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Organisms given all the food and resources they can consume will grow as individuals and then reproduce, continuing to multiplying unless constrained in some way. Thomas Malthus in 1798 published an Essay on the Principle of Population, a publication that impressed Darwin and influenced his work. Malthus claimed that human population will increase until reined in by (birth) control, famine, war, or disease.

Through history, human population gathered momentum into the Great Acceleration fed by fossil fuel energy, new technologies, industrial agriculture, mass-production and modern medicine. It now seems that, with growing affluence, women have chosen to have small families and, barring the fulfilment of existential threats like nuclear war and pandemics, the curve will flatten in the years between 2050 and 2100.

Human population growth

Any curbs on population growth are almost impossible to impose within liberal democracies, while ‘jobs and economic growth’ are nigh-impossible to trump as human political priorities. I cannot add to the endless debate on these issues except to say that if humanity is to survive into the indefinite future then it must be realized that ‘jobs and growth’, though paramount considerations, are achieved at an environmental cost that cannot be ignored. The political challenge is to achieve realistic targets in sustainability.

Economic growth

Economic activity exists within the natural economy depending on resources provided by nature as Ecosystem Services. If humanity is to survive and thrive then the demands being made on the natural economy, the human life-support system, must be carefully monitored. The designation of the Anthropocene is an indication of the degree of impact that over 7.5 billion people is having on the biosphere.

The challenge of sustainability is to protect the world for future generations to protect the human capacity to survive and thrive.

Green economy

Part of sustainability is an acknowledgement of human dependence on the natural economy. This has been known for many years as ‘sustainability economics’, ‘ecological economics’ or ‘environmental economics’ broadening the traditional compass of economics to explicitly address key social and environmental concerns by recognizing Ecosystem Services as ‘natural capital’. As reduction in natural capital and the accumulation of waste products from the human economy rapidly becoming the limiting factor in production, three general objectives have emerged as erstwhile challenges for the future:

Optimal Scale – environmentally sustainable economic growth – a ‘throughput’ that is within the assimilative and regenerative capacity of the biosphere. This requires extensive quantitative sustainability analysis

Optimal Scale – Just Distribution– a fair distribution of income and wealth at all levels and scales of global society

Efficient Allocation of Resources – based on full consideration of social, economic and environmental impacts

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