consumption of
    imported nuts that may have a greater carbon footprint than local meat.

    Unfortunately, even if we overcome the rebound effect, if we really do
    decrease our driving, stop littering, and refuse plastic carry bags—which
    are all good things to do—the broader impacts are still negligible, since
    day-to-day individual actions do not contribute the bulk of today’s envi-
    ronmental harm.

    Take garbage. Many conscientious householders are going to extremes
    to reduce their household garbage generation. A number of “Zero Waste”
    families have been profiled in the popular press after reducing their annual
    household garbage production to a single bag.7

    Reducing waste in our daily lives is surely a good thing to do. Recycling
    reduces household waste sent to landfills and incinerators and creates jobs.
    The catch is that the garbage coming out of U.S. households accounts for
    less than 3 percent of the country’s total waste. (See Figure 23–2.) If we
    focus the bulk of our attention on reducing waste in our kitchens, we miss
    the much larger potential to promote reducing waste in our industries and



    l o
    f e



    l i



    Source: Csutora

    Figure 23–1. The Behavior-Impact Gap (BIG) Problem

    The observed level of pro-environmental behavior

    Observed level
    of impacts


    Expected level
    of impacts



    Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change | 247

    businesses—where it is truly needed. And if someone really wants to work
    on reducing household waste, civic organizing to get a mandatory curbside
    recycling and composting program is a far more effective way to increase re-
    cycling and reduce waste than trying to maintain an eco-perfect household.
    But this focus on individual behavior is exactly where the companies behind
    Keep America Beautiful hoped to channel public concern about waste.8

    Framing environmental deterioration as the result of poor individual
    choices—littering, leaving the lights on when we leave a room, failing to car-
    pool—not only distracts us from identifying and demanding change from
    the real drivers of environmental decline. It also removes these issues from
    the political realm to the personal, implying that the solution is in our per-
    sonal choices rather than in better policies, business practices, and structural
    context. Environmental decline is framed as the result of an epidemic of
    bad individual choices rather than of an economic, regulatory, and physical
    infrastructure that facilitates environmentally destructive activities over en-
    vironmentally restorative ones. And the solution, then, is to perfect our own
    day-to-day choices rather than build political power to change the context,
    making environmentally beneficial actions the new default.

    Describing today’s environmental problems and solutions as individual is-
    sues also has a disempowering effect, leaving people to feel that their greatest
    power lies in perfecting their daily choices. Traditionally, the main strategies
    used to influence individual choice on environmental issues have focused
    on providing information and persuasion rather than working together to
    change the context in which the choices are made. As University of Califor-

    Figure 23–2. Source of U.S. Waste

    Source: Leonard, based on Makower

    248 | State of the World 2013

    nia at Santa Cruz sociology professor Andrew Szasz explains, this focus on
    changing individual behavior in response to environmental concerns is

    a strange, new, mutant form of environmentalism. There is awareness
    of hazard, a feeling of vulnerability, of being at risk. That feeling, how-
    ever, does not lead to political action aimed at reducing the amounts
    or the variety of toxics present in the environment. It leads, instead to
    individualized acts of self-protection, to just trying to keep those con-
    taminants out of one’s body. And that is not irrational if one feels that
    there is nothing to be done, that conditions will not change, cannot be
    changed. I think, therefore, that we can describe this as a resigned or
    fatalistic expression of environmental consciousness.9

    Making Change—Past, Present, and Future
    If perfecting our everyday individual choices is not the answer to creating a
    sustainable society, what is? Clearly, much needs to change beyond the level
    of our individual actions. Society-wide, we need to implement new tech-
    nologies, cultural norms, infrastructure, policies, and laws. Many of these
    already exist, so the problem is less about inventing new ways to do things
    than about building the political power to demand them.

    Consider some previous movements for major social change: in the
    United States, the civil rights and United Farm Workers of America move-
    ments, as well as national-level environmental victories of the 1970s, and
    internationally the South African anti-apartheid movement and the Indian
    Independence Movement. In each case organizers did appeal to the public to
    change their daily actions. Throughout the civil rights movement, support-
    ers were asked to patronize black-owned businesses and avoid shopping at
    segregated ones. Millions heeded Cesar Chavez’s call to boycott California
    grapes in protest of farmworker conditions. During the 1970s, in the wake of
    Silent Spring and the first Earth Day, people were asked to choose pesticide-
    free produce and to save newspapers for recycling. Around the world, op-
    ponents of South Africa’s apartheid system boycotted companies invested
    in that racist regime. And most people have heard of Mahatma Gandhi’s
    famous pleas to buy Indian-made swadeshi goods rather than imported
    British ones.

    But the organizers in each of these movements did not stop with pleas
    for individuals to make different shopping choices. They did not argue that
    individual people cause segregation or British colonialism and that different
    individual behaviors can stop these wrongs. They shared a compelling vi-
    sion of how things could be better, they worked together as engaged citizens,
    and they changed the rules of the game. The calls for changes in individual
    behavior were tactical elements within broader political campaigns—cam-
    paigns that engaged people as citizens working together, using the range

    Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change | 249

    of tools available to them, including protesting, lobbying, legal action, eco-
    nomic sanctions, creating alternatives, and civil disobedience.

    Integrated into broader political campaigns, calls to alter a person’s in-
    dividual choices can be used to educate and recruit supporters and to dem-
    onstrate commitment—all good tactical steps toward real victories. But too
    many of today’s “green living” advocates are missing the broader political
    strategies that would enable the small acts to be more than just symbolic,
    feel-good activities.

    A vigorous debate is currently under way about whether greening our
    daily individual acts leads people to the kind of deeper civic engagement
    that makes meaningful change or instead lulls them into a false sense of
    security and accomplishment. In other words, are these individual acts “on-
    ramps” to greater engagement, or are they “dead ends”?10

    This debate has existed as long as campaigners have been extolling in-
    dividuals to get involved in working for change. In the early nineteenth-
    century abolitionist movement, for example, “Free Produce” activists called
    on people to go out of their way to avoid purchasing goods made with slave
    labor. While the Free Produce approach was initially welcome in the broader
    campaign to end slavery, a growing number of abolitionists began question-
    ing it as ineffective and distracting from the political work, which promised
    greater results. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison argued that Free Pro-
    duce advocates were “so occupied by abstinence as to neglect THE GREAT
    MEANS of abolishing slavery.”11

    In his history of consumer activism in America, Buying Power, Lawrence
    Glickman explains that Garrison felt the Free Produce movement was a
    dead end because shoppers had “‘a pretext to do nothing more for the slave
    because they do so much’ in the exhausting efforts to find non-slave-made
    goods and the uncomfortable job of wearing and eating them. In other
    words, even if it were possible to divest oneself of all slave-made goods, the
    quest for what one free produce advocate called ‘clean hands’ diverted en-
    ergy from the antislavery struggle by shifting the focus to what amounted to
    a selfish obsession with personal morality.”12

    Academics and activists on both sides of this debate have amassed stud-
    ies documenting that small acts hasten or distract from greater engagement.
    It seems that the most honest answer is that it depends. Some people start
    with separating waste for recycling and move on to campaign for their lo-
    cal government to implement curbside recycling programs and to pressure
    companies to make products more recyclable. Others start recycling, and
    then stop worrying about waste—even increase the waste they produce—
    comforted by the fact that they can now put more in the recycling bin and
    are even rewarded for doing so if they live in a community partnering with
    Recyclebank. Rather than get stuck in this on-ramp versus dead-end debate,

    250 | State of the World 2013

    people concerned about transitioning to a sustainable society need to clearly
    and consistently link calls for individual action to bigger visions and bolder
    campaigns to ensure the individual first steps become on-ramps to making
    meaningful change.13

    Making Broader Change
    While making change in our kitchens may be easy, figuring out how to make
    change in larger communities and in broader societies is less so. The ques-
    tion ultimately revolves around what it takes to bring about change. Look-
    ing back over case studies where change has happened, it seems that change
    almost always involves at least three things.

    First, there is a big idea of how things could be better. To move people
    beyond the easy green actions, we need to put forward an inspiring, mor-
    ally compelling, powerful, and inviting vision comparable to that in trans-
    formative social movements of the past—compelling enough that people
    are eager to work long and hard to achieve it, because that is what it is go-
    ing to take. Fortunately, we have that: Let’s build a new economy that puts
    people and the planet first. Let’s aim for nothing less than healthy, happy
    communities and a clean and thriving environment. Let’s ensure that eco-
    nomic activity serves the goals of public health and well-being, environ-
    mental sustainability, and social justice rather than undermining them in
    the name of growth and profit.

    Second, there needs to be a commitment to move beyond individual ac-
    tions. Once we have a compelling vision, we need to join with others to
    build the power necessary to make it real. Building a mass movement strong
    enough to achieve the level of change needed is an inherently collective en-
    deavor. To do this, we’ve got to reach beyond the traditional environmental
    community to create what Vermont Law School professor Gus Speth calls a
    “Progressive Fusion”:

    Coming together is imperative because all progressive causes face the
    same reality. We live and work in a system of political economy that
    cares profoundly about profit and growth and about international
    power and prestige. It cares about society and the natural world in
    which it operates primarily to the extent the law requires. So the pro-
    gressive mandate is to inject values of justice, democracy, sustainabil-
    ity, and peace into this system. And our best hope for doing this is
    a fusion of those concerned about environment, social justice, true
    democracy, and peace into one powerful progressive force. We have to
    recognize that we are all communities of a shared fate. We will rise or
    fall together, so we’d better get together.14

    Good old-fashioned organizing basics, combined with new social media
    and networking tools, make it easier than ever to connect with others in

    Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change | 251

    our own neighborhoods or around the world to build that powerful unified
    force for change.

    And third, action must follow. Right now, high percentages of people—
    in most cases a significant majority—support a cleaner environment, safer
    products, and a better functioning democracy, but these people are not yet
    actively working for change. The missing ingredient is not more information
    or more individual eco-perfectionists, it is collective engagement for political
    and structural change. Once we have a vision and a commitment to work
    together, there are an almost infinite number of ways to take action beyond
    the individual level: join or form
    an organization, draft legislation,
    gather signatures, litigate to stop
    a problem and advance a solution,
    launch campaigns to get compa-
    nies to change their practices, run
    for office, write articles and edu-
    cational material, invite others to
    join, organize protests and parades
    to make your opinion visible, en-
    gage in nonviolent civil disobedi-
    ence, and much, much more.

    There are already stellar ex-
    amples of coalitions of groups do-
    ing just this—tackling a variety of
    environmental and social issues,
    from chemical pollution to cli-
    mate change. The Safer Chemicals,
    Healthy Families Coalition in the
    United States, for example, includes 440 organizations representing more
    than 11 million individuals concerned about toxic chemicals in their homes,
    workplaces, and products. Members include parents, health professionals,
    advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproduc-
    tive health advocates, environmentalists, community-based organizations,
    and businesses from across the nation. Yes, they offer advice on identifying
    and avoiding toxin-containing products, but their work focuses on advocacy
    campaigns for stronger policies and laws, along with market campaigns to
    affect broader shifts in the industry. Campaign director Andy Igrejas ex-
    plains: “You can’t shop your way around the problem and you shouldn’t
    have to. There is no app for the kind of change we need. The problem is large
    and pervasive enough that we need broad changes in policy and by compa-
    nies themselves. Consumer action can be a tool in that process—to send a
    message to a particular company for example—but it is not a substitute.”15

    GAIA members and allies conduct a waste audit at Manila Bay to support their
    campaign for better enforcement of Philippine waste policies.






    252 | State of the World 2013

    Another example, the international climate change campaign 350
    .org, was founded around the idea that individual action is not going to
    be enough to solve the climate crisis. It is going to take a movement. The
    group’s first day of action in 2009 brought together over 5,200 events in
    181 countries, what CNN called “the most widespread day of political ac-
    tion in the planet’s history.” Instead of changing lightbulbs, people dove
    underwater with banners carrying climate change messages, hung signs off
    mountains, biked by the hundreds through their capitols, and found other
    creative ways to take action together and make their voices heard. Since
    then, has continued to push the boundaries of traditional environ-
    mentalists, from organizing the world’s largest climate art exhibit to getting
    more than 1,200 people arrested in front of the White House over several
    weeks to protest the Keystone XL pipeline—a 4,300 kilometer (1,700-mile)
    fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet, the Canadian tar sands. As founder Bill McKibben says, “First change your politicians, then
    worry about your lightbulbs.”16

    The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) is a leading cata-
    lyst for change in an area where historically most effort has been directed
    toward changing individual actions: waste. This global network promotes
    Zero Waste by providing its members with advice on setting up composting
    and local recycling programs while it simultaneously lobbies governments
    around the world to end subsidies for polluting waste incineration and to
    adopt ambitious policies to reduce all kinds of waste. According to GAIA
    U.S. coordinator Monica Wilson, “Providing tips for reducing waste at the
    individual level is important since many of our members come to us eager
    to get started right away in their own lives, but we know that real solutions
    to waste can’t be achieved at the individual level alone. Ultimately we need
    stronger standards and laws, as well as shifts in societal and cultural norms,
    to achieve the solutions we know are possible.”17

    The good news is that we have everything we need to make big change
    in the years ahead. We have model policies and laws. We have innovative
    green technologies to help with the transition. We have an informed and
    concerned public; millions and millions of people know there is a problem
    and want a better future. The only thing we are missing is widespread citizen
    action on the issues we already care about. As American author and activist
    Alice Walker says, “The most common way people give up their power is
    by thinking they don’t have any.” Our real power lies not in perfecting our
    ability to choose from items on a limited menu but in deciding what gets on
    that menu. Let’s ensure that all the options offered move us closer to sustain-
    ability and justice. That is the kind of change we need. And we can only get
    it by working together.18

    Open in Case of Emergency
    In November 2012, the Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers
    released a report that concluded it was too late to hold the future increase in
    global average temperatures to just 2 degrees Celsius. “It’s time,” the report
    announced, “to prepare for a warmer world.”

    The same month, the World Bank released Turn Down the Heat, which
    soberly set forth why a 4-degree warmer world must be avoided. Meanwhile,
    accounts of myriad emergent calamities were easy to find in the press: the
    failure of the Rio+20 talks, “zombie” coral reefs, calls for higher birth rates,
    declining Arctic sea ice, an approaching “state shift” in Earth’s biosphere,
    and other evidence of strain in natural systems and of human blindness,
    ignorance, or denial.

    Time to buy an Ecopod?
    Clearly, trouble is coming—but there are better responses to it than

    stockpiling canned goods and weaponry. In view of humanity’s failures of
    foresight and political will to address the array of sustainability problems
    ahead, we asked some notable thinkers to ponder what we might do to make
    the best of it.




    Open in Case of Emergency | 253

    254 | State of the World 2013

    A central theme of their answers is “build resilience.” That requires, ac-
    cording to Laurie Mazur, diversity, redundancy, modularity, social capital,
    agency, inclusiveness, tight feedbacks, and the capacity for innovation. To be-
    gin strengthening our resilience, Erik Assadourian urges the construction of
    an enduring environmental movement that can engage people and ground
    their ethics and behavior in ecological reality. Michael Maniates echoes the
    grounding theme in his call for environmental education to stop misleading
    and underpreparing students for the challenges ahead: that the coming cri-
    ses will galvanize action rather than generate anger, fear, and conflict. Paula
    Green stresses the value of community roots and strong social capital, in-
    cluding intergroup networks to bridge different communities. Bron Taylor
    argues, carefully, for an ecological resistance movement. “Given the urgency
    of the situation,” he writes, “extralegal tactics should be on the table, as they
    were in earlier causes where great moral urgency was properly felt.”

    If the crises do threaten conflict, that risk will be aggravated by a rising
    tide of environmental refugees. Michael Renner writes that tens or even hun-
    dreds of millions of people are likely to be displaced by 2050, yet money spent
    on adaptation measures in developing countries is already inadequate—a
    shortfall that must be remedied. Failing that, such migrations will join other
    pressures driving us to deploy geoengineering techniques—giant space mir-
    rors, carbon-capturing cement—as quick fixes for a disrupted climate. In
    reviewing these schemes, Simon Nicholson urges research to continue but
    notes that the least of their problems are the technical uncertainties and un-
    predictable effects; many are fraught with grave geopolitical risks too.

    Governance will figure crucially in our response to the coming “long
    emergency,” as David Orr terms it (following James Howard Kunstler).
    Brian Martin argues that governance should be flexible, not stiff. That re-
    quires participation, high skill levels, robust debate, and mutual respect. If
    this sounds like a deepened democracy, Orr agrees: he calls for “a second
    democratic revolution” in which we “master the art and science of gover-
    nance for a new era.”

    If circumstances overtake our best efforts, there may be some comfort in
    Pat Murphy and Faith Morgan’s telling of Cuba’s story. Forced to the brink
    by the Soviet Union’s collapse, Cuba suffered a period of harsh adjustment
    but has scavenged a culture with a small environmental footprint and re-
    markably high levels of nonmaterial well-being.

    Is it too late? In the concluding essay, science fiction writer Kim Stanley
    Robinson says the real question is, How much will we save? “We can see our
    present danger, and we can also see our future potential. . . . This is not just
    a dream but a responsibility, a project. And things we can do now to start on
    this project are all around us, waiting to be taken up and lived.”

    —Tom Prugh

    In late 2010, a respected research team led by Yale University professor Susan
    Clark released a two-part assessment of college and university programs in
    environmental studies and science (ESS). The team’s conclusions were hard-
    hitting and pointed. Too many ESS programs, they wrote, do too much too
    quickly with insufficient clarity of purpose and method. They “suffer from
    muddled goals, disciplinary hodge-podge, and an educational smorgas-
    bord of course offerings.” At a time when the need for dynamic college and
    university programs in environmental science and studies has never been
    greater, those who plan and deliver these programs appear to be selling their
    students and the planet short.1

    Clark’s assessment is the latest in a series of warnings about the incoher-
    ence of environment and sustainability programs in higher education. In a
    seminal 1998 essay, for example, University of California at Santa Cruz pro-
    fessor of environmental studies Michael Soulé and his colleague Daniel Press
    lamented a persistent and structural “multidisciplinary illiteracy” among ESS
    undergraduates. Even critics of their argument had to admit that at least 30
    percent of ESS programs were fragmented and poorly conceived.2

    As the planet’s health declines and undergraduate interest in environ-
    mental issues soars, concern about the effectiveness of ESS programs will
    surely intensify. At first glance, this is welcome. Who, after all, could be in fa-
    vor of diffuse goals and multidisciplinary illiteracy around educational pro-
    grams so critical to the transition to sustainability? Architects of ESS pro-
    grams and professors who work within these programs must redouble their
    efforts to clarify the field’s core competencies while implementing curricular
    mechanisms that enforce focus and integration. And students should ask
    tougher questions about curricular form and focus. Flashy websites, green
    buildings, and environmentally responsible campus practices do not neces-
    sarily translate into strong ESS programs, regardless of first impressions.

    But aspiring students and program architects must also remember that

    Michael Maniates is a professor
    of environmental science and
    political science at Allegheny
    College and a visiting professor
    of environmental studies at
    Oberlin College.

    c h a p t e r 2 4

    Teaching for Turbulence

    Michael Maniates

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_24, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    256 | State of the World 2013

    the college student of today will graduate into a world that will be singularly
    defined by turbulence—a white-water turbulence of climate instability, eco-
    logic decline, and attendant economic and political dislocation, with win-
    ners, losers, and persistent inequality. Merely sharpening the focus of pro-
    grams built for placid waters will not be enough. Now is the time to explore
    how current ESS programs undermine student capacity to navigate a turbu-
    lent world—and to entertain new curricular features that foster nimbleness
    and wisdom in times of crisis.

