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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Providing for 7 billion. Or not.

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By John Schwartz Feb 15 2018 read full NY Times article here

Can we provide good lives for the seven billion people on Earth without wrecking the planet? Daniel O’Neill of the University of Leeds and colleagues asked this enormous question in a recent paper in the journal Nature Sustainability and on an accompanying website.

Their answer is uncomfortable. After looking at data on quality of life and use of resources from some 150 countries, they found that no nation currently meets the basic needs of its citizens in a sustainable way. The nations of the world either don’t provide the basics of a good life or they do it at excessive cost in resources, or they fail at both….

Providing a good quality of life to everyone on the planet would require “two to six times the sustainable level for resources,” Dr. O’Neill said. “Something has to change.”

…The conclusions have caused a stir, especially in conservative circles. National Review denounced the paper as a call for “global wealth distribution,” saying “the goal clearly is a technocracy that will undermine freedom, constrain opportunity, not truly benefit the poor, and materially harm societies that have moved beyond the struggle for survival.”…


Daniel W. O’Neill, Andrew L. Fanning, William F. Lamb and Julia K. Steinberger. A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nature SustainabilityFeb 2018
Humanity faces the challenge of how to achieve a high quality of life for over 7 billion people without destabilizing critical planetary processes. Using indicators designed to measure a ‘safe and just’ development space, we quantify the resource use associated with meeting basic human needs, and compare this to downscaled planetary boundaries for over 150 nations. We find that no country meets basic needs for its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. Physical needs such as nutrition, sanitation, access to electricity and the elimination of extreme poverty could likely be met for all people without transgressing planetary boundaries. However, the universal achievement of more qualitative goals (for example, high life satisfaction) would require a level of resource use that is 2–6 times the sustainable level, based on current relationships. Strategies to improve physical and social provisioning systems, with a focus on sufficiency and equity, have the potential to move nations towards sustainability, but the challenge remains substantial.

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