Economic system leads humanity to a cliff-edge

Human activities are now killing so much of the natural world that biological diversity in dozens of regions of the globe has fallen to dangerous levels, threatening the stability of ecosystems and their ability to support human societies, according to a global ecosystem assessment.

The study, published in Science and led by researchers from University College London (UCL), the UK’s Natural History Museum and UNEP-WCMC, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, shows that “exploitation of terrestrial systems”— referring to the dominant culture’s extractive approach to land use, from mining to “development” to industrial agriculture — has pushed biodiversity below “safe” levels. Once ecological systems lose a critical number of species they no longer function properly, with deleterious consequences for soil and water quality, maintaining the flow of nutrients, the continuation of healthy life cycles, and therefore much of the substance on which human life and health depends.

“This is the first time we’ve quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists,” explained Dr Tim Newbold from UCL.

This stark warning for humanity is accompanied by news from the UN that the worldwide extraction of materials has tripled in the last four decades, intensifying climate change and air pollution — and also by an authoritative call from the Rockefeller Foundation and The Lancet for a sea change in governance to avoid a global health emergency. Their report notes that “we have been mortgaging the health of future generations to realise economic and development gains in the present”.

Meanwhile, clear and quantified evidence shows that conservation and ecological protection methods tend to counter the destruction, allowing a greater diversity of species to thrive, as do ecological approaches to agriculture.

These reports and others suggest a growing consensus among planetary and systems scientists, religious leaders, activists and practitioners of sustainable living that society must effect a transformation of the global economy from a system that requires extraction, pollution, oppression, biocide and ecocide (and the cultural acceptance of those crimes against peace, with associated psychological damage and denial), into one that thrives on regeneration, cooperation, sharing and nurturing.

Extensive research on such alternative economic systems has so far been dismissed or disregarded by policy-makers and international bodies.

The question on many analysts’ lips, which now must be asked and answered in public discourse if we are to survive, is how to replace the existing system of global economic governance with one that vigorously promotes the development and implementation of the best locally regenerative economic systems.

Image credit: Tar sands, Alberta, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

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