    Patterns of Teaching and Learning
    Not long ago, the notion that ESS programs could play a pivotal role in the
    transition to sustainability was a distant thought. They were often viewed
    on campus as marginal programs, a place where students who could not
    succeed in traditional natural-science fields (biology, chemistry, or geology,
    for instance) could complete their studies and graduate. On more than a few
    campuses, “ES” came to stand for “easy science.”

    For a time it looked as if a multidisciplinary assessment of environmen-
    tal problems that integrated the social and policy sciences could only occur
    outside of ESS. North Carolina State professor Marvin Soroos, a prominent
    scholar of environmental politics, spoke for many when he argued, in 1991,
    that professors of political science and international relations had best begin
    teaching about sustainability if academia harbored any hope of “preparing
    students for the historically unprecedented challenges that their generation
    will face.” Soroos had no quarrel with the investigatory power of the natural
    sciences but, like others, saw a natural-science focus as insufficient to the
    demands of sustainability. If ESS would not change, then it would be mar-
    ginalized, in part by political science and international relations programs
    with their own programs in environmental studies.3

    Those days of doubt about ESS programs are long gone, at least in the
    United States, which boasts the greatest concentration of such programs.
    According to Shirley Vincent, perhaps the nation’s premier authority on
    the focus and trajectory of ESS programs, there were some 500 such pro-
    grams in the United States in 1990. By 2010, there were 1,200, with 90 per-
    cent of them at the undergraduate level. By 2015 that number could easily
    expand to 1,400 or more, making ESS one of the fastest-growing fields of
    undergraduate study in the country. This explosion in programs has been
    matched by an expansion in disciplinary diversity and intellectual focus.
    Some ESS programs, notes Vincent, prepare natural scientists capable of
    analyzing environmental science problems, while others strive to foster a
    deeper understanding of the policy process and environmental citizenship.
    Still others focus on training managers in collaborative processes of envi-
    ronmental problem solving. Almost all programs strive to imbue their stu-

    Teaching for Turbulence | 257

    dents with critical thinking and problem-solving skills appropriate to the
    challenges ahead.4

    Three patterns of teaching and learning emerge from today’s mélange of
    programs. The first is a general trend toward urgency and alarm, coupled
    with a focus on the inability of prevailing systems of economic account-
    ing and political decisionmaking to address looming environmental ills. ESS
    courses, and especially introductory courses that summarize the extent of
    the human assault on nature, can be jarring. Students quickly learn that the
    planet’s health is declining more rapidly and systematically then they might
    have imagined. They discover that
    the damage often flows from the
    very institutions—the market,
    pluralist democracy, education—
    that we often look to for solutions.
    Left unchallenged, this “urgency +
    inability” equation can overwhelm
    students with a sense of hopeless-
    ness and despair and can foster the
    expectation that system-jarring
    crises are just around the corner.5

    To battle this despair and to
    create opportunities for interdisci-
    plinary integration of course mate-
    rial, ESS programs turn to applied
    research and hands-on problem
    solving. This second pattern of
    teaching and learning is perhaps
    the most essential feature of ESS. It
    is not enough in most programs to simply understand the major environ-
    mental problems. Students must critically assess them and carefully evaluate
    competing solutions. To this end, program websites and brochures empha-
    size the acquisition of problem-solving approaches and research skills.

    Required courses focus on environmental problems on campus or in the
    community and engage students in community projects and applied re-
    search. Campus administrators, sympathetic community groups, and local
    political actors are frequently part of the mix so that students can practice
    communicating environmental information to disparate groups. Sustain-
    ability coordinators responsible for college- or university-wide environ-
    mental initiatives chip in by coordinating campus-wide recycling and en-
    ergy conservation challenges. The problem-solving focus is typically local,
    with the hope that these small-scale interventions will scale up to match
    regional, national, and even international challenges.

    North Carolina State University students are involved in a joint EPA/NOAA Air
    Resources Laboratory project to measure and model ammonia fluxes in forest
    and agricultural landscapes.






    258 | State of the World 2013

    Indeed, perhaps more than any other higher-education field of study, ESS
    understands and justifies itself as a problem-solving discipline. Writing in
    2005 to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for example, professors Sharon
    Hall, Tom Tietenberg, and Stephanie Pfirman, representing Colorado Col-
    lege, Colby College, and Barnard College, observed that “service learning
    and community-based learning (CBL) courses or experiences are among the
    most successful and empowering experiences for ES students during their
    time in college.” They noted that these experiences, together with courses
    that focus on the local environment, provide “a productive source of in-
    spiration for ‘hands on’ student research” while fostering engagement with
    interdisciplinary approaches to real-world problem solving. In 2005, this as-
    sessment illuminated the best practices of the top ESS programs. Today it
    describes the curricular norm in the field.6

    It comes as no surprise that ESS students and their mentors are unusually
    active—in the lab, the classroom, the library, on campus, and in the com-
    munity. Their work is both positive and normative: they seek to understand
    the causes of environmental ills, and they strive to implement solutions. By
    and large, though, this work occurs without any systematic assessment of
    how it fits into a larger mosaic of political power, cultural transformation,
    and social change. As Shirley Vincent notes, few programs ask their students
    to study competing theories of social change or to critically assess how their
    research or work on local projects fit into larger models or ideas about cul-
    tural transformation. This is an odd oversight, since ESS students are almost
    always asked to think critically about how change happens in natural sys-
    tems. But such “systems analysis” rarely spills over into the social sciences, at
    least not in any concerted or focused way.7

    Why the omission? For Richard Wallace, an environmental studies pro-
    fessor at Ursinus College who studies the dynamics of interdisciplinary edu-
    cation, the “big tent” approach in ESS is largely at fault. As a field of study
    and a guide to problem solving, ESS invites and includes a diversity of disci-
    plinary approaches to environmental problem solving. Under this sprawling
    canopy, no single notion about how or why social change occurs is priv-
    ileged. Students are to glean theories of social change from their courses
    outside of ESS and then integrate them during their research and project
    work. It is decidedly a do-it-yourself affair. Wallace’s diagnosis enjoys sup-
    port from other scholars, including Indiana University professor Matt Auer,
    whose analysis of graduate-level ESS programs paints a similar “big tent”
    picture of teaching and learning.8

    Another explanation, according to analysts like journalist Mark Dowie
    and scholars like Wallace, is the strong influence of the natural sciences
    on the evolution of ESS. This influence privileges the notion that societies
    change naturally and rationally in response to new scientific information.

    Teaching for Turbulence | 259

    Social change becomes an exercise in finding the facts and electing policy-
    makers who will act on the data. It is a straightforward process in need of
    no serious interrogation other than reflecting on how natural scientists can
    more effectively communicate their findings to policymakers.9

    Finally, faculty in ESS programs may shy away from developing courses
    that focus on social activism and political change for fear of looking as if
    they are training environmental activists rather than environmental sci-
    entists and analysts. U.S. environmentalism, notes Dowie, has historically
    been a “polite movement,” where offering additional research and compel-
    ling facts has been a more comfortable way of promoting change than noisy
    activism or social protest. Vermont Law School professor and author Gus
    Speth, a pivotal figure in the U.S. environmental movement, makes the same
    point in his clarion call to the environmental community to abandon its safe
    but largely ineffective reliance on facts, studies, and data to drive political
    change and social transformation.10

    Disabling Assumptions
    Too often, students are left to cobble together their own theories of social
    and cultural change amid a backdrop of troubling urgency, looming crisis,
    and a focus on research and project-implementation skills. What do they
    conclude? This question weighed heavily on Sam Rigotti, an environmental
    studies student and researcher at Allegheny College until his graduation in
    2010. In a path-breaking study, Rigotti began by observing how “10 Easy
    Ways to Save the Planet” lists and similar publications have inundated his
    generation. He hypothesized that the lack of sustained analysis of processes
    of social change within ESS programs creates a vacuum that the “easy ways
    to save the planet” narrative quickly fills: buy green, initiate a few lifestyle
    changes, spread the word to others, and wait for the totality of these small
    changes to sum into fundamental social change. Rigotti feared that students
    who assimilated this “small and easy” view would later come to grips with its
    limitations and in frustration fall back on notions from their introductory
    classes about the inevitability of crisis.11

    Working with faculty and other students at Allegheny, Rigotti conducted
    the first national survey that explores these issues. His results, from 437 ran-
    domly selected ESS students at 15 colleges and universities, are provoca-
    tive. Some three quarters of students surveyed, for example, identified green
    consumption and “voting with your dollar” as among the very best strate-
    gies for promoting environmentally conscious social change. By contrast,
    students thought that supporting or joining environmental interest groups,
    pressuring legislators, engaging in electoral politics, and other forms of civic
    engagement were too diffuse or decidedly utopian. For these students, the
    small and easy theory of social change seemed natural and obvious—and

    260 | State of the World 2013

    empowering too. Being a meaningful part of social change is as straightfor-
    ward and accessible as driving less, recycling more, eating less meat, buying
    vegetables at a farmers market, or making a point of purchasing environ-
    mentally oriented products.12

    The most startling insight from Rigotti’s analysis, however, may be around
    the notion of crisis. Seventy percent of students surveyed blamed “poor en-
    vironmental values” for our current predicament and pointed to the need
    for more education and a compelling crisis to drive a meaningful transition
    to sustainability. According to these students, the average American does not
    know about environmental problems or knows but does not deeply care. For
    more than half the students in the sample, a crisis that will make Americans
    care—that will compel them to heed well-trained experts in environmental
    problem solving—is something to anticipate and welcome.13

    This naive faith in crisis and the dim view of human nature upon which
    it rests reflects the literatures to which ESS students are commonly exposed.
    Mainstay introductory textbooks, like Environmental Science by G. Tyler
    Miller and Scott Spoolman, as well as Daniel Chiras’s text of the same name,
    underscore the power of crisis in driving needed change. When explaining
    policy change, for instance, Chiras shares former secretary of state Henry
    Kissinger’s observation that “in government, the urgent often displaces the
    important” to make the case that change occurs only in the face of compel-
    ling crisis. Miller and Spoolman are more direct; they simply state that “U.S.
    political and cultural systems are slow moving” and that “change happens
    slowly” in the absence of crisis.14

    In the same vein, the core environmental policy texts in the field, includ-
    ing those by Walter Rosenbaum and by Norman Vig and Michael Kraft, at-
    tribute the spate of environmental regulation in the 1970s to crisis events
    like air pollution alerts in Los Angeles and burning rivers in Ohio. Key in-
    tellectual frameworks, finally, underscore the shortsightedness of human
    behavior and the inevitability of crisis. ESS students need not go much fur-
    ther in their early studies than Garrett Hardin’s famous “The Tragedy of the
    Commons” essay to learn that an environmental crisis, driven by human
    failing, is both necessary and inevitable.15

    The small and easy theory of social change, which promises big change
    when large masses of people commit themselves to small acts of personal
    sustainability, only amplifies this kind of crisis thinking. This is because so-
    cial change does not happen through mass, uncoordinated shifts in lifestyles
    or consumption choices: small and easy is attractive, plausible, and dead
    wrong. It is the rare social movement that crystalizes and advances because
    of the initial mobilization of large majorities of the population, and the en-
    vironmental movement is no exception. After all, some people will always
    refuse to adopt any lifestyle or consumption change.

    Teaching for Turbulence | 261

    And in the realm of environmental action, the proportion of the reluctant
    remains consistently large, despite decades of aggressive environmental edu-
    cation and untold millions spent by marketers of green products. More than
    80 percent of Americans fail to consistently practice a small suite of environ-
    mentally sound behaviors, like reducing their energy use, driving smaller cars,
    and buying green products. Almost 25 percent of Americans do not recycle,
    often because they cannot be bothered or believe that doing so makes little
    difference. More generally, consumer commitment to environmental prac-
    tices appears to be waning. Harris
    Interactive, which regularly polls
    Americans on their environmental
    behaviors and attitudes, reports a
    decline in overall “green” activities
    and concerns in 2012.16

    These data and the behaviors
    they document generate a predict-
    able set of responses among adher-
    ents to small and easy. Confronted
    by low rates of green consumerism
    in the general population, well-
    meaning environmentalists ra-
    bidly promote green lifestyles with
    a heavy dose of guilt and almost
    missionary zeal. They offer pro-
    nouncements meant to underscore
    the importance of unified commit-
    ment to environmental aims, like
    “If everyone in America used energy-efficient lighting, we could retire 90
    average-sized power plants, reducing CO

    emissions, sulfur oxide, and high-

    level nuclear waste.” They offer more and more information on the virtues
    of environmental living. And they often heap disdain on those who do not,
    for instance, recycle or drive small cars or otherwise live sustainability. When
    all this fails, what remains is a natural, logical, altogether understandable
    tendency to conclude that people themselves are at fault—they are too self-
    ish, too ignorant, too irresponsible—and that, ultimately, only a crisis will
    move them.17

    Of course, all this is both unproductive and misdirected. A politics of guilt
    can never mobilize and inspire. And even if most Americans did suddenly
    “green” their lifestyles, underlying processes of production and disposal that
    are largely insulated from personal consumption decisions would still drive
    the planetary ecosystem toward collapse, albeit just a bit more slowly. This
    point is vividly illustrated by the “personal footprint calculator” offered by

    Allegheny College students and faculty work with a local farmer on an aqua-
    ponics project that raises tilapia and grows lettuce in the same facility.



    262 | State of the World 2013

    the highly respected Global Footprint Network. (See Chapter 4.) As the cal-
    culator consistently demonstrates, large changes in lifestyle translate into
    disappointingly small effects on anyone’s environmental footprint.18

    Sam Rigotti’s study was the first of its kind and thus awaits further veri-
    fication and refinement. On its face, though, it is both plausible and com-
    pelling. It resonates deeply with the experience of many ESS educators who
    find their students to be overly enamored with the power of crisis and too
    often dismissive of the capacity of Americans to sacrifice for the common
    good. The risk here is not that students see crisis on the horizon, for crisis
    is surely coming. The danger instead is that ESS graduates increasingly view
    crisis as a benevolent force that will rally the public and enhance the power
    of environmental problem solvers like themselves. This idea of crisis as a
    welcome lubricant in the transition to a sustainable world is a lovely, if un-
    promising, notion. Preparing students for turbulence involves making them
    aware of less-benign species of crisis and enabling them to react in kind.

    The Real Face of Crisis
    Early in President Obama’s first term, in the midst of a financial meltdown
    in the United States, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying,
    “Emanuel’s Rule One: Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are oppor-
    tunities to do big things.” Emanuel’s theory of crisis reaches back to the six-
    teenth century, when Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, in Il Principe, “Never waste
    the opportunities offered by a good crisis.”19

    Students of environmental issues would undoubtedly agree with Eman-
    uel, but in doing so they may have in mind a kind of crisis that author
    Rebecca Solnit writes about so eloquently in A Paradise Built in Hell. Di-
    sasters, Solnit says, demonstrate “the resilience and generosity of those
    around us and their ability to improvise another kind of society. . . .They
    demonstrate how deeply most of us desire connection, participation, altru-
    ism, and purposefulness.”20

    In ways both compelling and persuasive, Solnit profiles five disasters,
    ranging from the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 to Hurricane Katrina’s
    assault on New Orleans in late summer 2005. She documents striking hero-
    ism, ingenuity, and compassion among ordinary people, and she shows
    how communities traumatized by crisis self-organize in effective and hu-
    mane ways. For Solnit, sudden disaster reveals a generosity, resourcefulness,
    and bravery latent within us, ready to be called forth in service of a “new
    paradise.” Look closely at disaster-driven crises, she says, and you can see
    how a new world might be possible, with all that is necessary already within
    each of us.21

    A Paradise Built in Hell should be required reading for ESS students,
    regardless of their disciplinary orientation. Solnit complicates the dim

    Teaching for Turbulence | 263

    view of human nature to which many ESS students subscribe and offers
    hope of a better world rooted in existing abilities and widely felt yearn-
    ings. Read closely, her work suggests that ESS students might best think
    of themselves as midwives working to deliver something already present
    within society rather than as experts trained to educate the uninformed
    and motivate the uninspired.

    The difficulty with Solnit’s work, and its notion of “crisis as deliverance,”
    lies with the type of crises she documents and that ESS students so com-
    monly imagine. They are sudden, cataclysmic events with jarring psycho-
    logical and political impact. They bring to the forefront underappreciated
    or nascent networks of human connection while, for a time, throwing exist-
    ing power structures back on their heels. These sudden disasters, moreover,
    expose stark divisions in wealth and power that, so brightly illuminated, are
    questioned or rejected, at least for a time.

    By contrast, the disasters that ESS graduates will confront are likely to
    be slow-motion affairs: gradual and persistent, with moments of upheav-
    al punctuating slow decline. Water will grow scarcer, food prices will rise,
    coastal cities will periodically flood as increasingly intense storms lash their
    shores, droughts will become more commonplace, livelihoods will be dis-
    rupted, economies may falter, and inequality will deepen. The threat of these
    crises is not so much that they generate catastrophes of unthinkable propor-
    tion but rather that they will become the norm, freighted with a deepening
    sense of inevitability.

    These slow-motion crises risk evoking three dynamics that ESS gradu-
    ates are poorly prepared for. One is what environmental analysts Michael
    Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus call “insecure affluence”: the growing
    sense among a large slice of Americans that their economic position in life
    is unstable at best and more likely at imminent risk. As insecure affluence
    deepens, Americans may be especially reluctant to accept even the smallest
    of material sacrifices, especially if these sacrifices are imposed on them by
    elites, a point emphasized by political theorist John Meyer, who observes
    that “an environmentalist call to sacrifice” will be resisted “not just for
    its paternalistic attitude, but also for its blindness to the lived experience
    of sacrifice central to the lives of many.” Alas, too many ESS students are
    trained to play the very role of elites who, in one way or another, will make
    arguments supporting present sacrifice for future gain. Crisis will be no
    friend to these graduates.22

    Nor will a politics of anger, which is another likely result of economic
    and ecologic upheaval. As former U.S. secretary of labor Robert Reich notes,
    prolonged periods of stress and insecurity lead to “an increasing bitterness
    and virulence of the nation’s politics” and can quickly morph into “an un-
    derlying readiness among average voters to see conspiracies among power-

    264 | State of the World 2013

    ful elites supposedly plotting against them.” If it is true, as Shellenberger and
    Nordhaus assert, that environmentalists naively “hoped that the environ-
    mental crisis would bring us together and make us happier,” then Reich and
    scholars like historian Richard Hofstadter, who studied paranoia in politics,
    or Thomas Edsall, who reflects on American politics under conditions of
    scarcity, offer a rude awakening. It is more likely that crisis will generate
    widespread anger, fear, conflict, and a deepening paranoia than a spiritual
    awakening and ecological reckoning. ESS graduates expecting the latter and
    ill-prepared for the former may wonder why their false expectations were
    not more thoroughly challenged by their professors.23

    Finally, while crisis may provoke suspicion and fear of elites among some
    citizens, it is likely to fuel a desire among others for greater government
    power and control. In this way, as observed by economic philosopher Robert
    Heilbroner in the late 1960s, ecological crisis can bring about a slow slide
    to authoritarianism, as people become more willing to trade their freedom
    away for the promises of strong leaders who will fix pressing problems. The
    danger that Heilbroner highlighted is familiar to Americans worried about
    the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11. And Heilbroner’s warnings are not
    without empirical support. In her classic study of crisis and dictatorship,
    which spurred an entire line of scholarship, sociologist J. O. Hertzler showed
    how crisis—often but not always economic—erodes democratic impulses
    and structures and produces a consolidation of power friendly to dictatorial
    regimes. Studies like these suggest that crisis is inimical to progressive social
    causes, environmentalism included.24

    Despite these tendencies and dangers, it may yet be possible to follow
    Rahm Emanuel’s Rule One. But using the crises to do big things means
    seeing them for what they are and training a new generation of college
    students to think strategically, rather than wishfully, about the possibilities
    that crises present.

