Like the addicts we are, we must recognise that we can only cure ourselves if we first recognise our addiction.
The ‘cure’ lies in the first law of sustainability, as stated below, and the One Planet Equation,
1 = P*C*RI Where P = population (growth), C = consumption (growth) and RI = resource intensity.
We have to reduce the resource intensity (RI) by the factor P*C to keep the equation equal to 1
It is generally thought that the population will reach about 9 billion by 2050 a factor of 1.5 from today. Consumption (Growth) is anyone’s guess from the levels we are experiencing to the 9-10% of China and India, then P*C could become 1.5 * 1.1 to the power 45 – about 100 (2005 calculation) and many argued then that many choke points had already been passed)
We have to reduce the resource intensity of products and services by about; at least 6 and possibly 100 by 2050 Possibilities to change the situation by changing the population will be in vain on this timescale.
Even though climate change and resource scarcity will lead to substantial reduction in the world population, these will not be the ones with the highest per capita consumption. Having accepted this then the only way forward is to apply research, legislation, incentives and ingenuity to drive down, as fast as possible, the resource intensity of goods and services.
Only in this way can we have economic growth and the increasing availability of goods and services.
From this point all decisions must be based on whether, on the balance of probabilities, actions will lead to the reduction of energy and resource intensity and contribute to the actual, rather than the perceived needs and well-being of individuals.
First Law of Sustainability
Dr Albert Bartlett Arithmetic, Population and Energy- abridged Says
“What’s the first law of sustainability? You’ve heard thousands of people talking endlessly about sustainability; did they ever tell you the first law? Here it is, population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained. That’s simple arithmetic. “
In keeping with the one planet equation, I prefer to state it more positively, as “In a resource constrained environment, goods and services can only grow at the rate at which Resource Intensity can be reduced.”
The One Planet Equation is not to be interpreted as an exact mathematical formula but a mind model that relates the availability of resources and their consumption.
It is only valid if a resource is constrained. When a resource is constrained then both sides of the equal sign must remain equal to one, and as total resource use is equal to the number of people consuming them and the amount of the constrained resource in each unit of consumption, P*C.
At the choke point of resource availability we have 1 total population and 1 total resource use so P*C=1 but as they grow, they grow just like money in a bank, at a compound, or exponential rate.
To keep P*C=1 as they grow then we have to introduce a factor 1/P*C, the resource intensity, to keep the total equal to one.
It is essential to realise that this is only a mind model and in the real world different people are consuming at different rates and P*C is an aggregated total.
The implication is clear though, that if we want populations to have an increasing access to goods and services, the amount of resource per unit of consumption, per capita, resource intensity must be continually reduced and leads to the first law of sustainability. That
‘in a resource constrained environment, goods and services can only grow at the rate at which Resource Intensity can be reduced’. e.g. CD’s to music downloads, physical mobility to tele and video-conferencing.
This leads to the first thought when attempting to reduce resource intensity – can a product be transformed into a service?
Note – the above argument masks the inequity in per capita consumption between people and societies.
Inheriting the Future
It seems clear that organisations have to consider the implications of the need to reduce resource intensity, in line with the one planet equation, which requires transformational change brought about by ‘quality’ thinking.
Strategic consideration of the appropriateness of a business model in the light of the first law of sustainability – ‘that in a resource constrained environment, goods and services can only grow at the rate at which they can be dematerialised’ must be continually undertaken.
At the present time this is not the way organisations are looking at the future – but wishing and hoping that things will return to ‘normal’. This is not possible as yesterday’s ‘normal’ has proved to be but a trick with smoke and mirrors.
Of course, underlying all this is the reality that the ‘least resource intense process is the one that doesn’t exist’ and that in the future Doing the Right Thing will require ‘dematerialising’ many products and services to zero.
The societies and organisations that recognise this and ‘keep ahead of the oil curve’ will be the ones who inherit the future.