Andrew Steer, President and CEO of World Resources Institute, considers the consumption and destruction of the world’s common resources, particularly in cities, agriculture, water and energy, and proposes a virtuous cycle of resource use rather than the current linear ‘take-make-waste’ system.
Our human economic footprint grew 20-fold in the last century. This unprecedented economic growth brought rising prosperity, poverty alleviation and the expansion of the global middle class amid falling commodity prices, despite the steep escalation of demand. This is reflective of a history of functioning markets and human progress predicated by global systems conditions like precipitation, temperature and seasonality remaining stable as they had for the past 10,000 years. But growing the economy-as-usual has reached a scale that taxes the health and sustainability of the very global common resources, the ‘environmental commons’, that have fuelled our exponential economic growth over the past century, putting them under critical risk and placing immense strain on our environmental systems.
We must preserve and reduce pressure on the global environmental commons by decoupling economic progress from its environmental footprint. But reordering the economy-as-usual that has been built over millennia requires far more than incremental change away from business-as-usual.
We need to catalyse transformative change through the creation of positive tipping points: hockeystick-type take-offs that are non-incremental, with cascading impacts that ultimately ‘tip’ our economic and social systems to reduce the strain being placed on our common resources…
President and CEO of World Resources Institute