    A Curriculum for Turbulence
    White-water rafting is a growing tourist activity, and young people willing
    to serve as raft guides are in high demand. New employees who would steer
    rafts down turbulent rivers are educated in the art of “reading” rivers, navi-
    gating boats, and coaxing effective and timely paddling from their guests,
    who help propel and steer their craft through bumpy waters. White-water
    guides-to-be are also trained to anticipate worst-case scenarios: an over-
    turned raft, a guest dumped into the water, broken bones, or equipment
    failure. It is impossible, of course, to prepare raft guides to handle unan-
    ticipated risks and problems—but they can be and are primed to expect the
    unknown and to approach it with humility and equanimity.

    What might a course of instruction look like for students in ESS pro-

    Teaching for Turbulence | 265

    grams who will be asked to negotiate a similar kind of turbulence? Five char-
    acteristics loom large, especially in light of patterns of existing curricular
    deficiencies. (See Box 24–1.)25

    First, ESS programs must stay true to their founding passions and intent,
    even as they seek to address curricular aimlessness and incoherence. Not
    every student must become an expert in processes of social change or prove
    capable of thinking creatively about political behavior during prolonged cri-
    sis. Nor must every program undergo radical change to effectively teach for
    turbulence. The best curricular reforms will be those that achieve the great-
    est effect with the least intrusion and that anticipate and prevent student
    misperceptions about social change and crisis before they take deep root.

    Internationally known climatologist Richard Alley, a
    professor at Penn State, writes and performs rock songs
    on climate change and does a spirited dance illustrat-
    ing how Earth’s orbital variations influence climate.
    Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, recently
    launched an environmental studies program that
    aspires to train students to think creatively about power,
    privilege, and social change. And faculty at Wheaton
    College in Norton, Massachusetts, pioneered, for a time,
    an undergraduate course on the theory and practice of
    environmental conflict resolution that used case stud-
    ies, community engagement, and scenario building to
    prepare students for an increasingly contentious world.

    These examples of innovative ESS pedagogy and
    curriculum stand out because they remain the excep-
    tion rather than the rule. A review of the most promi-
    nent ESS programs in the United States reveals that few
    programs expose their students in systematic ways to
    a range of ideas about how change occurs in political
    and cultural systems. Even fewer still put students in
    the way of experiences that will help them rigorously
    analyze and initiate social change and reflect on how
    locally successful initiatives might “scale up” or “network
    out.” That is why new programs like that at Humboldt
    State University are so exciting.

    Likewise, although many ESS programs ask their
    students to engage in community projects, almost all
    such work occurs in no- or low-conflict situations. These
    courses emphasize research skills, data collection, and

    communication across disciplinary boundaries—impor-
    tant goals, to be sure, but insufficient in the face of
    growing social turbulence. Wheaton College’s openness
    to courses that bring political conflict and cultural dis-
    cord into the mix is laudable and worthy of emulation.

    Finally, despite the centrality of the natural sciences
    to most environmental programs, there are surpris-
    ingly few places in the ESS curriculum where students
    explore the changing role of science and scientists in
    the struggle for sustainability. Such exploration might
    begin with how scientists better communicate their
    ideas in politically charged environments and then
    extend to deeper questions about the politics of exper-
    tise around contentious environmental issues. During
    turbulent times, natural scientists and the insight they
    generate will be greeted with increasing skepticism and
    hostility. The best-trained ESS students, and especially
    those with strong natural-science interests, will be
    those who have given careful thought to these dynam-
    ics, beginning but certainly not ending with Richard
    Alley’s playful approach to scientific communication.

    Most ESS programs fail to acclimate students to
    contentious environments, neglect to analyze the
    changing nature of natural-science expertise, and gloss
    over processes of social and cultural change. But this is
    changing, slowly. ESS programs that consciously train
    students for turbulence by filling these gaps are the
    promise of the future.

    Source: See endnote 25.

    Box 24–1. Gaps and Opportunities in environmental Studies

    266 | State of the World 2013

    Second, early courses in ESS programs might ask students to think criti-
    cally and imaginatively about human nature and the nature of crisis, sepa-
    rately and together. Instructors could take a page from Rebecca Solnit’s work
    and push students to explore the often latent capacity of humans to connect
    with and care for one another, to take the long view, and to work in common
    for the common good. Even as these introductory courses document grow-
    ing environmental threats to human well-being, they might also explore the
    conditions under which humans regularly sacrifice for their family, faith,
    and community. Ideally, students would leave this course work preoccupied
    with how sustainability initiatives could more consistently bring these latent
    and noble human capacities to the surface rather than reflecting on how
    looming crises will nicely teach selfish and narrow-minded people an im-
    portant lesson or two.

    An important curricular pivot, of course, is a rigorous course or courses
    that interrogate overlapping and competing theories of political and cultural
    change. The successful integration of this third curricular element will pro-
    duce students whose thinking about social change will transcend the “small
    and easy” frame that is so unproductive to enlightened and empowering
    action. ESS programs that focus on feedback, thresholds, and dynamics of
    change in their natural-science courses must now bring the same level of rig-
    orous analysis to their discussion of social and cultural change. To continue
    hoping that other departments or students’ own initiative will fill the “theory
    of social change” hole in the ESS curriculum is at best wishful thinking. Some
    of the most exciting work in ESS over the next few years will revolve around
    the design and delivery of such courses.

    In their applied and experiential courses, most ESS students engage with
    campus and community partners who are broadly sympathetic to their
    work. During times of crisis, however, such natural sympathy will be the ex-
    ception rather than the norm. To teach for turbulence, ESS programs could
    expose students to more-contentious environments and create classroom
    moments that foster strategic thinking about managing—and even taking
    advantage of—a politics of anger or the anxiety that comes with insecure
    affluence. In advancing this fourth curricular element for turbulence, ESS
    programs might also consider how to draw on campus resources around
    conflict management and resolution.

    Finally, teaching for turbulence means providing students with the the-
    oretical background and classroom practice to explore how they can best
    pursue their passions in rough water. Natural scientists might focus on the
    increased politicization of science in a turbulent world and what that may
    imply for their own work. Students with a talent for project-based com-
    munity work might be engaged in thinking critically about how local-level
    initiatives can scale up in ways that address or capitalize on insecure af-

    Teaching for Turbulence | 267

    fluence or a politics of anger. And ESS majors who see themselves work-
    ing as managers or practitioners in organizations of environmental gover-
    nance or stewardship could be similarly challenged to analyze the shifting
    role and power of organizations during times of political paranoia and a tilt
    toward authoritarianism. After all, these three groups of students imagine
    themselves as “boundary spanners” who will work at the intersection of the
    multiple disciplines and disparate concerns. Their training will be complete
    when they can anticipate greater discord at these intersections and react
    with strategic balance.

    A New Coherence
    Ocean Conservation Society executive director Charles Saylan and profes-
    sor Daniel Blumstein of the University of California at Los Angeles paint a
    dim picture of environmental education in the United States in their recent
    book, The Failure of Environmental Education. Despite decades of environ-
    mental education, they say, significant change in human behaviors that mat-
    ter most are scarce. Indeed, based on behavior, it is difficult to distinguish
    students who have participated in environmental education from those who
    have not. It is time for a better curriculum, one that moves students to new
    ways of thinking and acting. That curriculum, they say, would focus on con-
    sumption and overconsumption, underscore the necessity of sacrifice, and
    tease apart the dynamics of policy change.26

    While their work has generated controversy, in the end Saylan and Blum-
    stein probably do not go far enough. The real danger, at least when it comes
    to ESS education within colleges and universities, is not the puny effect of
    environmental education on behavior. The danger is the impact of this edu-
    cation on students’ sense of the possible and of their own role and power
    in transforming the world around them. Educational programs that leave
    students with an emaciated theory of social change and that fuel a politics of
    guilt and crisis do little to foster the creativity and compassion that sustains
    personal and collective transformation.

    It is time for a new coherence in undergraduate ESS programs—not just
    among the hodgepodge of courses that produce multidisciplinary illiteracy
    but also within the story that students hear as they move through the cur-
    riculum. These students come to understand, with great clarity, that indus-
    trial civilization as we know it stands at a precipice of change, where exist-
    ing political, economic, cultural, and technological patterns must quickly be
    supplanted by new arrangements and habits. But they are rarely presented
    with a coherent picture of how to bring about these arrangements or of how
    exploring competing processes of social, scientific, and technological change
    can illuminate pressure points for change. Instead they are offered, in some-
    times intricate detail, the blueprints of a sustainable future— renewable

    268 | State of the World 2013

    energy, sustainable agriculture, reconfigured cities, and a plentitude econ-
    omy—but with little integrated, systematic sense of how to get from here
    to there.

    In defense of those who teach in and design ESS programs, the path from
    here to there is profoundly unclear. But this uncomfortable fact only under-
    scores the importance of preparing students for times of turbulence in the
    hope that when white water hits, they have both the tools and the vision to
    see the route down the river and coax effective and timely paddling from
    their fellow rafters. The future, as most people who work or study within
    ESS programs know, will not be like the present. Now is the time to carefully
    consider how students are best prepared to be thoughtful and anticipatory
    agents of change in the tumult to come.

    c h a p t e r 2 5

    Effective Crisis Governance

    Brian Martin

    Brian Martin is a professor of
    social sciences at the University
    of Wollongong, Australia.

    When a crisis develops, what sort of governance—what sort of system for
    running society—is most resilient? Does centralized control give the best
    prospect of survival? Or is something more decentralized needed?1

    Possible political sources of crisis include military invasion, internal
    coups, political paralysis, major corruption, and revolutionary change. Wars
    in the past century triggered changes in governance in countries such as
    Germany, Japan, and Cambodia. Coups affected dozens of countries, from
    Chile to Greece. Revolutions transformed Russia, China, and Iran.

    At least as significant are changes enabled by belief systems. The spread
    of neoliberalism—based on belief in unfettered markets—has trans-
    formed political systems, especially in the United States, the United King-
    dom, and other English-speaking countries. Belief in political freedoms
    and fair elections has underpinned challenges to repressive regimes in Ser-
    bia, Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Belief in racial equality was behind
    the successful struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

    Environmental impacts intersect with political and economic systems
    and crises in various ways. Disasters with environmental impacts can affect
    politics, as when the devastation from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami en-
    couraged the signing of a peace agreement in Indonesia’s war-torn province
    of Aceh. Governments can influence responses to crises with environmental
    impacts, as when the Burmese government hindered international relief ef-
    forts following the devastating 2008 cyclone Nargis. Some types of political
    and economic systems are more prone to contributing to environmental
    problems, and some systems are better at responding to emerging or full-
    blown environmental crises.2

    War, which can be considered a type of political crisis, is devastating to
    humans and the environment and in fact can be a source of environmental
    crisis. Massive refugee movements—themselves a source of political crisis—
    can be triggered by war and political repression but also by environmental

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_25, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    270 | State of the World 2013

    disasters. Global warming has the potential of creating huge numbers of
    “environmental migrants.”3

    Resilience is the capacity of a system to respond effectively to assaults
    like these on its functioning or very existence. Resilience in the case of com-
    munication technology includes the capacity to keep functioning despite
    breakdowns or attack: the Internet was originally designed, remember, to
    maintain communication in the face of nuclear attack. The resilience of po-
    litical systems includes both the survival and the maintenance of formal de-
    cisionmaking processes and of associated systems—such as transport, food,
    and communication—for maintaining the survival and social functioning
    of the population.4

    When considering responses to crises, it is useful to distinguish two con-
    trasting sorts of governance: stiff and flexible. Stiff governance can be well
    suited for a particular task, often for a particular threat. The classic example
    is a dictatorship with a command economy, ideally designed for warfare:
    central direction can be used to mobilize resources for defense or attack.
    Such a system can have great difficulty dealing with other sorts of threats,
    however. A command economy cannot innovate easily because the initiative
    of the populace is suppressed, which means that retooling for a different
    sort of threat—economic competition, for instance, or a shortage of liquid
    fuels—is more difficult.

    Flexible governance, in contrast, is based on the capacity to adapt, impro-
    vise, and change directions. It may not be ideally designed for any specific
    threat, but it is able to deal credibly with a variety of threats. In general,
    systems based on participation, high skill levels, robust debate, and mutual
    respect are more likely to be flexible.

    Command systems might seem to have a greater capacity to respond to a
    new type of threat because the people in command can simply direct people
    and resources to deal with it. But these systems have several inherent dif-
    ficulties in actually doing this. Because relatively few people have an input
    into decisionmaking, there is lower capacity to recognize novel threats and
    to innovate against them. Subjects—those who are expected to follow or-
    ders—are typically less than enthusiastic in obeying. Finally, change can be
    threatening to those with power and privilege, so maintaining the relations
    of power can become more important than making sure the system survives.

    An example of stiff governance is China in the 1950s, with a command
    economy driven by political ideology. The Great Leap Forward, launched
    in 1957, was an attempt to accelerate economic development. But the result
    was a vast famine that killed tens of millions of people and caused mas-
    sive destruction of property and damage to the environment. The politi-
    cal system was incapable of responding to the catastrophe it created. Had
    there been a more flexible, open system in China, with independent media,

    Effective Crisis Governance | 271

    things might have turned out differently. Countries with a flexible gover-
    nance system are far less susceptible to famine because leaders are under
    greater pressure to respond to emerging crises. In essence, there is a feedback
    mechanism to stimulate political responses to a crisis, preventing cover-up
    and making inaction untenable.5

    Centralized rule thus can be a threat in itself as well as an obstacle to
    responding to other sorts of threats. Fiji was a thriving multicultural democ-
    racy when, in 1987, there were two military coups. The result was mobiliza-
    tion of racism, emigration of skilled professionals, decline in the economy,
    general cultural stagnation, and ongoing political instability.6

    Lessons from Civil Resistance
    The history of civil resistance against repressive regimes reveals features that
    raise the odds of governance systems responding effectively to technologi-
    cal or political threats. The power of a mobilized citizenry is dramatically
    revealed in popular challenges to autocratic governments through demon-
    strations, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, and other forms of protest, but without
    physical violence. This method of struggle is called nonviolent action, civil
    resistance, or “people power.” In country after country, repressive rulers have
    succumbed to people power, for example in the Philippines in 1986, Eastern
    Europe in 1989, and Egypt in 2011. In these dramatic episodes, large num-
    bers of people protested by using rallies, strikes, boycotts, and a host of other
    techniques, usually with little or no violence by the protesters.7

    Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, in a path-breaking study of peo-
    ple-power movements between 1900 and 2006, showed that regime change
    and anti-occupation nonviolent movements are more likely to be successful
    than armed movements in achieving their goals when facing similarly re-
    pressive opponents. (See Table 25–1.) They also found that success is more
    likely when large numbers of people are mobilized and when protesters
    are tactically and strategically innovative. When more people are actively
    involved, there is a greater capacity to try out creative ideas for resistance,
    which are needed to counter new repressive moves by the government.
    Greater participation needs to be accompanied by an ethos of inclusiveness,
    so that diverse groups can support the common cause. Groups with skills in
    many areas—including communication, organization, finance, languages,
    persuasion, and psychology—are valuable to help the movement operate
    effectively and survive attacks. If, for example, the movement depends on a
    single sector, such as students, it is easier for the government to repress or
    co-opt it. Wider participation provides a greater capacity for learning. This
    also provides a better basis for a stable, free society if the movement is suc-
    cessful in toppling a ruler.8

    People power can be used to resist coups, as happened in Germany in

    272 | State of the World 2013

    1920, Algeria in 1961, and the Soviet Union in 1991. In each case, the key was
    the willingness of large numbers of people to take action—without using
    violence. In contrast, armed resistance to coups easily degenerates into civil
    war, which is a different sort of crisis, and a highly damaging one.9

    Flexible Governance
    Flexible governance means that there are methods for making and imple-
    menting decisions affecting entire communities in ways that enable rapid
    adaptation to new situations. This form of governance virtually requires
    flexible technological systems, which typically are modular, adaptable, and
    low cost.

    In the energy sector, the best example of a rigid, inflexible technology is
    nuclear power, with its high capital cost, long lead times for construction,
    large unit sizes, and potential for causing environmental catastrophe through
    reactor accidents, terrorist attacks, or the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
    Because of its scale and potential risk, nuclear power requires special security
    measures, which in turn limit the possibility for citizen participation. Intro-
    duction of a “plutonium economy” based on the nuclear fuel cycle would
    drastically limit flexibility in both energy systems and governance.10

    Small-scale renewable energy systems are better matched to flexible gov-
    ernance. Community-level solar and wind systems are relatively low cost,
    quick to construct, and small in scale, with only a small potential for en-
    vironmental risk: for example, terrorists are unlikely to attack them. These
    features mean that communities are less locked-in to the technology and,
    just as important, that corporate and government commitments to the sys-
    tem are less entrenched.11

    Most technologies are intermediate in scale between nuclear power and

    table 25–1. Outcomes of Violent and Nonviolent campaigns aimed at regime change,
    anti-occupation, or Secession, 1900–2006


    Regime Change Anti-occupation Secession














    Success 27 59 36 35 10 0

    Limited success 12 24 10 41 22 0

    Failure 61 17 54 24 68 100

    Source: See endnote 8.

    Effective Crisis Governance | 273

    a solar hot water heater, but the same sort of analysis applies: technologies
    with lower unit costs and lower potential risks to health and the environ-
    ment are usually also more amenable to citizen control. In short, flexible
    technological systems are well suited to flexible governance.

    The experience of people power against repression provides a template
    for the sort of governance most likely to be effective in crises. There are four
    key features:

    • Participation of significant numbers of people. Significant participation is es-
    sential for rapidly responding to crises. People’s commitment comes from
    being involved in decisionmaking and feeling part of the solution. Genu-
    ine participation is greatest when power is shared. Governance with exten-
    sive participation goes under various names, including participatory de-
    mocracy, self-management, workers’ control, and neighborhood power.12

    • Resources, including food, transport, and especially communication. Resourc-
    es, including material and technological resources, need to be available and
    ready. A society needs to have the capacity to deal with future contingen-
    cies rather than putting all its resources into one development path.

    • Openness, tolerance, and inclusion, with involvement of many different sec-
    tors of the population. Openness, tolerance, and inclusion are necessary to
    be able to mobilize the entire society to meet the challenge. When sig-
    nificant groups are opposed to action, this can paralyze efforts. The gov-
    ernance form most suited to inclusion is consensus, sometimes called uni-
    tary democracy, in contrast to representative government, which can be
    called adversary democracy. But just as electoral systems require innovation
    and modification to address problems such as voting fraud, consensus sys-
    tems require experience, testing, and innovation to address problems such
    as entrenched resistance to a near-unanimous agreement. There is now
    considerable experience with consensus-building processes.13

    • Learning skills for struggle and developing strategic acumen. Skills and stra-
    tegic acumen are needed to be effective in responding to threats intelli-
    gently rather than in an instinctive, unreflective way. Strategic insight is
    most likely to flourish in a form of governance that gives considerable au-
    tonomy to smaller units, while enabling communication between them so
    that insights can be shared, tested, and applied.

