Home > Uncategorized > The magnitude of the required reductions

The magnitude of the required reductions

from Ted Trainer

It is not commonly understood how large the reductions would have to be to enable a society that is globally sustainable and just. The World Wildlife Foundation’s Footprint measure (2018) estimates the average Australian per capita use of productive land at 6–8 ha. Thus, if the 9–10 billion people expected to be on earth by 2050 were to live as Australians do now, up to 80 billion ha of productive land would be needed. But there are only about 12 billion ha of productive land on the planet. If one third of it is set aside for nature then each Australian would be living in a way that would require about 10 times as much productive land as all people could ever have. Some other measures taking into account factors such as materials consumption (Wiedmann et al., 2015) indicate higher multiples.

To this must be added the implications of growth. If the Australian GDP rises by 3% pa and by 2050 all 9–10 billion people rise to the “living standards” Australians would then have, each year the global economy would be producing and consuming about 18 times as much as it does now. Yet the present amounts are unsustainable; the WWF estimates that the global footprint is now 70% higher than the planet could sustain. This indicates that the 2050 global resource and ecological impact would be in the region of 30 times a sustainable level. (For a detailed derivation of these multiples see Trainer 2021a.)

The common assumption that technical advance can solve the resource and ecological problems without impacting on affluent living standards and economic growth has now been contradicted by a large amount of evidence. Many studies show that despite constant effort to improve productivity and efficiency the growth of GDP continues to be accompanied by growth in resource use. See for instance recent extensive refutations of the “decoupling” thesis by Hickel and Kallis, (2019), Parrique et al., (2019), and Haberl et al. (2021) reporting on several hundred papers. This evidence would seem to decisively contradict the faith of the “tech-fix”, “Green Growth” and Ecomodernist believers.

The above multiples have profound implications for thinking about sustainability and desirable social forms. The Simpler Way perspective is that solutions to the global predicament cannot be found on the supply side but must be sought in terms of lifestyles and systems involving far less demand. Needs must be met via far less production and consumption in radically different systems, as distinct from in terms of improved efficiency and technical advance. In other words, the focal issue should be what alternatives to conventional goals and means must be adopted to achieve sustainability with a high quality of life? It is now necessary to indicate the kind of lifestyles and systems that could enable this.

How resource-cheaply could we live well?

  1. July 10, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    When explorers head out, whether in the 1600’s or along interstellar pathways, the choice of crew and provisions are critical. There are no McDonald oases along the routes. We are on spaceship earth with provisions running low, waste management failing and a non-selective crew. What do we tell the presidents in the African Union or the homeless in the US urban areas?

    We can’t dismiss, with a pejorative, MTI, since many on this list are here because of the internet or modern medicine with its vaccines and cardiac stents and we can’t “de growth” within a reasonable time frame, while China has shown what happens when we send the intellectuals into the field with pick and hoe.

    Gandhi’s part in kicking the British out of India did not get the country to heed the allure of MTI and we can’t ignore the knowledge which lifted us out of the Holocene into the Anthropocene. It will take a merge of maturity and technology. As an example, there are recent studies which show that the emergence of the alternative protein technologies will severely disrupt the agricultural sector, particularly the farming of animals for human consumption. The recent analysis by the Boston Consulting Group and the publication, Rethinking food and agriculture both point to the impact on food availability, the reduction in land, water and energy and related which change the entire planetary precariousness, potentially needing to rewrite the near term collapse projected by the de Growth movement. Dealing with the human population in the same, short time, frame is not eliminated, but forestalled.

    The problems we are facing with MTI is not the technology but subject to human fallibility which has been exacerbated by the “rentire” economy which moves “wealth” from the 99% to the 1% with the same illusions that sucked individuals into “Tulip Mania” and convinced society that, today, double entry bookkeeping and debt financing can substitute for an economics based on goods, services and trade. Until the hypnotism from the allure of financialization is broken, condemnation of MTI is a misdirection.

  2. Chuck Willer
    July 11, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    I suggest that instead of average Australian consumption break consumption into some distribution among the population. Then look at low consumption segments of the population that are happy and not just poor. Or conversely, look at high consumption sectors of the population and explore if they are satisfied or happy? The footprint perspective is the wrong way to look at material consumption. Systematic analysis of capitalist production and consumption might offer cause and effect answers.

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