The Wellsprings

If incomes are such weak generators of well-being in our more affluent societies, what things do produce happiness and unhappiness Most important, it appears that our genes do. Some of us are just congeni-tally happy or unhappy. Our genes seem to account for about half the variation in individual happiness. Regarding things that can be changed, unemployment getting laid off is devastating to one 's sense of well-being. For many, even finding a new job does not restore well-being to former...

The Bridge at the Edge of the World

For those of my generation, the quest for answers to the challenges addressed in this book is nearing its end, but for today's young people it is just beginning. We do indeed borrow the earth from our children. If only my generation could say that we are returning it to them a better place than we found it. In truth, we have continued to purchase prosperity at an enormous cost to the natural world and to our human solidarity as well. But what's past is past. It cannot be undone or remade. The...

Losing Marine Fisheries

The negative impact that human societies are having on the health of marine fisheries and on the world's oceans and estuaries generally is difficult to exaggerate. In 1960, 5 percent of marine fisheries were fished to capacity or overfished. Today that number is 75 percent. The global catch of fish has gone down steadily since 1988 (taking the highly volatile Peruvian anchoveta catch, the chief supply of fishmeal, out of the calculation) 9 In 2003, scientists reported that populations of large...

Losing Freshwater

It has been said that there are alternative sources of energy, but there are no alternatives to water. There are several dimensions to what has correctly been called the world water crisis.40 First, there is the crisis of natural watercourses and their attendant wetlands. No natural areas have been as degraded by human activities as freshwater systems. Natural water courses and the vibrant life associated with them have been extensively affected by dams, dikes, diversions, stream...

Losing the Land

Desertification involves more than spreading deserts. It includes all the processes that degrade productive land, eventually turning it into wasteland. Soil erosion, salinization, devegetation, and soil compaction can all be involved. The process is most prevalent in arid and semiarid areas, which cover about 40 percent of the planet's land surface. These lands account for about a fifth of the world's food production. About a fourth of the developing world's people some 1.3 billion in all live...

Losing the Forests

About half of the world's temperate and tropical forests have already been lost, mostly to clear land for agriculture. Deforestation contributes to species loss, climate change, loss of economic value, landslides, flooding, and soil depletion. Forest loss has been particularly serious in the tropics, home to about two-thirds of our planet's plant and animal species. In recent decades, the rate of deforestation in the tropics has been about an acre each second, a pattern that continued unabated...

The World We Live In

To assess environmental performance to date, it is useful to distinguish two sets of environmental challenges. A set of predominantly local and regional concerns drove the first Earth Day in 1970. The insults then were acute and obvious air pollution water pollution strip mining clearcutting dam building and river channelization nuclear power loss of wetlands, farmland, and natural areas massive highway building programs urban sprawl destructive mining and grazing practices toxic dumps and...

Modus Operandi

The world of today's environmentalism is a world many will know well. It is a world of environmental impact statements and environmental regulations of many types of good subsidies (wind energy) enacted by Congress to balance bad ones (fossil fuels) of cost-benefit analysis and analysis of risks of environmental disclosure requirements such as the Toxics Release Inventory of citizen suits and government enforcement actions in court of international cooperation, conventions, and protocols of...

Looking into the Abyss

If you take an honest look at today's destructive environmental trends, it is impossible not to conclude that they profoundly threaten human prospects and life as we know it on the planet. That is the abyss ahead. Robert Jay Lifton has said, If one does not look into the abyss, one is being wishful by simply not confronting the truth. . . . On the other hand, it is imperative that one not get stuck in the abyss.1 Confronting the truth about environmental conditions and trends is the first step....

The Corporation Changing the Fundamental Dynamics

Corporations are the principal actors on capitalism's stage. They are capitalism's most important institutions, perhaps the most important institutions of our time. If capitalism is a growth machine, corporations are doing the growing. If growth is destroying the environment, then corporations are doing most of the destroying. In the United States, growth and capitalism have few critics. But corporations, in contrast, are fair game. They have been in the crosshairs of social critics for...

Real Growth Promoting the Well Being of People and Nature

Has America's pursuit of growth and ever-greater material abundance brought true happiness and satisfaction in life Happiness is a complicated subject. Almost everyone wants to be happy and lead a life of genuine satisfaction. Yet many major works of art and literature and many of the deepest insights have in fact been products of unhappy, even tormented minds. Moreover, happiness can and does have many meanings. Concepts of happiness range all the way from a shallow, hedonistic pursuit of...

Global Environmental Threats

Biotic impoverishment and resource scarcity Toxification and threats to public health Source From James Gustave Speth and Peter M. Haas, Global Environmental Governance 2006 , 19 Source From James Gustave Speth and Peter M. Haas, Global Environmental Governance 2006 , 19 scientist in the British government believe that climate change is the most severe problem the world faces, bar none.5 Scientists know that the greenhouse effect is a reality without the naturally occurring heat-trapping gases...

An Automatic Correction

Another reason for concern about the growth coming our way is the absence of adequate natural self-correcting forces within the economy. One area of hope in this regard has been the natural evolution of technology. The economy of the future will not be identical to that of the past because technology is changing. It is creating opportunities to reduce materials consumed and wastes produced per unit of output it is opening up new areas and new products that are lighter, smaller, more efficient....

To Grow or Not To Grow

Does it make sense to challenge economic growth directly Most people would say no, and they fall generally into two camps. First, there are those who see economic growth as an unalloyed good. Recall from Chapter 1 the worldview of Market World. Those with this Promethean and cornucopian perspective have faith in free markets and competition to resolve problems. They tend to see nature as boundless and thus unlikely to exercise significant constraints over human action. Economic growth, in their...

The Root Causes

To sum up, we live in a world where economic growth is generally seen as both beneficent and necessary the more, the better where past growth has brought us to a perilous state environmentally where we are poised for unprecedented increments in growth where this growth is proceeding with wildly wrong market signals, including prices that do not incorporate environmental costs or reflect the needs of future generations where a failed politics has not meaningfully corrected the market's...

Losing Biodiversity

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, has three dimensions the genetic variety within a given species the millions of individual species of plants, animals, and microorganisms and the diversity of different types of ecosystems such as alpine tundra, southern hardwood bottomlands, or tropical rain forests. An alarming global homogeniza-tion and simplification of biodiversity is occurring at all three levels. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Stephen Meyer has offered this...

Overfertilizing with Nitrogen

Earth's atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, but it is not biologically active. Bacteria such as those associated with legumes fix nitrogen, changing it to a biologically active form, which plants can use. But we humans have started fixing nitrogen also. Today, the man-made nitrogen comes primarily from two sources about 75 percent from fertilizers and 25 percent from fossil fuel combustion. At present humans are fixing as much nitrogen as nature does. Once fixed, nitrogen remains active for a long...

Acknowledgments

I am heavily indebted to the insights of many people and to the reviews of friends and colleagues, all of which I acknowledge with gratitude. The list of those who provided constructive comments and contributions to the manuscript is long indeed Dean Abrahamson, Paul Anastas, William Baumol, Seth Binder, Jean Thomson Black, Jessica Boehland, Alan Brewster, Peter Brown, Benjamin Cashore, Roger Cohn, Robert Dahl, Herman Daly, John Donatich, Laura Jones Dooley, William Ellis, Rhead Enion, Laura...