    These four features are mutually supportive. Widespread participation is
    necessary for collective change or response, but it needs to be coordinated,
    hence the need for communication infrastructure and skills. Strategy can
    be more adaptable when there is openness to participation by a wide di-
    versity of individuals with different perspectives and recognition that their
    perspectives and ideas may be worthwhile.

    Openness, tolerance, and inclusion include forging links with sectors of
    the population often seen to be part of the problem. In a military coup, sol-

    274 | State of the World 2013

    diers are at the heart of the threat. People-power resistance requires winning
    over some of the soldiers, weakening their resolve or convincing them to
    join the opposition. Armed resistance is counterproductive for this purpose
    when it stimulates unity within the regime, as often occurs. By analogy, in
    dealing with other sorts of threats, tactics need to be chosen that win over
    some people normally seen as being on the “other side,” whether corporate
    elites, government personnel, or security forces.14

    Adding these elements together, the form of governance most promis-
    ing for responding to threats will have significant citizen participation in
    decisionmaking, will allocate ample resources for communication and con-
    tingencies, will include diverse groups in the population, and will allow de-
    centralized yet coordinated action.

    Transforming Governance
    Rather than try to describe this flexible form of governance—which can
    quickly degenerate into arguments about preferred models—it is useful to
    look at methods for moving toward these four elements. In other words,
    rather than fixating on the desirable end state, which might not be knowable
    anyway, it is worth turning each of the elements of flexible governance into
    methods for transforming governance.

    Significant Participation. Initiatives to foster participation can be taken
    at all levels. Within local groups—including formal associations from sports
    clubs to churches, and informal groups—leaders and members can foster
    greater participation. Local governments can introduce various forms of
    citizen participation. Companies can promote worker participation.

    One of the most promising initiatives is the movement for “deliberative
    democracy,” which includes experiments in direct decisionmaking by citi-
    zens on important policy issues. An example of this is inviting a randomly
    selected group of 12–25 citizens—called planning cells or citizens’ juries—to
    address a policy issue over several days by reading materials, hearing from
    experts and partisans, and developing recommendations, all under the guid-
    ance of neutral facilitators. Hundreds of such exercises have been held in
    various countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and
    the United States. Many of these deliberative democracy initiatives are tak-
    ing place below the radar of mainstream politics and the mass media, so few
    people realize how much of this activity is occurring.15

    In crises, opportunities can exist for dramatically increased participa-
    tion. Historically, there are numerous examples of popular participation in
    crisis situations, such as in Paris in 1871, Russia in 1917, Spain in the late
    1930s, and France in 1968. These revolutions of popular control were all
    suppressed by the state, but they do show the possibility for citizens to reor-
    ganize decisionmaking at short notice.16

    Effective Crisis Governance | 275

    In contrast, after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 there was a
    rapid transition to predatory capitalism involving massive corruption: pop-
    ular mobilization was restricted to resisting a coup rather than creating a
    participatory alternative. This suggests the importance of local initiatives
    that build the foundation for a genuinely participatory alternative.17

    In Argentina, following the 1999 economic collapse and the freezing of
    bank assets in December 2001, in a surge of local initiatives workers took
    over failed businesses, and communities made decisions in neighborhood
    assemblies. The Argentine initiatives have succeeded more than some pre-
    vious ones, perhaps because there was less of an attempt
    to take over the state and more emphasis on creating a
    living alternative.18

    Environmental movements can contribute to trans-
    forming governance through the way they operate. When
    movements are made up of many local groups that foster
    participation—for example, through consensus decision-
    making—and are not dominated by central offices and
    paid staff, they are ideally poised to react quickly and cre-
    atively to existing and new crises. They also provide a mod-
    el of flexible governance.

    Resources for Struggle. Promoting the development of
    resources for any struggle is an ongoing process in which
    many groups are involved. The movement for appropriate
    technology—typically small-scale, low-cost, locally pro-
    duced, and locally managed technology for energy, agricul-
    ture, transport, and other sectors—is a model for building
    resources that support resilient governance. Communities
    using appropriate technology are better able to survive in
    the face of economic or physical-system collapse: they can
    rely on their own resources without excessive dependence
    on imports or specialist skills.19

    The Transition Towns movement, motivated by preparation for a loom-
    ing shortage of cheap liquid fuels and the impacts of climate change, com-
    bines local participation in planning with the promotion of community
    resilience, including local production of food, energy, and housing. In this
    model, resources for struggle are developed as part of the struggle itself.20

    In the communication sector, the key is the ability to maintain commu-
    nication in a crisis. The technology for network communication is becom-
    ing ever-more developed with the Internet, Web 2.0, and social media. These
    provide powerful tools for rapidly and flexibly responding to emergencies,
    and when people gain practice in coordinating responses, this has relevance
    for both political and environmental crises.

    A demonstration garden in the Transition Town
    Linlithgow, Scotland.




    276 | State of the World 2013

    Working against this ability are governments and corporations that seek
    to limit communication freedom, for example through censorship, surveil-
    lance, and controls over innovation in the guise of intellectual property. If
    governments can shut down or restrict the Internet for political purposes—
    as happened in Egypt in 2011, among other places—and use digital surveil-
    lance techniques to track dissidents, the ability and willingness of citizens
    to coordinate against threats, whether political or environmental, will be
    reduced. The struggle for free communication can be considered an essen-
    tial part of the struggle for more flexible governance.21

    Openness, Tolerance, and Inclusion. Movements that polarize society,
    turning some groups into enemies, contribute to stiff governance. U.S.
    foreign and domestic policies have done this. Foreign military interven-
    tions such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, with civilian deaths as “collateral
    damage,” create enmity and enemies and then, when foreign groups re-
    taliate, become justifications for further interventions. The domestic re-
    sponse to 9/11, which involved labeling terrorists as enemies to be de-
    stroyed, did little to include a range of groups in a struggle against the
    roots of terrorism. In this context, efforts to promote tolerance and inclu-
    sion—nationally and internationally—are important in moving toward
    flexible governance.22

    One of the biggest challenges ahead is growing economic inequality, lead-
    ing to disenfranchisement of all but the wealthy. Responding to economic,
    resource, or political crises will be much more difficult in societies divided
    into “haves” and “have-nots.” This suggests that movements for greater eco-
    nomic equality can, as a side effect, help build resilience. The Occupy Move-
    ment has put the issue of inequality on the popular and political agenda, but
    it remains to be seen if this can slow or reverse the continuing increase in
    inequality stimulated by corporate globalization.

    Pervasive corruption is a major obstacle to good governance. One of
    the most powerful tools against corruption is nonviolent action; some
    popular challenges to repressive regimes, such as in Egypt in 2011, have
    been stimulated by opposition to high-level corruption. Political and eco-
    nomic systems that permit fair participation by a wide range of groups
    rather than siphoning spoils to the ruling elite are more likely to lead to
    prosperity. Inclusion thus is a key to greater commitment in addressing
    social problems.23

    Learning Skills for Struggle and Developing Strategic Acumen. Nu-
    merous initiatives and movements around the world foster greater skills
    for satisfying human needs, from agriculture to software development.
    A prime example is the open source movement, building software and
    other products that draw on contributions from numerous volunteers.
    Another example is the ever-increasing information and tools for learn-

    Effective Crisis Governance | 277

    ing available on the Internet, enabling learning outside of institutions.
    Community renewable-energy projects foster learning of practical skills;
    the Danish community wind-power movement in the 1970s did this
    while sparking development of what is now a major industry. Also rel-
    evant are self-help groups—for example, addressing particular diseases
    or experiences ranging from breast cancer to having a family member in
    prison. There are a growing number of activist handbooks and activist
    training programs.24

    As more and more people increase their education (formal and informal)
    and engage in civic initiatives (face-to-face or online), skills and strategic
    flexibility increase. Especially relevant for this are initiatives to provide expe-
    rience in governance, such as the participatory budgeting pioneered in cities
    in Brazil. In a typical process of participatory budgeting, multiple citizen
    assemblies discuss priorities, and then a participatory budget council, with
    representatives from the assemblies, deliberates on priorities, negotiating
    between the assemblies and the city administration.25

    In a Crisis
    International governance is particularly unsuited for dealing with crises.
    The United Nations might give the appearance of having a centralized re-
    sponse capability, but in reality it is the tool of powerful governments that
    have their own agendas. There is little citizen participation and little capac-
    ity for skill development. The result is a form of symbolic politics that gives
    only the illusion of authority and response capacity.26

    In Rwanda in 1994, for example, when mass killings commenced, west-
    ern governments pulled out their citizens, thereby removing sources of in-
    formation on and witnesses to human rights violations. The United Na-
    tions Security Council dithered and then withdrew most U.N. peacekeepers.
    In this case, international governments utterly failed to avert or confront a
    genocide in which over half a million people were killed.27

    Rapidly developing crises are obvious and hence are more likely to stimu-
    late responses. Far more challenging are slow-moving crises, which escape
    attention but can cause just as much damage. An example is the oil spill in
    Guadalupe Dunes on the central Californian coast, which released as much
    oil as in the famous 1989 Exxon Valdez spill but which is virtually unknown.
    Because it happened more slowly, over decades, people in the region accom-
    modated the oil releases, psychologically and socially.28

    Climate change is the most prominent slow-moving crisis. As in the case
    of war and genocide, many governments and international bodies have pro-
    vided only symbolic gestures. By far the most effective response arguably has
    come from grassroots groups and local governments, indicating the impor-
    tance of participation in dealing with environmental crises.

    278 | State of the World 2013

    Moving toward Flexible Governance

    Governance is often seen as a comprehensive package: an entire system, op-
    erating according to a consistent set of principles, whether it be dictatorship,
    representative government, or a modern-day plutocracy in which the rich
    rule via captive politicians. Any such pure system of governance would be
    suited for one set of conditions but be vulnerable to sudden changes. How-
    ever, actual systems in the world today are mixed. The United States, for
    example, could be considered a combination of representative government,
    plutocracy, a security state, and pockets of participatory democracy ranging
    from cooperatives to the free-software movement. Governance in practice
    contains rigidities, capacities, and possibilities.

    In the face of threats and crises—political, economic, and resource-
    based—the most promising sort of governance is flexible, able to draw on
    widespread participation and an abundance of human and material re-
    sources. The inclusion of different groups provides a greater diversity of
    knowledge and experience for meeting challenges. Whether or not there is
    an ideal system with all these characteristics, it is possible to move in the
    direction of flexible governance by taking initiatives that support participa-
    tion, resources for struggle, inclusion, and skills development.

    In responding to environmental and resource crises, activists usually fo-
    cus primarily on the immediate issues—trying to stop logging, for example,
    or the burning of fossil fuels and other damaging activities. To maximize
    long-term effectiveness, it is valuable to complement these actions with ef-
    forts to transform governance, as otherwise the same problems will recur.
    Ideally, responses to environmental problems should themselves incorpo-
    rate the elements of flexible governance, so that current actions can help cre-
    ate the sort of institutions that are more capable of dealing with problems
    and preventing them in the first place.

    c h a p t e r 2 6

    Governance in
    the Long Emergency

    David W. Orr

    David W. Orr is the Paul Sears
    Distinguished Professor of Envi-
    ronmental Studies and Politics
    at Oberlin College in Ohio.

    The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon
    dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante
    Arr henius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant con-
    jecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide

    on temperature has turned

    into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid
    warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the
    global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal
    evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.1

    We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-
    logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic
    and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two
    non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side
    and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But
    the response at the national and international levels has so far been indif-
    ferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United
    States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that
    humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.2

    The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of chang-
    ing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss,
    water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair
    distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national,
    ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all
    compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy. As a consequence,
    in political theorist Brian Barry’s words, “it is quite possible that by the year
    2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few resi-
    dential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust
    or global warming.”3

    Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate
    change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly,

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_26, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    280 | State of the World 2013280 | State of the World 2013

    morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later
    time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects
    of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is
    the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across
    generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

    Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and pos-
    terity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands
    of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or ca-
    pacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No gov-
    ernment is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and ratio-
    nally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink
    its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional
    economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance.
    In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount
    around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there
    is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming.”4

    The Problem of Governance
    In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in 1974, economist Robert Heil-
    broner wrote: “I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power
    as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will
    make way for its successor.” Heilbroner’s description of the human pros-
    pect included global warming but also other threats to industrial civiliza-
    tion, including the possibility that finally we would not care enough to
    do the things necessary to protect posterity. The extent to which power
    must be centralized, he said, depends on the capacity of populations, ac-
    customed to affluence, for self-discipline. But he did not find “much evi-
    dence in history—especially in the history of nations organized under the
    materialistic and individualistic promptings of an industrial civilization—
    to encourage expectations of an easy subordination of the private interest
    to the public weal.”5

    Heilbroner’s conclusions are broadly similar to those of others, includ-
    ing British sociologist Anthony Giddens, who somewhat less apocalyptically
    proposes “a return to greater state interventionism”—but as a catalyst, fa-
    cilitator, and enforcer of guarantees. Giddens believes the climate crisis will
    motivate governments to create new partnerships with corporations and
    civil society, which is to say more of the same, only bigger and better. Da-
    vid Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likewise
    argues that the role of the state must evolve toward larger, more innovative
    governments and “stronger international institutions [as] the only possible
    way to preserve national interests.”6

    The performance of highly centralized governments, however, is not

    Governance in the Long Emergency | 281

    encouraging—especially relative to the conditions of the long emergency.
    Governments have been effective at waging war and sometimes in solving—
    or appearing to solve—economic problems. But even then they are cumber-
    some, slow, and excessively bureaucratic. They tend to fragment agencies
    by problem, rather like mailbox pigeonholes, but the long emergency will
    require managing complex systems over long time periods. Might there be
    more agile, dependable, and less awkward ways to conduct the public busi-
    ness in the long emergency that do not require authoritarian governments,
    the compromises and irrational messiness of politics, or even reliance on
    personal sacrifice? Can these be made to work over the long time spans nec-
    essary to stabilize the climate? If not, how else might we conduct the public
    business? Broadly, there are three other possibilities.7

    First, champions of markets and advanced technology propose to solve
    the climate crisis by harnessing the power of markets and technological in-
    novation to avoid what they regard as the quagmire of government. Ratio-
    nal corporate behavior responding to markets and prices, they believe, can
    stabilize climate faster at lower costs and without hair-shirt sacrifice, moral
    posturing, and slow, clumsy, overbearing bureaucracies. The reason is said
    to be the power of informed self-interest plus the ongoing revolution in
    energy technology that has made efficiency and renewable energy cheaper,
    faster, less risky, and more profitable than fossil fuels. In their 2011 book,
    Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and his coauthors, for example, ask whether
    “the United States could realistically stop using oil and coal by 2050? And
    could such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be
    led by business for durable advantage?” The answer, they say, is yes, and the
    reasoning and data they marshal are formidable.8

    But why would corporations, particularly those in highly subsidized ex-
    tractive industries, agree to change as long as they can pass on the costs of
    climate change to someone else? Who would pay for the “stranded” oil and
    coal reserves (with an estimated value in excess of $20 trillion) that can-
    not be burned if we are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius warming—often
    thought to be the threshold of catastrophe? Would corporations continue to
    use their financial power to manipulate public opinion, undermine regula-
    tions, and oppose an equitable sharing of costs, risks, and benefits? How
    does corporate responsibility fit with the capitalist drive to expand market
    share? Economist Robert Reich concludes that given the existing rules of
    the market, corporations “cannot be socially responsible, at least not to any
    significant extent. . . . Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate vir-
    tue that erode the bottom line. No corporation can ‘voluntarily’ take on an
    extra cost that its competitors don’t also take on.” He further argues that the
    alleged convergence of social responsibility and profitability is unsupported
    by any factual evidence.9

    282 | State of the World 2013

    There are still larger questions about how large corporations fit in dem-
    ocratic societies. One of the most insightful students of politics and eco-
    nomics, Yale political scientist Charles Lindblom, concluded his magisterial
    Politics and Markets in 1977 with the observation that “the large private cor-
    poration fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit”
    (emphasis added). Until democratized internally, stripped of legal “person-
    hood,” and rendered publicly accountable, large corporations will remain
    autocratic fiefdoms, for the most part beyond public control.10

    These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of
    global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine
    a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world
    that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly
    by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that
    would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things
    should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; be-
    cause it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness
    and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because
    the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future gen-
    erations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of
    humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be
    sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.11

    A second alternative to authoritarian governments may lie in the emer-
    gence of national and global networks abetted by the Internet and advancing
    communications technology. They are decentralized, self-replicating, and
    sometimes self-correcting. In time, they might grow into a global system do-
    ing what traditional governments and international agencies once did—but
    better, faster, and cheaper. Some analysts believe that the old model of the
    nation-state is inadequate to meet many of the challenges of the long emer-
    gency and is losing power to a variety of novel organizations. Anne-Marie
    Slaughter of Princeton University, for one, envisions networks of “disaggre-
    gated states in which national government officials interact intensively with
    one another and adopt codes of best practices and agree on coordinated
    solutions to common problems,” thereby sidestepping conventional inter-
    governmental practices and international politics.12

    Below the level of governments there is, in fact, an explosion of nongov-
    ernmental organizations, citizens’ groups, and professional networks that
    are already assuming many of the functions and responsibilities once left
    to governments. Writer and entrepreneur Paul Hawken believes that the
    world is already being reshaped by a global upwelling of grassroots organi-
    zations promoting sustainable economies, renewable energy, justice, trans-
    parency, and community mobilization. Many of the thousands of groups
    Hawken describes are linked in “global action networks,” organized around

    Governance in the Long Emergency | 283

    specific issues to provide “communication platforms for sub-groups to or-
    ganize in ever-more-specialized geographic and sub-issue networks.” Early
    examples include the International Red Cross and the International La-
    bour Organization.13

    Recently clusters of nongovernmental groups have organized around is-
    sues such as common property resources, global financing for local projects,
    water, climate, political campaigns, and access to information. They are fast,
    agile, and participatory. Relative to other citizens’ efforts, they require little
    funding. But like other grassroots organizations, they have no power to leg-
    islate, tax, or enforce rules. In Mark Mazower’s words, “Many are too opaque
    and unrepresentative to any collective body.” Much of the same, he believes,
    can be said of foundations and philanthropists. By applying business meth-
    ods to social problems, Mazower
    writes, “Philanthrocapitalists ex-
    aggerate what technology can do,
    ignore the complexities of social
    and institutional constraints, often
    waste sums that would have been
    better spent more carefully and
    wreak havoc with the existing fab-
    ric of society in places they know
    very little about.” Moreover, they
    are not immune to fashion, delu-
    sion, corruption, and arrogance.
    Nor are they often held account-
    able to the public.14

    So what is to be done? Robert
    Heilbroner proposed enlarging the
    powers of the state. Green econo-
    my advocates believe that corpora-
    tions can lead the transition through the long emergency. Others argue that
    an effective planetary immune system is already emerging in the form of
    networks. Each offers a piece in a larger puzzle. But there is a fourth possibil-
    ity. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen
    and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the
    state. “Responding to climate change,” she writes:

    requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that
    we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere,
    reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back
    overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate
    and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut mili-
    tary spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course,

    School children joined with local organizations in Nagpur, India, to form a
    giant 350 on the International Day of Climate Action, 2008.



