You may not have noticed, but earlier this month we passed Earth overshoot day, when humanity’s demands for ecological resources and services exceeded what our planet can regenerate annually.
Ecologists on the other hand see the human economy as a subset of the biosphere. Their perspective highlights the urgency with which we need to reduce our demands on the biosphere to avoid a disastrous ecological collapse, with consequences for us and all other species.
Many degrowth scholars (as well as critics) focus on features of capitalism as the cause of this ecological overshoot. But while capitalism may be problematic, many civilisations destroyed ecosystems to the point of collapse long before it became our dominant economic model.
Capitalism, powered by the availability of cheap and abundant fossil energy, has indeed resulted in unprecedented and global biosphere disruption. But the direct cause remains the excessive volume and speed with which resources are extracted and wastes returned to the environment.
From an ecologist’s perspective, degrowth is inevitable on our current trajectory.
Ecology tells us that many species overshoot their environment’s carrying capacity if they have temporary access to an unusually high level of resources. Overshoot declines when those resources return to more stable levels. This often involves large-scale starvation and die-offs as populations adjust.
Access to fossil fuels has allowed us to temporarily overshoot biophysical limits. This lifted our population and demands on the biosphere past the level it can safely absorb. Barring a planned reduction of those biosphere demands, we will experience the same “adjustments” as other species.