Is it possible for human societies to achieve or maintain a high standard of living without causing significant environmental harm? As a first step in this exploration, I’m going to define a high standard of living as a situation where the basic needs of the population are taken care of and about 50% of income can go to discretionary spending. As for environmental harm, I’ll focus on the amount of land, material and energy required for the economic functions of production, consumption, and transport/delivery of goods and services. Less land, material, and energy means less environmental harm. Basic needs include adequate housing, food, transport, clothes and healthcare. Discretionary spending would be on things like more-than-adequate housing, etc., plus all the rest: entertainment, recreation, personal growth, etc. Obviously, the line between adequate and more-than-adequate is a bit arbitrary; it’s still a necessary distinction.
For the purpose of this discussion, I will assume continued economic growth is a good thing. The relatively affluent/environmentally benign society I’m trying to create won’t be like the Hobbits Shire or a Buddhist paradise; it will retain a certain edge. There will an unending quest for more and better, fueling innovation and getting young people excited. Of course, for those who are so inclined, seeking meaning and well-being by letting go of desires will still be an option. For the rest, desire, status competition, and perpetual dissatisfaction will be as per usual. But at least all will have basic housing, food, transportation, healthcare, and something to wear.
Ok, so how can we give our society the basics+ with less land, less stuff and lower carbon emissions?
To be continued....