    284 | State of the World 2013

    none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied
    by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that
    corporations have over the political process. That means, at a mini-
    mum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their
    status as “people” under the law.15

    Democracy, Winston Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of
    government except for all the others ever tried. But has it ever been tried? In
    columnist Harold Myerson’s words, “the problem isn’t that we’re too demo-
    cratic. It’s that we’re not democratic enough.” The authors of the U.S. Con-
    stitution, for example, grounded ultimate power in “we the people” while
    denying them any such power or even much access to it.16

    Political theorist Benjamin Barber proposes that we take some of the
    power back by revitalizing society as a “strong democracy,” by which he
    means a “self-governing community of citizens who are united less by ho-
    mogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of
    common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and
    participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature.”
    Strong democracy requires engaged, thoughtful citizens, as once proposed
    by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey. The primary obstacle, Barber con-
    cedes, is the lack of a “nationwide system of local civic participation.” To fill
    that void he proposes, among other things, a national system of neighbor-
    hood assemblies rebuilding democracy from the bottom up.17

    Political theorists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson similarly pro-
    pose the creation of deliberative institutions in which “free and equal citi-
    zens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they
    give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally acces-
    sible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present
    to all citizens but open to challenge in the future.” Reminiscent of classical
    Greek democracy, they intend to get people talking about large issues in
    public settings in order to raise the legitimacy of policy choices, improve
    public knowledge, and increase civil discourse. (See Box 26–1.) A great deal
    depends, they concede, on the durability and vitality of practices and insti-
    tutions that enable deliberation to work well.18

    Political scientists Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin propose a new na-
    tional holiday, Deliberation Day, on which citizens would meet in structured
    dialogues about issues and candidates. They believe that “ordinary citizens
    are willing and able to take on the challenge of civic deliberation during or-
    dinary times” in a properly structured setting that “facilitates genuine learn-
    ing about the choices confronting the political community.”19

    Legal scholar Sanford Levinson believes, however, that reforms will be
    ineffective without first repairing the structural flaws in the U.S. Constitu-
    tion, which is less democratic than any of the 50 state constitutions in the

    Governance in the Long Emergency | 285

    Philosophers have argued through the ages
    that democracy is the best form of government,
    and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the
    better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that
    spreads power widely, engages more people,
    and invites them to take a more direct role in the
    shaping of policy.

    Most liberal (current) democracies do not
    meet that definition, being republican in form
    and thus giving most power and decisionmaking
    responsibility to elected representatives. In some
    of these republics, democracy is even further
    degraded. In the United States, for instance,
    Supreme Court decisions over the years have
    established that there is essentially no difference
    in civic standing between individual citizens
    and corporations or other private interests that
    can and do spend billions of dollars on political
    advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8
    billion in the 2010 election cycle).

    But it is not simply such distortions of democ-
    racy that compel a closer look at the benefits of
    deepening it. The democracies that most of the
    industrial world lives in have been derided by
    political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as
    zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men
    safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully
    together.” In fact there are major potential advan-
    tages in bringing people fruitfully together in
    the political arena, not least with respect to the
    environmental crises that beset humanity now.
    Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal
    democracy may be not that it asks too much
    of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having
    mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing
    issues and setting policy to elected politicians,
    voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow
    and virulently asserted positions rather than
    having to come together, work to perceive the
    common good, and plot a course toward it.

    One antidote to this is deliberation. Delib-
    erative democracy can take many forms, but

    its essence, according to social scientist Adolf
    Gundersen, is “the process by which individu-
    als actively confront challenges to their beliefs.”
    It can happen when someone reads a book
    and thinks about what it says, but in the public
    sphere more generally it means engaging in
    pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, com-
    pare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s
    assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve
    a personal position in the interests of forging
    a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in
    Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move
    beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas,
    and examine their values. It calls upon them
    to make connections, to connect more firmly
    and fully with the people and the world around
    them.” When arranged to address environmen-
    tal aims, deliberative democracy “connects the
    people, first with each other and then with the
    environment they wish not simply to visit, but
    also to inhabit.”

    Given the uneven record of democracies
    in educating their people into citizenship, true
    deliberation might be difficult to learn, espe-
    cially in countries where the politics are strongly
    adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conver-
    sation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.”
    Conversations involve respectful listening—not
    just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet
    there is an untapped hunger for it that can be
    released when the circumstances are condu-
    cive. And Gundersen has established through
    240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans
    that deliberation about environmental matters
    “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit
    of environmental ends in a more collective,
    long-term, holistic, and self-reflective way.” Such
    thinking might be the indispensable foundation
    for achieving anything like sustainability.

    —Tom Prugh
    Codirector, State of the World 2013

    Source: See endnote 18.

    Box 26–1. a More Sustainable Democracy

    286 | State of the World 2013

    United States. He proposes a Constitutional Convention of citizens selected
    by lottery proportional to state populations to remodel the basic structure
    of governance. Whether this is feasible or not, the U.S. Constitution has oth-
    er flaws that will limit effective responses to problems of governance in the
    long emergency.20

    In this regard the U.S. Constitution is typical of others in giving no “clear,
    unambiguous textual foundation for federal environmental protection law,”
    notes legal scholar Richard Lazarus. It privileges “decentralized, fragmented,
    and incremental lawmaking . . . which makes it difficult to address issues
    in a comprehensive, holistic fashion.” Congressional committee jurisdiction
    based on the Constitution further fragments responsibility and legislative
    results. The Constitution gives too much power to private rights as opposed
    to public goods. It does not mention the environment or the need to protect
    soils, air, water, wildlife, and climate and so it offers no unambiguous basis
    for environmental protection. The commerce clause, the source for major
    environmental statutes, is a cumbersome and awkward legal basis for en-
    vironmental protection. The result, Lazarus notes, is that “our lawmaking
    institutions are particularly inapt for the task of considering problems and
    crafting legal solutions of the spatial and temporal dimensions necessary for
    environmental law.”21

    The U.S. Constitution is deficient in other ways as well. Posterity is men-
    tioned only in the Preamble, but not thereafter. The omission, understand-
    able when the Constitution was written, now poses an egregious wrong. In
    1787, the framers could have had no premonition that far into the future
    one generation could deprive all others of life, liberty, and property with-
    out due process of law or even good cause. And so, in theologian Thomas
    Berry’s words: “It is already determined that our children and grandchildren
    will live amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world and amid
    the ruins of the natural world itself.” The U.S. Constitution gives them no
    protection whatsoever.22

    Further, with a few notable exceptions—such as in Ecuador—most con-
    stitutions pertain only to humans and their affairs and property. We privi-
    lege humans, while excluding other members of the biotic community. A
    more expansive system of governance would extend rights of sorts and in
    some fashion to species, rivers, landscapes, ecologies, and trees, as legal
    scholar Christopher Stone once proposed. In Thomas Berry’s words: “We
    have established our human governance with little regard for the need to
    integrate it with the functional order of the planet itself.” In fact, from our
    bodies to our global civilization we are part of a worldwide parliament of
    beings, systems, and forces far beyond our understanding. We are kin to all
    that ever was and all that ever will be and must learn what that fact means
    for governance.23

    Governance in the Long Emergency | 287

    Building the Foundations of Robust Democracies

    The history of democracy is complex and often troubled. In classical Athens
    it lasted only 200 years. Political philosopher John Plamenatz once wrote
    that “democracy is the best form of government only when certain condi-
    tions hold.” But those conditions may not hold in established democracies
    in the long emergency ahead and may be impossible in less stable societies
    and failed states with no history of it. The reasons are many.24

    For one, citizens in most democratic societies have become accustomed
    to comfort and affluence, but democracy “requires citizens who are willing
    to sacrifice for the common good and [restrain] their passions,” notes politi-
    cal theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams. How people shaped by consumption
    will respond politically in what will certainly be more straitened times is un-
    known. Political analyst Peter Burnell cautions that “democratization does
    not necessarily make it easier and can make it more difficult for countries to
    engage with climate mitigation.”25

    Even in the best of times, however, representative democracies are vul-
    nerable to neglect, changing circumstances, corruption, the frailties of hu-
    man judgment, and the political uses of fear—whether of terrorism or sub-
    version. They tend to become ineffective, sclerotic, and easily co-opted by
    the powerful and wealthy. They are vulnerable to militarization, as James
    Madison noted long ago. They are susceptible to ideologically driven fac-
    tions that refuse to play by the rules of compromise, tolerance, and fair play.
    They work differently at different scales. And they cannot long endure the
    many economic and social forces that corrode political intelligence and
    democratic competence.26

    Democracies are also vulnerable to what conservative philosopher Rich-
    ard Weaver once described as the spoiled-child psychology, “a kind of irre-
    sponsibility of the mental process . . . because [people] do not have to think
    to survive . . . typical thinking of such people [exhibits] a sort of contempt
    for realities.” Psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell believe that the
    behavior Weaver noted in the 1940s has now exploded into a full-blown
    “epidemic of narcissism.” Such failures of personality, judgment, and char-
    acter could multiply under the stresses likely in the long emergency.27

    We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There is no good
    case to be made for smaller governments in the long emergency unless we
    wish to sharply reduce our security and lower our standards for the pub-
    lic downward to a libertarian, gun-toting, free-for-all—Thomas Hobbes’s
    nightmare on steroids. On the contrary, it will be necessary to enlarge gov-
    ernments domestically and internationally to deal with the nastier aspects
    of the long emergency, including relocating people from rising oceans and
    spreading deserts, restoring order in the wake of large storms, managing

    288 | State of the World 2013

    conflicts over diminishing water, food, and resources, dealing with the
    spread of diseases, and managing the difficult transition to a post-growth
    economy. On the other hand, we have good reason to fear an enlargement of
    government powers as both ineffective and potentially oppressive.28

    Given those choices, there is no good outcome that does not require some-
    thing like a second democratic revolution in which we must master the art
    and science of governance for a new era—creating and maintaining govern-
    ments that are ecologically competent, effective at managing complex sys-
    tems, agile, capable of foresight, and sturdy over an extraordinary time span.
    If we intend for such governments to also be democratic, we will have to
    summon an extraordinary level of political creativity and courage. To meet
    the challenges of the late eighteenth century, James Madison argued that
    democracy required a free press that served a well-informed and engaged
    citizenry, fair and open elections, and reliable ways to counterbalance com-
    peting interests. But he feared that even the best government with indifferent
    and incompetent citizens and leaders would sooner or later come to ruin.

    In our time, strong democracy may be our best hope for governance in the
    long emergency, but it will not develop, persist,
    and flourish without significant changes. The
    most difficult of these will require that we con-
    front the age-old nemesis of democracy: eco-
    nomic oligarchy. Today the majority of con-
    centrated wealth is tied, directly or indirectly,
    to the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil
    fuels, which is also the major driver of the long
    emergency. Decades of rising global inequality
    have entrenched control in a small group of
    super-wealthy individuals, financiers, corpora-
    tions, media tycoons, drug lords, and celebri-
    ties in positions of unaccountable authority.29

    In the United States, for example, the
    wealthiest 400 individuals have more net
    wealth than the bottom 185,000,000 people.
    Six Walmart heirs alone control as much
    wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S.
    population. Rising inequality in the United
    States and elsewhere reflects neither efficiency

    nor merit. And beyond some threshold it divides society by class, erodes
    empathy, hardens hearts, undermines public trust, incites violence, saps our
    collective imagination, and destroys the public spirit that upholds democra-
    cy and community alike. Nonetheless, the rich do not give up easily. Accord-
    ing to political economist Jeffrey Winters, the redistribution of wealth has





    Governance in the Long Emergency | 289

    always occurred as a result of war, conquest, or revolution, not as a demo-
    cratic decision or from the benevolence of plutocrats.30

    Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the
    only way out of this conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “me-
    gamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. He did not mean com-
    munity-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentral-
    ized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their
    needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did
    not propose secession from the national and global community but rather
    withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological dom-
    ination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains
    the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust
    enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.31

    In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt
    to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic as-
    sets throughout society. From the pioneering work of progressive econ-
    omists, scholars, and activists such as Scott Bernstein, Michael Shuman,
    Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Jeff Gates we know that revitalization of
    local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and
    greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart en-
    vironmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and
    national resilience.32

    Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dra-
    matic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable
    energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure,
    permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. Applied systematically at
    community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine pos-
    sibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water,
    transportation, and waste cycling. (See Box 26–2.) It is the most likely ba-
    sis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and
    locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving
    resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce
    the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while im-
    proving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s
    suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transi-
    tion Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes
    throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have
    been rendered ineffective.33

    A second change is in order. Democracies from classical Athens to the
    present are only as vibrant as the quality and moral power of the ideas they
    can muster, mull over, and act upon. Debate, argument, and civil conversa-
    tion are the lifeblood of the democratic process. In our time, said to be an

    290 | State of the World 2013

    At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in
    1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required
    all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdis-
    ciplinary approach which will insure the integrated
    use of the natural and social sciences and the envi-
    ronmental design arts in planning and in decision-
    making.” Nonetheless, the government and corpo-
    rations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations
    still work mostly by breaking issues and problems
    into their parts and dealing with each in isolation.
    Separate agencies, departments, and organizations
    specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife,
    economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy,
    technology, health, and transportation as if each
    were unrelated to the others.

    Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the mod-
    ern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and
    Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scien-
    tific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay
    is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom
    anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmenta-
    tion or count the benefits of systems integration. We
    mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring
    long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables
    and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The
    results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and
    they undermine our prospects.

    Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze
    in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are
    tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time
    delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To
    fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of
    seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as
    a perspective far longer than next year’s election or
    an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in
    systems we can never fully comprehend and control
    and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to
    precaution and resilient design.

    One example of this approach comes from
    Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a
    poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S.
    “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous indus-

    trial region sacrificed to political expediency and
    bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and
    Detroit. But things here are beginning to change.
    In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the
    Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable
    economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust
    local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of
    the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability,
    and help catalyze similar efforts across the United
    States at larger scales. The community is organized
    into seven teams, focused on economic develop-
    ment, education, law and policy, energy, community
    engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis.
    The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in
    which each of the parts supports the resilience and
    prosperity of the whole community in a way that is
    catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the
    community, and the college to a collaborative post-
    cheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.

    The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number
    of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustain-
    ability worldwide, including the Mondragón Coop-
    erative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and
    the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways,
    each is aiming to transform complex systems called
    cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally gener-
    ated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency
    and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create
    opportunities for good work and higher levels of
    worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises
    organized around necessities. The upshot is a global
    movement toward communities with the capacity
    to withstand outside disturbances while preserv-
    ing core values and functions. In practical terms,
    resilience means redundancy of major functions,
    appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical sys-
    tems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,”
    technological accidents, malice, and climate desta-
    bilization. In short, it is human systems designed in
    much the way that nature designs ecologies: from
    the bottom up.

    Source: See endnote 33.

    Box 26–2. resilience from the Bottom Up

    Governance in the Long Emergency | 291

    age of information, one of the most striking characteristics is the trivial-
    ity, narrowness, and often factual inaccuracy of our political conversations.
    Much of what passes for public dialogue has to do with jobs and economic
    growth, but it is based on economic theories that fit neither biophysical real-
    ity nor the highest aspirations of humankind. The rules of market econo-
    mies are said to date from Adam Smith 237 years ago, but those of natural
    systems are 3.8 billion years old. Allowed to run on much longer, the mis-
    match will destroy us.

    It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close
    to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have
    thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind
    reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral re-
    sources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a
    few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what
    purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are
    there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption,
    a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all
    levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and com-
    petition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody
    past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?34

    Outside of Hollywood movies, stories do not always have happy endings.
    Human history, to the contrary, is “one damn thing after another” as an
    undergraduate history major once famously noted. And one of those damn
    things is the collapse of entire civilizations when leaders do not summon
    the wit and commitment to solve problems while they can. Whatever the
    particulars, the downward spiral has a large dose of elite incompetence and
    irresponsibility, often with the strong aroma of wishful thinking, denial, and
    groupthink abetted by rules that reward selfishness, not group success.35

    In the long emergency ahead, the challenges to be overcome are first and
    foremost political, not technological or economic. They are in the domain
    of governance where the operative words are “we” and “us,” not those of
    markets where the pronouns are “I,” “me,” and “mine.” At issue is whether
    we have the wherewithal, wisdom, and foresight to preserve and improve the
    human enterprise in the midst of a profound human crisis. Any chance for
    us to come through the trials of climate destabilization in a nuclear-armed
    world with 10 billion people by 2100 will require that we soon reckon with
    the thorny issues of politics, political theory, and governance with wisdom,
    boldness, and creativity.

    Erik Assadourian is a senior
    fellow at Worldwatch Institute
    and director of the Transform-
    ing Cultures Project. He is
    codirector of State of the
    World 2013.

    In the early 1980s—not long after monumental victories in improving air
    and water quality—some within the environmental movement questioned
    the true value of these successes. Environmentalist Peter Berg pointed out
    that “rescuing the environment has become like running a battlefield aid
    station in a war against a killing machine that operates just beyond reach,
    and that shifts its ground after each seeming defeat. No one can doubt the
    moral basis of environmentalism, but the essentially defensive terms of its
    endless struggle mitigate against ever stopping the slaughter.”1

    Decades later, the moral basis of environmentalism is still undoubted,
    though the design and execution of many environmental campaigns have
    received increased scrutiny. And the deeper critique has yet to be answered.
    Environmentalism, first and foremost, continues to be a game of defense—
    working to reduce overall carbon emissions, chemical releases, forest loss—
    rather than a battle to transform the dominant growth-centric economic
    and cultural paradigm into an ecocentric one that respects planetary bound-
    aries. And today, more than ever, environmentalists are outmaneuvered by
    better funded, better organized, and better connected adversaries, which
    keeps victory well beyond reach.

    The current focus of environmentalism leaves little hope of successfully
    defeating the ecologically destructive political, economic, and cultural forces
    that undermine the very foundations of life. It will require a dramatic reboot
    if the movement is going to reverse Earth’s rapid transformation and help
    create a truly sustainable future—or at least help humanity get through the
    ugly ecological transition that most likely lies ahead.

    Are Today’s Environmental Organizations Succeeding?
    There have been plenty of internal critiques of the environmental move-
    ment since it appeared on the scene in the 1960s—from deep ecology and
    bioregionalism in the 1970s to the recent reports The Death of Environ-

    c h a p t e r 2 7

    Building an Enduring
    Environmental Movement

    Erik Assadourian

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_27, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Building an Enduring Environmental Movement | 293

    mentalism and Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environment Movement at
    a Crossroads.2

    In 2004, in The Death of Environmentalism, Michael Shellenberger and
    Ted Nordhaus made two important criticisms of modern environmental
    advocacy: that it fails to provide any bold vision of a sustainable future and
    that it is essentially “just another special interest,” unable to capture “the
    popular inspiration nor the political alliances the community needs to deal
    with the problem.”3

    In the 2008 WWF-UK report Weathercocks and Signposts, Tom Cromp-
    ton noted that in environmentalists’ urgent efforts to change people’s behav-
    ior, they have often reinforced dominant consumeristic values rather than
    tapping more-sustainable values, like altruism. This, he noted, has proved
    to be a strategy that offers some short-term success but undermines itself
    in the long run, for example, as people who were encouraged to save money
    by buying energy-efficient lightbulbs then spend their savings on new con-
    sumer products.4

    And recently the Smart CSOs Lab noted that environmental organiza-
    tions are typically focused on a single issue—climate change, biodiversity,
    deforestation, toxic chemicals, conservation—and thus fail to think holisti-
    cally about solutions, focusing on short-term fixes rather than addressing
    root causes.5

    There is validity in all of these critiques. Many campaigns focus on treat-
    ing environmental problems rather than addressing their roots, and they
    typically do so in ways that fail to build an alternative vision for a species not
    in a permanent state of conflict with the planet.

