Blake Alcott, ecological economist & pro-Palestinian activist

Ecological Economics knows that the things in the natural world we can use as resources are limited. Therefore there is a limit to both the number of people on earth and to their per-person consumption of these resources. This quantity - population x affluence - is already at least double what the natural world can provide sustainably. So the human economy must shrink. Economic 'degrowth' is imperative, whether it happens politically and humanely or chaotically and disastrously. The most honest, and only effective, way of lowering our amounts of depletion and pollution is to enact legal caps on the extraction or destruction of good things like metals, fossil fuels, topsoil, fresh water, a productive climate, natural beauty and other species.

 

After about 20 years of thinking and writing about sustainability strategies, I've come to the conclusion that strategies of resource efficiency, lifestyle sufficiency, renewables and lower population must all fail because of the rebound effect: resources temporarily saved in one area, by one strategy, are snapped up by another area, or by other consumers, overnight. Yet no human polity in the next several decades will become ready to enact the necessarily effective strategy of resource caps. Thus, sadly, it is a waste of time to work for the big issues of global environmental improvement.

 

But some 'environmental' policies, on a smaller scale, just raise quality of life. For instance: while slowing population growth or, ideally, lowering absolute human population size might not lower negative environmental impact (population x affluence), for many of us - and certainly for all non-human animals and wild plants! - the world would be more pleasant if it were less crowded by us and our infrastructures. John Stuart Mill wrote eloquently about this 150 years ago, so I guess this is relative. But still, what do you think? Polly Higgins' work to establish ecocide as an international crime is a crucial step in the right direction.

 

Another example: What if we lowered public noise levels? That might mean less fossil-fuel consumption, but it would also otherwise be halfway to bliss. Planes, cars, diesel motors, lawnmowers, leafblowers, Hilti jackhammers gotten rid of. Or: If we stick up for the rights of indigenous people - let's say the adivasi who fight bauxite mining in Odisha, India, or logging in the Penan homelands - that will also preserve a bit of nature, while enforcing the human rights of those people (assuming they do oppose such 'development'). A final example: What if we put our efforts into the beauty of public space? That would mean fewer cars, less asphalt, more reason to stay home in your 'hood. But alas, the Paris 2015 meeting watered down the valid Kyoto approach of hard caps and showed us that greenhouse emissions are not about to be lowered. So, save your energy, so to speak.

 

I now spend my time working for One Democratic State (ODS) in Palestine, for instance as a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (Cambridge branch), through writing (see my articles at Publications), and as Director of the NGO ODS in Palestine (England) Ltd. (Please visit our website.) I am also Vice-President of the Popular Movement for One Democratic State on the Land of Historic Palestine, based in the West Bank and registered as an Association in Zürich, Switzerland. I'm now making contacts with Palestinians and the solidarity scene in Istanbul (Kadiköy), Turkey, where I live. My phone numbers are [+90] 0505 976 7833  and  [+44] 079 20 437 644.

Two further book chapters: 1) 'Jevons' Paradox' in Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (Routledge, 2015), edited by Giacomo D'Alisa, Federico Demaria and Giorgos Kallis, pp 121-24. 2) 'Population Matters' in Sustainability: Key Issues (Earthscan/Routledge, 2015), edited by Helen Kopnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet.