This current sustainability issues that we are faced with will be a fascinating turning point for mankind. It has the potential to markedly change human behavior.


Our current unsustainable trajectory is not a consequence of specific environmental factors, but rather a consequence of human behaviour. All throughout history, human civilizations have collapsed due to being incapable of living in harmony with their environment – they extend themselves too far. They have consumed and consumed, until they find themselves living beyond their limits and the result is collapse (for those interested take a look at Jared Diamond’s TED talk. I’ve also just started his book, which is fantastic). However, I will be writing soon about my understanding that if collapse happened today it will be significantly different to any other example in history.


For whatever reason, unlike the majority of species on our planet, we are unable to form a sustainable relationship with our environment and surrounds. We grow rapidly and thus consume more rapidly. Perhaps it is our mastery of the environment (tools like medicine and technology) that enables us to escape some of the population limiting factors that other species are subject to such as disease and predators.


You have to wonder what this means for us in the long-term. In time, will we learn how to live within our means, or will we continue to repeat our growth-collapse paradigm? And that’s why I am so curious to see how this situation pans out. There are a few scenarios I can see in this context.


Scenario One: We radically change our consumptive habits and lifestyles such that we can live sustainably and within the limits of our planet (perhaps learning from certain indigenous peoples who have managed this). A transition is made (not without considerable bumps along the way) and we move away from the nature of past human societies that have caused their own downfall. Basically, we learn.


Scenario Two: We fail to address the environmental, economic and energy challenges we currently face and experience a collapse like past human civilizations have (albeit far more dramatic and global). The suffering and loss that follow drills home the lesson that living beyond our limits is unsustainable, as it always has been, and we adjust our behaviour accordingly. Prosperity, rather than growth, becomes the goal.


Scenario Three: As above, but as we learn how to utilize our (now rather more limited) resources again and there is growth, we again wind up living beyond our means. The lesson is lost and human behaviour does not change as we continue to be insatiable consumers.


If one were to take a Darwinian view of this, then perhaps those humans who have evolved to live within the limits of the planet will be the ones that survive and flourish. I am interested in some of the indigenous peoples (such as the Australian aboriginals) who have survived for many millennia, and for whom living in equilibrium with their environment is a fundamental part of their culture. By comparison, modern civilization fuelled by science and technology is only a few hundred years old. Is the inclination towards the growth-collapse paradigm one that makes us fundamentally flawed as a species? An obsession with growth will always cause problems in a finite world (unless you’re an economist).


However this all plays out, there’s no doubt that we are living through a fascinating period in human history. Our TV culture makes it easy to miss, but dig a little deeper and you realize that we are living through the greatest financial crisis (in scale) in human history, are approaching the limits of nonrenewable energy sources that we have relied on for so long. These are challenges that we have no experience of, which may sound scary, but we do all have the opportunity to shape how our future plays out – it’s just a matter of whether we choose to take that opportunity.


Can we reverse the habit of a lifetime (of our species) and learn to live in equilibrium with our environment? I can’t wait to see how it all plays out…