    Worse still is that the movement is not even battling immediate threats all
    that well. Along with often being a marginalized special interest—failing to
    build strong-enough alliances to pass Earth-saving legislation—many con-
    servation and environmental groups have also fallen prey to the same con-
    flicts of interest observed in other philanthropy-dependent sectors. Just as
    more medical researchers have accepted funding from pharmaceutical com-
    panies, and breast cancer advocacy groups from companies that produce
    cancer-causing products, some environmental groups—seeking to have as
    large an impact as possible—are taking more funds from corporations with
    questionable environmental track records.6

    As journalist and former Conservation International employee Christine
    MacDonald describes in Green, Inc., accepting funding from corporations—
    which have a lot to spread around and are willing to do so to “greenwash”
    their image—has misdirected organizations from the true challenges facing
    them. Moreover, it has led some groups to soften their criticism of support-
    ive companies and in some cases has even led to questionable endorsements
    of polluting companies or their products. 7

    294 | State of the World 2013

    This cozy relationship has also provided some of the most unsustainable
    corporations a way to mitigate the public relations challenges of being ma-
    jor polluters. MacDonald found that 29 of “The Toxic 100”—the worst cor-
    porate air polluters in the United States according to the Political Economy
    Research Institute—are major contributors to conservation organizations.
    Whether these and other corporations have just used environmental groups
    as greenwashing vehicles or have also influenced the agendas of the orga-
    nizations that they donate to is harder to measure. But considering the size

    of some donations and the pres-
    ence of corporate representatives
    on many organizations’ boards, it
    is hard to imagine that these re-
    lationships have no influence at
    all. David Morine, a former vice
    president in charge of land acqui-
    sition at The Nature Conservancy,
    said after leaving the organization
    that his pioneering effort to bring
    in corporate funders “was the big-
    gest mistake in my life,” as he told
    the Washington Post. “These cor-
    porate executives are carnivorous.
    You bring them in, and they just
    take over.”8

    What is more, most environ-
    mental organizations, including

    Worldwatch Institute, receive funding from affluent donors, foundations,
    and corporations that depend on a growing economy to keep their endow-
    ments robust enough to continue their philanthropy. Ironically, if environ-
    mental groups actually succeed in building a sustainable, equitable, steady-
    state economy, there is a good chance that their donors’ philanthropic giving
    would shrink as wealth is better distributed and as stock markets stop grow-
    ing. And if environmentalists fail in their mission, there’s also a good chance
    the economy will contract: a 2012 report by DARA International projects
    that gross domestic product worldwide will shrink 3.2 percent a year by
    2030 if climate change and air pollution are not dealt with. A shrinking
    economy is rarely a boon to philanthropy.9

    Even if most environmental groups had secure forms of funding that did
    not lead to conflicts of interest, the broader critique remains. The movement
    is trying to stem the tide of global ecocide with strategies that fall far short of
    what is necessary to create a truly sustainable civilization—whether that is
    due to short-term thinking, overspecialization, lack of vision, or the realities

    The environmental group Audubon displays the new car it won from Toyota
    in a social media popularity contest.



    Building an Enduring Environmental Movement | 295

    of making political compromises, especially when at the table with much
    more powerful actors.

    Thus it is time for the environmental movement to evolve. It needs to ac-
    celerate the shift to a sustainable society and to become more independent
    and resilient, even in the worst-case scenario of a rapid ecological transition.
    The only question is, How?

    A Deeper Environmentalism
    In 2007, a group of prominent environmentalists gathered in Aspen, Colo-
    rado, to discuss how to redesign the environmental movement to combat
    the linked environmental, social, and spiritual crises facing humanity. The
    group concluded that humanity needs a “new consciousness,” new stories,
    new values—including an “ethics of reverence for the Earth” and a sense
    of intergenerational responsibility. And that to spread these, the movement
    will need to redevelop its grassroots potential, diversify its sources of fund-
    ing, and use a variety of innovative strategies like embedding environmen-
    tal education into schools’ core curricula, doing a better job using media
    programming to spark environmental awareness, and establishing a Peace
    Corps–like effort that could help restore ecosystems and tackle global envi-
    ronmental challenges.10

    The idea of deepening humanity’s environmental consciousness and re-
    designing the movement to help do this is certainly not new. In 1973 Nor-
    wegian philosopher Arne Naess coined the term deep ecology, criticizing the
    “shallow” anthropocentric approach to environmentalism and instead ad-
    vocating an ecocentric ecological philosophy to guide individuals and the
    movement. One of his main conclusions was that we need a set of principles
    to guide our behavior and to reinforce our commitment to help our planet
    flourish. His hope was that each of us would make a personal “ecosophy”
    (ecological philosophy) stemming from these principles that would shape
    our broader values and lives—from what we buy and eat and how many chil-
    dren we have to how we spend our time. Naess, with deep ecology, was per-
    haps the first to propose making environmentalism a fully lived philosophy.11

    But deep ecology and its critique have remained marginal ideas in the
    broader movement, with environmentalists continuing to focus instead on
    short-term or shallow campaign goals. So it is not surprising, then, that en-
    vironmental groups continue to engage their members in shallow ways—
    asking for donations, signatures on petitions, support of a specific political
    candidate, perhaps participation in a local protest. Yet within the movement,
    rare are the deeper opportunities to engage—community potlucks, for in-
    stance, or weekly meetings filled with stories of celebration or hope.

    Defensive advocacy remains the environmental movement’s primary
    role. As theologian and environmentalist Martin Palmer notes, “Environ-

    296 | State of the World 2013

    mentalists have stolen fear, guilt and sin from religion, but they have left
    behind celebration, hope and redemption.” The problem is that fear without
    hope, guilt without celebration, and sin without redemption is a model that
    fails to inspire or motivate.12

    Environmentalists must create a more comprehensive philosophy—
    complete with an ethics, cosmology, even stories of redemption—that could
    deeply affect people and change the way they live. Vaclav Havel, the Czech
    writer and political leader, once asked, “What could change the direction of
    today’s civilization?” He answered that “we must develop a new understand-
    ing of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such
    a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a
    new set of values for the planet.”13

    This, naturally, should be the starting point of any philosophy, ecological
    or otherwise. Why are we here? and What is our purpose? are questions as
    old as human beings. And while religions have offered one set of explana-
    tions, and science another, neither have proved up to the task of answering
    in a way that enables humanity to live within the bounds of Earth.

    The first principle of deep ecology points out that “the flourishing of
    human and nonhuman life on Earth has inherent value. The value of non-
    human life-forms is independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world
    for human purposes.” This ecocentric view of the planet offers a possible
    answer. Humanity’s purpose may be as straightforward as helping the earth
    to flourish—and certainly not impeding its ability to do so.14

    The ethics of an effective eco-philosophy must be grounded, complete-
    ly and fully, in Earth’s ecological realities and should facilitate humanity’s
    Earth-nurturing purpose. As conservationist Aldo Leopold noted over 60
    years ago, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability,
    and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
    This simple rule could serve as a foundation for a broader ecological ethics.15

    Granted, this will not be an easy ethical code to follow. As the fourth
    principle of deep ecology notes, “the flourishing of human life and cultures
    is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The
    flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.” Decreases in both
    human population size and its impact (as much an outcome of how we con-
    sume as our total numbers) may raise some uncomfortable questions, such
    as, Can we have a sustainable civilization while fully respecting people’s free-
    dom to reproduce or consume without limits? However, not wrestling with
    these limits may prove much more perilous. And perhaps over time, norms
    around optimal family size and consumption levels will evolve, facilitating
    the transition to cultures in balance with a flourishing Earth.16

    In order for this philosophy to attract people, it will also need to answer
    broader philosophical questions like Where did we come from? (cosmology)

    Building an Enduring Environmental Movement | 297

    and Why do we suffer? (theodicy)—an essential component of any com-
    prehensive philosophy, and one that will be especially necessary in getting
    through the difficult centuries to come.

    Of course, other elements will have to emerge as well. Stories, exemplars,
    ways to cultivate fellowship among adherents, and ways to celebrate life’s rites
    of passage—birth, coming of age, marriage, and death—and other cycles of
    life like the advent of a new year. Together, these elements could add up to a
    robust, holistic ecological philosophy that could inspire people across cul-
    tures to follow a new ecocentric way of life and encourage others to join them.

    For that to happen, however, environmentalists must build the mecha-
    nisms to cultivate community among members and to spread this philoso-
    phy to new populations. In other words, for the environmental movement to
    succeed it will have to learn from something it often ignores or even keeps its
    distance from—religion, and specifically missionary religions, which have
    proved incredibly successful in orienting how people interpret the world for
    millennia, effectively navigating across radically dif-
    ferent eras and geographies.

    Missionary Movements
    and Their Potential
    Let’s start with a basic question. How have missionary
    religious philosophies spread so completely around
    the world? (Religions, while they are understandably
    more than this to adherents, are essentially orienting
    philosophies.) Yes, swords and guns were part of the
    success equation, as was the adoption of these phi-
    losophies by governments. But a larger part of these
    philosophies’ success was a powerful, timeless vision,
    beautiful stories, inspiring exemplars, committed ad-
    herents, and the promise of immediate assistance—
    the offering of food, clothing, education, livelihoods,
    medical care, even a community.

    The advent of Christian Socialism in the mid-
    nineteenth century offers a powerful and relevant
    case study on the spread of Christianity in a disrupt-
    ed, rapidly industrializing, and urbanizing Europe
    and United States. Recognizing the corrosive effects
    of cities and urban poverty, many Christian reformers
    worked to spread the Gospel through the creation of
    social programs—including providing job trainings, food, safe shelters for
    people migrating to the cities, and so on.17

    Both the Salvation Army and the YMCA were founded in the United

    Two Mormon missionaries speaking to an African
    woman with a baby.





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    298 | State of the World 2013

    Kingdom in this era, spreading Christian values and the faith through the
    provision of social services. Today, both organizations continue to have a
    global reach, and combined they have several million volunteers reaching
    out to tens of millions of people in more than 110 countries. In 2011, the
    Salvation Army alone provided $3 billion worth of basic social service as-
    sistance to nearly 30 million people.18

    The Catholic Knights of Columbus—founded in Connecticut in 1882
    and now boasting 1.8 million members world-
    wide—also used a powerful communitarian mod-
    el, offering support for recent Catholic immigrants
    to the United States (who often worked dangerous
    jobs and were excluded from labor unions). The
    Knights provided life insurance to care for widows
    and orphans if members were killed. Today it un-
    derwrites more than $80 billion in life insurance
    policies and continues to be active in charitable
    and political activities.19

    Providing social services is not only a worthy
    goal in itself but also a means to build broader
    influence—growing the ranks of adherents and
    changing how people view the world and live their
    lives, and then using that influence to shape broad-
    er social, cultural, economic, and political norms.
    The Shakers, a Christian sect founded in England
    in 1771, offer a valuable lesson in how to grow in-
    fluence and even in how to prepare for the coming
    economic and ecologic transition. (See Box 27–1.)20

    Another Christian offshoot, the Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons),
    offers one more successful strategy to spread a phi-
    losophy—going door to door. Each year 55,000
    full-time Mormon missionaries fan out around
    the world (with more than 1 million missionar-
    ies having served since the Church’s founding),
    going on two-year missions to convert people to
    their philosophy slowly and methodically—a lead-
    ing reason that a religion that is less than 200 years

    old has more than 14.4 million adherents worldwide. For these missionar-
    ies—typically young adults supported by family and friends or by their own
    childhood savings—this rite of passage is often life-changing. It deepens
    their own commitment to their beliefs while also spreading the ideas of this
    religion and drawing new members to the Mormon faith.21

    While often dismissed as a failed experiment—as their
    community no longer exists today—at their peak the
    Shakers were a powerful religious, economic, and
    social force, growing to 6,000 members in 1840 even
    while practicing celibacy. At the time, the group was a
    leading producer of herbal medicines. And its mem-
    bers were celebrated architects and craftspeople as
    well as renowned inventors: they invented the circular
    saw, clothespins, and ironing-free cloth. Believing that
    God dwelt in the quality of their craftsmanship, the
    Shakers strove for perfection in crafting their simple but
    beautiful products. And this success drew many new
    adherents to their faith.

    But the Industrial Revolution and the mass-produced
    goods it led to were the Shakers’ undoing. As markets for
    their high-quality, higher-cost products collapsed in the
    mid-1800s, so did their economic niche and their total
    number of adherents. The Shakers offer an important
    lesson, however: strong community and a relevant eco-
    nomic niche can attract people and provide the founda-
    tion for broader influence, even when certain elements
    of the philosophy are hard to stomach.

    As access to cheap energy sources wanes, and with
    it mass-produced goods and globalized trade, many
    aspects of this model could once again flourish, provid-
    ing one possible way to spread an ecocentric philosophy.

    Source: See endnote 20.

    Box 27–1. the Shakers’ relevance in a
    post-consumer era

    Building an Enduring Environmental Movement | 299

    Compare this to modern environmental canvassers who also go door-to-
    door asking for campaign donations. They are typically told by their man-
    agers to get a donation and move to the next door as quickly as possible,
    forgoing true engagement with the people they meet. Rather than growing
    supporters and political power, most of today’s environmental door-knock-
    ers are merely neighborhood money-miners.22

    Other missionary religious philosophies, such as Buddhism and Islam,
    also use a variety of social service provisions to spread their philosophies.
    Islamic madrassas are a leading provider of education in many countries.
    Today, madrassas educate millions of students around the world, provid-
    ing literary, math, and science education in addition to knowledge of the
    Koran and Islam.23

    As the provision of basic services led to new members being integrated
    into these various communities, social modeling played an important role
    in shaping their behaviors, and the routine professing of values and myths
    helped reinforce a new way of living. As numbers grew, so did their politi-
    cal, economic, and cultural influence—both at the aggregate and through
    the spread of smaller sects of broader philosophical persuasions. Quakers,
    Jesuits, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shriners (with their network of children’s hos-
    pitals), and Scientologists have effectively spread their orienting philoso-
    phies—no matter how controversial they might have been—through the
    concerted proliferation of social services, designed in ways that help people
    in their moment of need and, as important, fold them into a broader philo-
    sophical community. Unfortunately, there have been few equivalent efforts
    by the environmental community.

    The Rise of a Missionary Eco-Philosophy?
    An informal survey of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, found
    that nearly half of the roughly 250 schools serving the 200,000–250,000
    Kenyans living there are religious in nature. The goal of these Pentecostal,
    Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness, YMCA, Salvation Army, Quaker,
    and other religious schools is to charitably provide the basic service of
    education—a service the Kenyan government cannot provide enough of.
    But these schools are also there to save souls and to add members to their
    philosophical communities.24

    At the same time, there appear to be no schools in Kibera teaching an
    ecological philosophy. But imagine if there were. Imagine a school that, at
    every turn reinforced the idea that humanity depends completely and ut-
    terly on Earth and its complex systems for our well-being. That it is unjust
    to consume more than your fair share and to have a lifestyle that depends
    on the exploitation of ecosystems, workers, and communities polluted by
    factories, mines, and dumps. That the best life to live is one committed to

    300 | State of the World 2013

    changing this untenable, inhumane, and unsustainable system in ways that
    improve the well-being of your local community, your broader philosophi-
    cal community, and above all the planetary community.25

    This is a philosophy that could be reinforced in every aspect of the
    school—from what is taught in the classroom (ecology, ethics, activism,
    and permaculture along with basic math and literacy) to what is served
    in the lunchroom and everything in between. Some students would walk
    away just with knowledge, including a better understanding of our depen-
    dence on Earth and perhaps a basic livelihood and trade skills—skills that
    will only grow in value in a post-consumer future. But others would walk
    away with a deep commitment to this way of thinking, and perhaps even
    become missionaries of that ecological philosophy, starting new schools
    or other social services that could improve people’s lives while spreading a
    way of life that could compete with the seductive consumerist philosophy
    so dominant today.26

    And this model could be applied to a variety of needs. Eco-clinics could
    provide basic medicine but also focus on prevention that will help both
    people and the planet. For example, people with adult-onset diabetes might
    be asked to spend time tending the eco-clinic garden in partial payment
    for treatment, growing healthy food to replace the toxic, processed fare that
    contributed to their diabetes and so many other modern ailments. The clinic
    could also provide cooking and lifestyle courses as well as engaging with the
    larger community to help patients eat well and regain their health. In the
    process, their ecological impact would shrink along with their waistlines as
    they reduced their consumption of meat and processed food, both of which
    have higher ecological impacts than locally grown vegetables.27

    Of course, religious social service providers are embedded in a broader
    community with a somewhat unified belief system—something environ-
    mentalists currently lack. But as ecosystems decline further, as the consum-
    erist philosophy is revealed as no longer workable, the philosophies with
    alternative visions that also offer help and community solidarity will flour-
    ish—whether they are ancient religions, new religions, or perhaps even phi-
    losophies like environmentalism.

    Ideally, social services should not be provided piecemeal by civil society
    organizations of any type. They should be the responsibility of a function-
    ing government. But in reality, even at the peak of our unsustainable levels
    of wealth today, many governments fail in their duty to provide basic ser-
    vices for their citizens. As ecosystems unravel, as economies falter, and as
    local and national governments go bankrupt or adopt austerity measures
    to appease lenders, there is a good chance that social services will be cut.
    In that case, the need for nongovernmental actors to provide these services
    will only increase.

    Building an Enduring Environmental Movement | 301

    Just like advocacy campaigns, these efforts cost money, of course. Some of
    the funding could come from foundations perhaps. But groups could also use
    strategies more typical of religious organizations, generating money directly
    from adherent communities. Of the $298 billion donated to charity in 2011 in
    the United States, 32 percent went to religious groups, while just 2.6 percent
    was given to environmental groups. People are more likely to give to their own
    communities—those who are there for them through thick and thin—as well
    as to those who share deeply in their beliefs and understanding of the world.28

    Funding could also come from social enterprises. Just as the Salvation
    Army earns hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the sale of used
    household goods and clothing (while also providing a valuable service),
    the environmental movement could take a more active role in setting up
    profitable social enterprises that generate revenue for its social service pro-
    vision arm, as well as for efforts focused on advocacy and shifting broader
    cultural norms.29

    These social-service providers and social enterprises—from cafes, book-
    stores, and used item stores to renewable energy utilities, energy retrofit
    providers, and permaculture training programs—would not only generate
    revenue but also offer a key mechanism to spread the eco-philosophy and
    recruit new members.

