Globalization and Sustainability: Conflict or Convergence?

Rees, William E.
Draft. Final version in: Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 22/4 (2002), pages 249-268

Unsustainability is an old problem – human societies have collapsed with disturbing regularity throughout history. I argue that a genetic predisposition for unsustainability is encoded in certain human physiological, social and behavioural traits that once conferred survival value but are now maladaptive. A uniquely human capacity – indeed, necessity – for elaborate cultural myth-making reinforces these negative biological tendencies. Our contemporary, increasingly global myth, promotes a vision of world development centred on unlimited economic expansion fuelled by more liberalized trade. This myth is not only failing on its own terms but places humanity on a collision course with biophysical reality – our ecological footprint already exceeds the human carrying capacity of Earth. Sustainability requires that we acknowledge the primitive origins of human ecological dysfunction and seize conscious control of our collective destiny. The final triumph of enlightened reason and mutual compassion over scripted determinism would herald a whole new phase in human evolution.

Humanity’s future imperiled by cultural lags

Catton, William R. Jr.
Unpublished manuscript. Translation into German published in Natur und Kultur Vol. 1/2 (2000), pages 3-25

Human societies exploiting Earth’s ecosystems beyond carrying capacity make ideas about human dominion obsolete. Formerly successful policies become disastrous. Reliance on nonrenewable resources plus widespread overfishing, overgrazing and deforestation disrupts ecosystems. With six billion humans using Earth three ways (as supply depot, activity space, and disposal site) mutual interference between these uses escalates. Technological advances, once progressive, now enlarge per capita resource appetites and impacts, reducing the number of humans the planet can continue supporting. Sustainability requires enormous efficiencies, a period of “negative population growth,” and equitable exchange relationships between differently endowed regions or nations.