    As eco-philosophies spread, and their followers grow in number, new op-
    portunities would grow too. The Quakers, a small Christian sect, became a
    dominant economic and political force of Pennsylvania in the 1700s as well
    as a major force in the abolition movement. Even today Quakers remain
    a powerful voice in international peace and governance processes—far be-
    yond what their total membership of 340,000 would seem to warrant. Eco-
    philosophical adherents could also play an outsized role in driving cultural
    change, particularly working to shift the consumer culture to be more sus-
    tainable by taking leadership roles in government, the media, business, and
    education. (See Chapter 10.)30

    As the need for resistance to the modern industrial socioeconomic mod-
    el grows (see Chapter 28), a committed community of environmentalists
    could be a powerful force, helping to use these tactics—whether as a dis-
    tinct philosophical group or embedded in other philosophical traditions.
    (See Box 27–2.)31

    Getting from Vision to Reality
    The odds are that the state of the world is going to get really bad—and much
    sooner than we think. Reports about the fallout from climate change alone
    make it clear that the twenty-first century is unlikely to follow a linear path
    of more growth, more progress, more “development.” There are probably
    going to be major political, social, and economic disruptions, a flood of fail-

    302 | State of the World 2013

    ing states, the dislocation of millions of people. Will people in environmen-
    tal organizations simply close their doors as things unravel, as their funding
    dries up, and turn instead to simply surviving—taking any job still available
    in order to feed their families? Who will serve as a voice for Earth? Who will
    help steer us through this historically unique global ecological transition?
    Will it be fundamentalist religious institutions that read the unraveling eco-
    systems as signs of the end times? Or authoritarian governments that offer
    security in exchange for the last remnants of freedom?32

    The future increasingly looks like it could take a page from a dystopian
    science fiction novel. Perhaps from A Canticle for Leibowitz—the story of
    a post-collapse civilization where one occupation is harvesting iron rebar
    out of concrete rubble, with the workers musing on how their ancestors got
    iron bars into stone in the first place. Over the course of the novel, modern
    knowledge is rediscovered, and once again people invent electricity, engines,
    even nuclear power. And how does it end? With humanity once again pur-
    suing growth and empire, and once again destroying itself in the process.33

    The hope is that we prevent collapse by following a new set of philo-
    sophical, ethical, and cultural norms that bring about a life-sustaining
    civilization, or what eco-philosopher Joanna Macy has called “the Great

    Are ecological and religious philosophies incompat-
    ible? Not at all. Effective missionary philosophies can
    live beside other philosophies or incorporate those
    traditions into their practices: witness the syncretic
    relationship between Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan
    and the way Christianity incorporated folk religions as
    it spread.

    An ecological philosophy may grow up alongside
    the dominant religious philosophies of today or even
    be absorbed by religious reformers, which could pre-
    vent the latter from losing their followers as ecological
    philosophies grow in attractiveness.

    Indeed, the greening of religious traditions has
    already started at the margins, with more Christian sects
    drawing attention to green teachings from the Bible
    and designing programs to appeal to environmentally
    minded adherents. Buddhist monks are establish-
    ing sacred forests, Muslims are developing ways to
    celebrate Ramadan sustainably, and Hindus are finding
    ways to make ritual sacrifices greener.

    In Sri Lanka, the Buddhist movement Sarvodaya
    Shramadana has created a comprehensive path to both
    material and spiritual development—emphasizing com-
    munity, basic economic security, and sustainability at
    the heart of their model. The movement, which literally
    means “awakening through sharing,” has focused on
    small community projects—building latrines, schools,
    and cultural centers—that improve village well-being
    and has simultaneously discouraged adoption of con-
    sumerism (or in Buddhist terms, attachment and desire).
    Today this sustainable Buddhist movement has a pres-
    ence in more than half of Sri Lanka’s 24,000 villages.

    As these ideas incubate in coming centuries and the
    world undergoes dramatic changes, ecological philoso-
    phies may form independently and stay independent,
    they may be absorbed by today’s dominant philoso-
    phies (or come into conflict with those philosophies as
    they compete for members), or they may even absorb
    or replace older philosophies.

    Source: See endnote 31.

    Box 27–2. the relationship Between ecological and religious philosophies

    Building an Enduring Environmental Movement | 303

    Turning.” The second hope is that,
    failing this—and failing to prevent
    “the Great Unraveling”—we preserve
    enough knowledge and wisdom so
    that as the dust settles in a few centu-
    ries, with the population stabilized at
    a lower number that a changed plan-
    etary system can sustain, our great-
    great-great-great-great grandchildren
    do not reinvent our mistakes. That
    they do not once again start worship-
    ping growth and consumption but
    instead stay true to a philosophy that
    allows them to sustain the planet that
    sustains them. As Macy notes, “The
    awesome thing about the moment
    that you and I share is that we don’t
    know which is going to win out, how
    the story is going to end. That almost seems orchestrated to bring forth
    from us the biggest moral strength, courage, and creativity. When things are
    this unstable, a person’s determination—how they choose to invest their
    energy and heart-mind—can have much more effect on the larger picture
    than we are accustomed to think.”34

    Let us hope that this proves to be the case. And that centuries from now
    an ecocentric civilization—celebrating its nurturing niche on a once-again
    flourishing planet—tells stories of the bold individuals and communities
    that changed humanity’s path in such a glorious way.

    Tree seedlings being distributed in Uganda as part of The Alliance of
    Religions and Conservation’s long-term environmental action plan for
    sub-Saharan Africa.












    Bron Taylor is a professor of
    religion and nature, environ-
    mental ethics, and environ-
    mental studies at the University
    of Florida, and a fellow of the
    Rachel Carson Center in Mu-
    nich, Germany.

    c h a p t e r 2 8

    Do the Ends Justify the Means?

    Bron Taylor

    Has the time come for a massive wave of direct action resistance to acceler-
    ating rates of environmental degradation around the world—degradation
    that is only getting worse due to climate change? Is a new wave of direct
    action resistance emerging, one similar but more widespread than that
    sparked by Earth First!, the first avowedly “radical” environmental group?

    The radical environmental movement, which was formed in the United
    States in 1980, controversially transformed environmental politics by en-
    gaging in and promoting civil disobedience and sabotage as environmen-
    talist tactics. By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, when the most militant
    radical environmentalists adopted the Earth Liberation Front name, arson
    was increasingly deployed. The targets included gas-guzzling sport utility
    vehicles, U.S. Forest Service and timber company offices, resorts and com-
    mercial developments expanding into wildlife habitat, and universities and
    corporations engaged in research creating genetically modified organisms.
    Examples of such militant environmentalism can be found throughout the
    world, and they are increasingly fused with anarchist ideologies. Given this
    history, the question arises as to whether direct action resistance is becom-
    ing unambiguously revolutionary, or perhaps even purposefully violent.1

    People attending the Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to
    Save the Planet conference in Berkeley, California, in November 2011 might
    well have thought so. Some 500 people joined this conference, which called
    for a new “deep green resistance” movement in response to intensifying
    environmental decline and increasing social inequality. The format of the
    conference was a scripted dialogue, or what might be called political perfor-
    mance art, with the writer and activist Derrick Jensen posing questions to a
    series of environmental activists and writers, including, most prominently,
    the Man Booker Prize winner from India, Arundhati Roy.2

    The tone of the meeting was sober and its messages radical. Succinctly
    put, the speakers issued the following diagnoses: Electoral politics and lob-

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_28, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? | 305

    bying, as well as educational and other reformist conversion strategies that
    give priority to increasing awareness and changing consciousness, have been
    ineffective. Such strategies do not work because for 10,000 years agricul-
    tures have been established and maintained by violence. This violence has
    foremost targeted foraging societies (and later indigenous and poor people),
    nonhuman organisms, and nature itself. Fossil-fueled industrial-agricultur-
    al civilizations are especially destructive and unsustainable. Popular and
    democratic movements have been overwhelmed by the increasingly sophis-
    ticated ways that elites justify and enforce their rule and promote material-
    ism and the domination of nature.

    In concert, the conference speakers offered radical prescriptions. They
    called for direct and aggressive resistance to plutocracy and environmental
    destruction. The immediate objective, several of them contended, should be
    to bring down industrial civilization—which, they claimed, has structural
    vulnerabilities. Specifically, they urged those gathered to form or support
    secret cells that would, as their first priority, sabotage the energy infrastruc-
    ture of today’s dominant and destructive social and economic systems. It
    is also critical, they contended, that activists avoid pacifist ideologies and
    even carefully consider whether, and when, the time might be ripe to take
    up arms to overturn the system. After the most inflammatory of these state-
    ments, at least a third of the crowd rose in standing ovation.3

    It is not necessary to hold an anarchist or anti-civilization ideology to
    wonder if electoral politics, lobbying and educational efforts, or litigation-
    based strategies are enough. Indeed, one reason that many people in main-
    stream environmental organizations sympathize with these radicals is that
    they often share a despairing view of the current destructive trends and
    recognize that, despite their best efforts, they have been unable to slow or
    reverse them.

    It is also not necessary to be willing to contemplate violent tactics when
    considering or engaging in resistance. Although definitions of resistance
    typically include underground organizations opposing an occupying or au-
    thoritarian power or regime, often with acts of sabotage or guerilla warfare,
    the term can also refer to nonviolent, extralegal opposition to a regime or its
    practices—even a regime that is considered politically legitimate, such as in
    democratic countries. Examples of such resistance include disruptive pro-
    test, civil disobedience, and noncompliance with government laws or with
    the dictates or operations of public or private institutions considered to be
    engaged in wrongdoing.

    Anyone paying attention can easily identify both actions and negligent
    inaction on the part of public and private actors that are exacerbating excep-
    tionally harmful environmental and social trends. Is it time, then, for resis-
    tance? Has it been effective or counterproductive? If effective or potentially

    306 | State of the World 2013

    so, which kinds are, under what circumstances, and by whom? What should
    the posture of mainstream environmental organizations be toward those
    who engage in resistance?

    It is time to break the taboo against talking about this and to consider
    what lessons can be drawn from decades of experimentation with direct
    action resistance.

    This is ethically fraught terrain. To be as clear as possible, let’s begin with a
    forthright statement of the premises underlying the analysis in this chapter.

    First, sometimes it is permissible or even obligatory to resist legally con-
    stituted laws and policies. This statement is uncontroversial when it comes
    to long-settled social conflicts. In hindsight, at least, nearly everyone would
    agree that the Confessing Church’s resistance to the duly elected Nazi regime
    and its laws was not only morally permissible but obligatory. To this a host
    of additional examples could easily be added: Mahatma Gandhi leading the
    resistance to British imperial rule, Martin Luther King, Jr. in his often illegal
    pursuit of full citizenship for African-Americans, and even Nelson Mandela
    and the African National Congress’ insurrectionary strategy to topple South
    Africa’s apartheid regime.

    Once it is acknowledged that laws and policies have been and can be un-
    just, whether to resist becomes a muddier moral terrain. When laws are en-
    acted through democratic processes, of course, they are generally considered
    on first appearance to be legitimate, so any decision to break them ought not
    be taken lightly. Such a decision often requires someone to choose between
    competing goods, between moral principles that ordinarily would not be
    in conflict but that can be in specific cases. The best laws try to anticipate
    exceptions and complexity, including by fashioning penalties that recog-
    nize moral ambiguity and unusual circumstances. Breaking into someone’s
    home, for example, is normally and properly judged illegal, but in the case
    of a fire, it becomes permissible so that lives can be saved.

    Criminal codes at their best carefully consider the intent of the accused,
    and penalties increase according to a crime’s maliciousness. But exigent
    circumstances are not usually factored into criminal statutes. Nor do law-
    makers always anticipate and incorporate into law, as they should, new cir-
    cumstances or understandings. It is not uncommon, therefore, that deeply
    ethical and well-informed people will decide that some laws are inadequate,
    outdated, or just plain wrong, that the processes for changing them are too
    corrupt or the time too short, and that the stakes just too high to justify
    obeying such laws.

    Second, it is wrong for one species to dramatically reduce Earth’s bio-
    logical diversity, and preventing anthropogenic species extinctions should

    Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? | 307

    be a high moral priority. This ethical premise has been defended on many
    grounds, a survey of which is not possible here, but they include prudential
    and anthropocentric concern for human welfare, biocentric philosophy or
    spirituality, and diverse religious grounds in which protecting species is a
    religious duty.4

    Third, the best available consensus science indicates that our species is
    precipitating a rapid decline of biological diversity, and this process is ac-
    celerating due to anthropogenic climate change. It is also clear that political
    systems have not halted these processes.

    Fourth, and finally, since species that go extinct are lost forever, the stakes
    are high and an exigent response is urgently needed. Political systems have
    utterly failed to arrest biodiversity decline, nor are they poised to respond
    quickly and effectively.

    Given these ethical and factual premises, individuals and organizations
    should consider the reasons for this decline and how to overcome it. Since
    current laws and political activities have failed to redress the situation and
    appear unlikely to do so, it is incumbent to ask what strategies and tactics
    might be successful. Such an assessment should include determining wheth-
    er strategies and tactics must be constrained by existing laws and prevailing
    assumptions about what constitutes acceptable political action.

    Put more simply: anthropogenic environmental decline in the light of
    life-affirming values and political inaction demands analysis of the obstacles
    to effective action, including laws and mores that might constrain it. Given
    the urgency of the situation, extralegal tactics should be on the table, as they
    were in earlier causes where great moral urgency was properly felt.

    This does not, however, answer the question of whether the time for re-
    sistance has come. For this, we would need to diagnose the reasons for the
    present predicaments, determine what resources can be acquired, the sort of
    resistance needed, and whether a given action or campaign would be mor-
    ally permissible, likely to be effective, and unlikely to be counterproductive.
    Venturing answers is perilous, in part, because there is so much complexity
    and uncertainty in the deeply entwined environmental and human socio-
    economic systems we seek to understand and affect. Yet the urgency of the
    situation requires nothing less.

    Types of Resistance
    Recognizing that social reality never perfectly reflects our maps of it, it is
    nevertheless useful to proceed with a review of the main types of resistance.

    First, but not least, there are many ways that people of conscience re-
    sist current trends, including by battling ideas that consider the world to
    be a smorgasbord for ever-swelling human numbers and appetites and that
    view human beings as somehow exempt from nature’s laws. More impor-

    308 | State of the World 2013

    tant, there is a revolution going on with regard to understanding the hu-
    man place in and responsibilities to nature. These are unfolding rapidly and
    globally, and while the trends have diverse tributaries and expressions, they
    also have common emotional and spiritual dimensions, including deep feel-
    ings of belonging and connection to nature, as well as convictions about the
    value of all living things. There are, put simply, many forms of cultural resis-
    tance to beliefs and practices that do not cohere with science or progressive

    environmental ethics. These trends
    are important to note if we are to
    avoid the disempowering influence
    of cynicism.5

    While contemplating the possi-
    bility and promise of resistance, it is
    also important to note that not ev-
    eryone has the ability to participate
    in its more radical forms. Economi-
    cally vulnerable populations, for ex-
    ample, might have few resources or
    opportunities to directly confront
    forces they understandably fear or
    upon whom they directly or indi-
    rectly depend. People in such situa-
    tions, who have much to lose from
    direct confrontation with workplace
    authorities or rulers, sometimes

    engage in what might be labeled passive resistance. This generally involves
    noncooperation and noncompliance, such as through work slowdowns,
    theft, feigned ignorance, and sometimes difficult-to-detect forms of sabo-
    tage. Such tactics are designed to avoid attention or detection. The focus
    here, however, is on whether more direct and aggressive forms of resistance
    are warranted.6

    For radical environmentalists, the answer is a resounding yes, because
    they agree that the agricultural-capitalist-industrial system is fundamen-
    tally destructive and inherently unsustainable. The earliest Earth First! ac-
    tivists, for example, hoped that a combination of public protest—including
    civil disobedience and sabotage to thwart and deter the greatest assaults
    on biodiversity—would increase public sympathy and demands for envi-
    ronmental protection. Often, but not always, a connection was made be-
    tween the erosion of biological diversity and cultural diversity (especially
    as represented in indigenous and peasant cultures). And concern for both
    animated the efforts.

    Some also supported the political theory that creating an environmental



    i B


    March against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Minneapolis.

    Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? | 309

    extreme would serve as a counterweight to the extreme right in political
    battles, pulling the political center more toward the environmentalist pole
    of the right/left continuum, which is where laws and policies tend to end up.
    Yet others, such as the radical environmental activists who, after a number
    of their comrades were arrested, concluded that they could save nothing
    from prison, established the Greater Gila Biodiversity Project in 1989, which
    eventually became the Center for Biological Diversity. These activists were
    among the ones who pioneered tenacious litigation strategies, using existing
    laws and rules written by resource agencies to challenge, with great success,
    practices they considered destructive. This is another form of resistance, al-
    though it is seldom recognized as such.7

    While these early radical environmental activists maintained an apoc-
    alyptic view that modern society would collapse of its own unsustainable
    weight, their priority was to save what they could of the genetic and species
    variety of the planet before that inevitable collapse. They welcomed the en-
    visioned collapse, believing it would halt the destruction and give the planet
    a chance to heal.8

    This stream of thought thus had both radical and reformist dimensions.
    The more optimistic activists thought that direct action resistance might
    help precipitate widespread consciousness change, preventing humans from
    overshooting their carrying capacity and precipitating the collapse of en-
    vironmental and thus social systems. The more reformist participants re-
    sembled those from more mainstream environmental movements, who
    consider mass protests, accompanied by nonviolent civil disobedience and
    sometimes spectacular acts of protest and resistance (such as by Green-
    peace), as a way to educate and transform public opinion and thus to change
    behaviors, laws, and policies.

    The revolutionary stream of these activists find hope only in actions that
    would accelerate the collapse of the societies they do not believe can be re-
    formed voluntarily. These activists believe that, given the propaganda power
    of the elites who are most responsible for the destruction and who control
    political systems, more egalitarian, democratic, and environmentally sus-
    tainable systems have no chance of being established until this system is
    demolished or falls of its own unsustainable weight.9

    In sum, when it comes to ecological resistance movements, there is a con-
    tinuum of types, with varying diagnoses, strategies, and tactics. One extreme
    of the continuum of activists, who grew in number soon after the founding
    of Earth First!, is represented by the Earth Liberation Front, green anar-
    chism, and Deep Green Resistance. These forms can be labeled revolution-
    ary resistance, and they boldly proclaim an intention to bring down, “by any
    means necessary,” an industrial system considered inherently destructive.

    More-moderate sectors of radical environmentalism represent a kind

    310 | State of the World 2013

    of revolutionary/reformist hybrid, which shares many of the critical per-
    spectives about the roots and current drivers of environmental degrada-
    tion but which draws more eclectically and pragmatically on revolutionary
    and reformist ideas, strategies, and tactics. These activists do not absolutely
    dismiss the possibility that, with the right combination of resistance and
    reform strategies, there could be an upwelling of public support for envi-
    ronmental health and social equity and therefore that a less catastrophic
    transition toward sustainability might yet be possible.

    On the other end of this spectrum is reformist resistance, which endors-
    es demonstrations, including extralegal tactics such as civil disobedience
    (which can be highly disruptive, as for example when logging roads or high-
    ways are blockaded) as well as diverse pedagogical efforts, hoping to sway
    public opinion and pressure public officials into changing laws and policies
    while also affecting whether they honestly and successfully enforce current
    laws and policies. More so than the previous two types, here the goal is to
    force a democratic revolution or restore it where it has been subverted. And
    the hope is that this could create the conditions needed for dramatic action
    to address the most trenchant environmental and social problems.

    Activists taking this approach may share the critical perspective of the
    more radical advocates of resistance about agriculture and industrialism,
    but they nevertheless take a more pragmatic approach, sometimes acknowl-
    edging that the current systems are powerful, resilient, and difficult to bring
    down. Or they may conclude that the threat to human beings, to other spe-
    cies, and to environmental systems would be too great should the current
    systems precipitously collapse and that therefore such an outcome should
    not be pursued.

    Assessing Resistance
    With premises about and types of resistance established, and with humility
    given the diverse variables in play and the difficulty in predicting the effects
    of different courses of action, it is possible to venture a broad assessment of
    resistance strategies. These views are quite properly subject to change, given
    changed circumstances and understandings.

    The radical critique of agricultural, industrial civilization cannot be eas-
    ily dismissed. It is true that as agricultural societies spread around the world,
    cultural diversity has dramatically eroded. Agricultures have displaced,
    murdered, or assimilated foraging peoples, whether through superior num-
    bers and force, through the diseases their lifestyles brought with them, or
    through processes of settler colonialism. The erosion of biological diversity
    has gone hand-in-hand with these processes, all of which intensified with
    the power of the fossil-fuel-driven industrial age.10

    Modern societies are unduly celebratory of their achievements when they

    Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? | 311

    have amnesia about what has been lost and by whom. With an understanding
    of the tragic aspects of this history and recognition that these very processes
    are ongoing, it is clear that dramatic actions to halt these processes and en-
    gage in restorative justice and healing where possible are morally obligatory.

    This does not mean, however, that the revolutionary prescription of the
    Deep Green Resistance activists—attacking the energetic infrastructure of in-
    dustrial civilization—is warranted. Indeed, the claim that this could cause the
    collapse of industrial civilization is fanciful. Natural disas-
    ters (including those intensified or worsened by human
    activities) demonstrate that as long as energy is available,
    large-scale societies will rebuild. Even if resisters were to
    disrupt the system significantly, not only would the sys-
    tem’s rulers rebuild, recent history has shown that they
    would increase their power to suppress resisting sectors.

    Moreover, as many radical activists have acknowl-
    edged in interviews—even those who have supported
    sabotage—the more an action risks or intends to hurt
    people, the more the media and public focus on the tac-
    tics rather than the concerns that gave rise to the actions.
    This means that the most radical tactics tend to be coun-
    terproductive to the goal of increasing awareness and
    concern in the general public.

    When accessing the effectiveness of resistance, it is also
    important to address how effective authorities will be at
    preventing and repressing it. The record so far does not
    lead easily to enthusiasm for the most radical of the tactics
    deployed thus far. Authorities use tactics that are violent
    or can be framed as such to justify to the public at large
    spying, infiltration, disruption, and even violence against
    these movements. Such repression typically succeeds in
    eviscerating the resistance, in part because as people are
    arrested and tried, some will cooperate with the prosecu-
    tion in return for a reduced sentence.

    More than half of those arrested did just that during what Federal au-
    thorities dubbed “operation backfire,” which led to the arrests and convic-
    tion of more than two dozen Earth Liberation Front saboteurs who had
    been involved in arson cases. One of the leaders, facing life in prison under
    post-9/11 terrorism laws, committed suicide shortly after his arrest, while
    several others became fugitives. The individuals convicted drew prison
    terms ranging from 6 to 22 years. The noncooperating activists, and those
    for whom terrorism enhancements had been added to the arson charges,
    drew the longest terms.11




    At the University of California, Berkeley, protestors
    refuse to leave the last standing tree of a grove of
    mostly oaks leveled to make way for construction
    of a campus building.

    312 | State of the World 2013

    As if this were not devastating enough to the resistance, broader radi-
    cal environmental campaigns that were not using such radical tactics ebbed
    dramatically in the wake of these arrests. This was because movement activ-
    ists who were friends and allies of those arrested rallied to provide prison
    support, which then took their time and resources away from their cam-
    paigns. But it was also because the resistance community was divided over
    whether (and if so, how) to support the defendants who, to various degrees,
    cooperated with investigators. Given this history, it makes little sense to base
    strategy and tactics on such an unlikely possibility that communities of re-
    sistance will ever be able to mount a sustained campaign to bring down
    industrial civilization, even if that were a desirable objective.12

    The envisioned alternative to this objective—creating or, in the view of
    many activists, returning to small-scale, egalitarian, environmentally friendly
    lifestyles—would not be able to support the billions of people currently liv-
    ing on Earth, at least not at anything remotely like the levels of materialism
    that most people aspire to. So the most radical of the resistance prescriptions
    would quite naturally lead to strong and even violent counter-resistance.13

    These ideologies, explicitly or implicitly, make unduly optimistic assump-
    tions about our species, including about our capacity to maintain solidarity
    in the face of governmental suppression, as well as about the human capac-
    ity for cooperation and mutual aid. To expect such behavior to become the
    norm may be conceivable, and it may be exemplified by some small-scale
    societies, but it is not something to be expected universally, let alone during
    times of social stress intensified by increasing environmental scarcity.14

    So despite the accurate assessment about the ways agricultural and in-
    dustrial societies have reduced biocultural diversity, there is little reason to
    think that the most radical resistance tactics would be able to precipitate or
    hasten the collapse of such societies. Nor is there much evidence that such
    tactics would contribute to more-pragmatic efforts to transform modern
    societies. In contrast, there is significant evidence that these sorts of tactics
    have been and are likely to remain counterproductive.

    Spiking Awareness of Biodiversity Decline
    There are, nevertheless, concrete historical examples where extralegal resis-
    tance has played a significant and even decisive role in campaigns to protect
    natural habitats and change government policies. Examples from diverse
    sites of contention around the world are documented in Ecological Resistance
    Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmental-
    ism. Many other studies have documented the successes and promise of such
    movements, as well as the failures and often-violent resistance that they face.15

    These dynamics were all present a few decades ago when activists ag-
    gressively, and often illegally, campaigned to halt deforestation in the for-

    Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? | 313

    ests of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains of the United States.
    Tree spiking, which involves putting metal or ceramic spikes in trees that are
    slated for logging, was among the most controversial of tactics. First used
    in anti-logging campaigns in Australia in the late 1970s and in Canada in
    1982, radical environmentalists took up the practice with a vengeance in the
    United States during the 1980s and early 1990s.16

    Tree spiking was a tactic that, it was hoped, when combined with block-
    ades and other forms of sabotage, would bankrupt logging companies
    believed to be engaged in unsustainable and species-threatening logging.
    Failing that, the hope was that logging would slow down when some of it
    became unprofitable due to the additional costs of removing the spikes.

    Although there have been examples of spiking leading directly to the
    quiet cancellation of a timber sale or to economic distress for a small log-
    ging company, the practice did not often, in a direct way, significantly reduce
    deforestation. It did, however, have another important impact. In a short
    period of time, the controversy it precipitated contributed significantly to
    public awareness of deforestation and related endangered species issues. As
    Mike Roselle, one of Earth First!’s cofounders, later claimed, before they be-
    gan spiking trees nobody had even heard of the ancient forests or the threats
    to them. Indeed, before these campaigns the term biodiversity was not in
    the public lexicon, nor was its value advanced in public discourse. It took
    these campaigns to bring the very idea of biodiversity and its importance
    out from obscure scientific enclaves and into public view.17

    With the occasional destruction of logging equipment, publicity stunts
    such as banner hangings, increasingly sophisticated blockades of logging
    roads, and the occupation of logging equipment or trees to prevent logging,
    public awareness of these issues grew. So did expressions of concern (and
    sometimes outrage) to public officials. In several cases, the resistance gained
    enough strength to orchestrate large protests that included mass arrests, as
    when in 1996 thousands of citizens gathered in a sparsely populated area
    of northern California to protest logging by the Pacific Lumber Company
    (PALCO) in ancient redwood groves. More than a thousand people were ar-
    rested for trespassing on land owned by the timber company.18

    This, plus a decade of resistance to PALCO’s practices, contributed to po-
    litical pressures to reduce social disruption and the loss of political support,
    and it led to heightened scrutiny and a citation to the company for violat-
    ing the law. Eventually, a deal was worked out to sell the most biologically
    precious old-growth groves to the state of California. Not long afterward,
    the company went bankrupt and was sold to another firm that promised to
    protect the remaining ancient groves and manage the rest of its forestland
    more gently.19

    This was not the only case in which blockades of logging roads or tree

    314 | State of the World 2013

    occupations, which were sustained for months and even years, forced con-
    cessions from business or resource managers or provided time for attorneys
    to win injunctions or lawsuits against the logging. Not incidentally, one ra-
    tionale for extralegal resistance is the often-accurate charge, as validated in
    the courts in responses to lawsuits, that industries or the government itself
    had broken environmental laws. Such facts allow those engaged in resistance
    to contend that they are actually displaying respect for laws by risking arrest
    and incarceration in their efforts to force companies and the government
    to obey existing statutes. And when governments and corporations see that
    they are being monitored, it contributes to improved compliance with envi-
    ronmental laws and regulations.20

    Sometimes resistance movements put so much pressure on government
    officials that major victories are won, as when the U.S. Forest Service under
    President Bill Clinton issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in 2001,
    which protected some 25 million hectares (more than 58 million acres) of
    federal forestland. Although it took more than a decade of legal battles for
    opponents of this rule to exhaust their legal challenges to it, this has become
    the law of the land. And it is inconceivable that this rule would have been
    issued without more than a decade of very strong and often disruptive re-
    sistance to the Forest Service’s timber program. Although the rule does not
    do everything that activists sought, it is a significant advance for biodiversity
    conservation in North America.21

    A Time for Resistance?
    People engaged in environmental causes around the world, including those
    who deploy resistance strategies, lose far more often than they win. But there
    are signs that direct action resistance is growing. Reports of desperate people
    resisting displacement from their lands and livelihoods for environmentally
    devastating projects justified under the rubrics of progress and development
    appear to be increasing in many regions, including in China, South America,
    Russia, and a variety of other sites. Increasingly, those resisting are threaten-
    ing or even in a few cases resorting to violence, although such movements
    have generally been the object of far more violence than they have ever used
    against others.22

    It is by no means certain that these movements will succeed or even sur-
    vive the repression by authorities that they all too typically face. This will
    depend in no small measure on whether strong, international alliances are
    established and whether repressive acts are publicized internationally. Done
    in a way that minimizes or prevents reactionary counter-resistance and
    that does not lead to widespread public revulsion, ecological resistance has
    played and can continue to play a valuable and important role in environ-
    mental protection and sustainability.23

    Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means? | 315

    Indeed, direct action resistance can bring attention to issues in a way that
    electoral politics and lobbying cannot. It can inspire action and apply politi-
    cal pressure on corporate and governmental officials. Like a rowdy audience
    or angry coach riding a referee, it can affect the decisions that are made and
    even whether officials will enforce the law. More significant in the long term
    is that such resistance may even contribute to shifting the center of public
    debate more toward the positions of environmentalists.

    That mainstream environmental organizations and actors are reticent
    to acknowledge the positive role of resistance is understandable. After all,
    they work within the system and by its rules, and it would seem hypocritical
    to work for laws, policies, and enforcement mechanisms while refusing to
    abide by society’s existing laws. Yet there are many examples of individu-
    als and groups honored today for obeying the overwhelming majority of
    existing laws while protesting highly consequential and exceptionally harm-
    ful immoral laws. Martin Luther King, Jr., for one, claimed that disobeying
    unjust laws and facing the consequences for doing so actually expresses the
    highest regard for the importance and value of the law as an institution.24

    In August 2011, journalist and activist Bill McKibben and his group 350
    .org orchestrated a protest at the White House demanding action and lead-
    ership by the United States on climate change. The action led to 143 arrests
    that same day and over a thousand that month. Most prominent among
    those arrested was James Hansen, the head of the National Aeronautics and
    Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It was not Han-
    sen’s first arrest, for he had become so alarmed about climate change and the
    government’s anemic response that he had decided the time for resistance
    had come. In 2013, more such protests are being organized.25

    But how much more powerful these protests would be if there were a
    march on Washington comparable to those during the civil rights era and
    involving thousands of arrests by individuals demanding action on climate
    change? And how much more powerful yet if similar marches took place
    in Brussels, Beijing, Brasília, London, Moscow, Cairo, Pretoria, and other
    centers of power around the planet? Of course, there have been some large
    demonstrations already, beginning most notably with the anti-globalization
    protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 and
    continuing at other such international meetings. But the complaints and
    demands in these cases were diluted, ultimately unspecific, and thus easier
    to ignore. Climate change protest could provide a unifying focus for forcing
    global changes toward sustainability. Indeed, as there are many precedents
    where “people power” has toppled regimes, the global nature of the threat
    posed by climate change certainly makes it feasible that social protest and
    unrest could force concerted action on the part of targeted governments
    and businesses.

    316 | State of the World 2013

    Arguably, such protests would be all the more effective if they were
    protracted and scrupulously nonviolent, while also disrupting business as
    usual. Social disruption is often a prerequisite to concessions by political
    elites. Yet for such a dramatic, global movement of conscience to arise and
    gather strength, there would need to be leadership from the most power-
    ful environmental organizations, alliance building by them and the world’s
    religious communities, and careful planning regarding the kind of public
    theater that would be the most effective. Given how high the stakes are, and
    how slow the global response has been, it is reasonable to ask whether the
    time has come for the most prominent and respected environmental orga-
    nizations and individuals to add another dimension to their advocacy for
    environmental sanity: direct action resistance.

    If there are regrets in the struggle for sustainability among those who
    know the facts and the stakes involved, it may well be akin to the musings
    of Henry David Thoreau. Toward the end of his life, after noting how out-
    of-step he was with the conventional wisdom of his day, he commented, “If
    I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon
    possessed me that I behaved so well?” That is a timely question for us all.26

    c h a p t e r 2 9

    The Promises and Perils
    of Geoengineering

    Simon Nicholson

    Simon Nicholson is an assistant
    professor in the School of In-
    ternational Service at American
    University in Washington, DC.

    Over the last handful of years, a set of radical ideas that have long been
    confined to the fringes of climate change discussions have begun to edge
    toward center stage. The ideas are known collectively as geoengineering pro-
    posals—sweeping technological schemes designed to counteract the effects
    of planetary warming. (See Box 29–1 for a full definition.)1

    Many of the best-known geoengineering proposals read like science fic-
    tion. One widely circulated idea is to launch giant mirror arrays or sunshades
    into near-Earth orbit, in an attempt to reflect some amount of solar radia-
    tion. Other lines of research suggest that a similar effect could be achieved
    by depositing fine reflective particles of sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere or
    by deploying a host of ocean-going ships to spray cloud-whitening saltwater
    high into the sky. At the same time there are ongoing efforts to develop vast
    machines designed to suck carbon dioxide (CO

    ) out of the air, to produce

    carbon-capturing cement, to lock carbon into soil, and to perfect the drop-
    ping of massive quantities of soluble iron into the oceans to encourage great
    carbon-inhaling blooms of plankton.2

    Yet even while many geoengineering proposals sound fantastical, the
    field is beginning to receive sustained attention from serious people and
    groups. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has con-
    vened expert meetings to consider the topic. So too have other important
    scientific bodies around the world. In the United States, government agen-
    cies from the Pentagon to the Department of Energy have advocated that
    federal dollars be devoted to geoengineering research, and research teams
    in universities and the private sector in many countries are looking to move
    beyond theorizing about global climate control to technological develop-
    ment and deployment.3

    Even as sober a scientific voice as President Obama’s chief science advi-
    sor, John Holdren, who in 2007 had claimed that “belief in technological
    miracles is generally a mistake,” seems to have come at least partly around.

    Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,
    DOI 10.5822/ 978-1-61091-458-1_29, © 2013 by Worldwatch Institute


    318 | State of the World 2013

    Holdren suggested in 2009, when asked about the
    geoengineering option, that “we don’t have the
    luxury of taking any approach off the table. . . .We
    might get desperate enough to want to use it.”4

    Dreams of weather and climate control are
    hardly new. Ancient traditions had a variety of
    rituals aimed at calling forth favorable weather.
    Since the beginning of the science age, numerous
    attempts have been made to create or dissipate
    rain, to still hurricanes, and to manage ice flows.
    This has not always been a venerable undertaking.
    Weather and climate manipulation has through-
    out history been a field replete with more than
    its share of tricksters and dreamers. Today a fresh
    cadre of would-be climate engineers is emerging.
    They have newly honed scientific understandings,
    increasing amounts of money, and strengthening
    political winds at their backs. So what, then, is to
    be made of geoengineering? Is it a new form of
    hucksterism? A dangerous folly? Or does geoengi-
    neering have some ultimately positive role to play
    in the transition to a sustainable future?5

    Answering such questions is hardly straightfor-
    ward. One important thing to keep in mind is that
    not all geoengineering proposals are alike. A catch-
    all category like this hides some very important
    distinctions. Some geoengineering ideas threaten
    to unleash extraordinarily high environmental
    or social costs or promise to concentrate political

    power in a troubling fashion. Other proposals, if developed in sensible and
    sensitive ways, hold out some real hope for a world adjusting to a changing
    climate. Making sense of geoengineering demands a separation of the reality
    from the hype—and a separation of the ideas that are altogether too risky
    from those that appear a good deal more benign.

    A Look at the Geoengineering Landscape
    In November 2007, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    (NASA) hosted a meeting of handpicked scientists at the Ames Research
    Center in San Francisco, California. The meeting was called to look at the
    innocuous-sounding enterprise of “managing solar radiation.”6

    The gathering brought together an array of geoengineering luminaries.
    While their main goal was development of a scientific research agenda for

    A straightforward definition of geoengineeering comes
    from an influential report issued by the United King-
    dom’s Royal Society in 2009. Geoengineering, says the
    report, is any “deliberate large-scale manipulation of the
    planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic
    climate change.”

    Building on this definition, there are—as physicist
    David Keith has noted—two key aspects that must
    delineate a geoengineering enterprise: scale and intent.
    By these criteria, sending giant mirrors into orbit is
    clearly a geoengineering activity. So would be the drop-
    ping of thousands of tons of iron into the oceans or the
    introduction of hundreds of tons of sulfate particles into
    the stratosphere.

    Other activities fall in a gray zone. An individual
    installing a reflective white roof on a house gets a check
    mark for “intent,” but such an activity fails, by Keith’s
    criteria, to qualify as a geoengineering effort because
    of limited “scale.” The same can likely be said of a single
    coal-fired power plant that attempts to capture and
    sequester some portion of its emitted carbon. On the
    other hand, if a coordinated nationwide or international
    effort were made to install white roofs, or if a regulatory
    move required carbon sequestration from coal-fired
    power plants, then activity would be prompted at a
    large-enough scale to constitute geoengineering.

    Source: See endnote 1.

    Box 29–1. Defining Geoengineering

    The Promises and Perils of Geoengineering | 319

    this developing field, a central theme over the two days of conversation was
    impatience and frustration with the traditional suite of measures put for-
    ward to tackle climate change. United Nations–sponsored political negotia-
    tions, carbon trading schemes, attempts to promote alternative energies—
    all were seen by those in attendance as doomed to fail or to be progressing
    far too slowly to avert disaster.7

    In this, the tone of the Ames meeting echoed a message from a partic-
    ularly influential geoengineering paper in 2006 by Nobel prize–winning
    chemist Paul Crutzen. There, Crutzen had labeled attempts by policymakers
    to bring about reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as “grossly
    unsuccessful.” He went on to call the hope that emissions could be brought
    under control rapidly enough to prevent widespread climate catastrophe a
    “pious wish.”8

    Such views are the entry point into the world of geoengineering. By just
    about any available measure, the climate situation is worsening. As Arctic ice
    melts, sea levels rise, wildfires increase in frequency and severity, and storms
    worsen, there is a growing sense in influential quarters that political and
    social strategies aimed at reducing GHG emissions are proving hopelessly
    ineffective. The stage is set for a shift in focus to dramatic, technology-based
    climate stabilization measures.

    The technological strategi