I found this chart on the No Impact Man blog and I think it makes a lot of sense. It plots quality of life against consumption of planetary resources.
Obviously it’s a good thing to conserve our planet’s resources, but it’s not realistic (or even possible) to live without consuming any of Earth’s resources (stage 1 of the chart). After all, who wants to give up air conditioning, washing machines, computers, TV’s, cars, and other conveniences that modern technology provides?
But as we consume more and more resources, the benefits start to diminish and eventually quality of life starts to decline. In stage 3 of the chart, which I call hyper-consumption, we’re living as a resource hogs and our lives are overly complex and stressful.
Unfortunately, I think America has already entered stage 3. We consume resources simply because we can, and we don’t ask whether the overall impact on our lives will be positive. So, for example, our highways are clogged with millions of cars carrying one passenger each. This causes stress, wastes time, pollutes the environment, and depletes natural resources (not to mention our pocketbooks!). Maybe we would have been better off investing in really nice mass transit systems and designing cities to facilitate foot and bike traffic.
The key is to find the right balance between resource consumption and quality of life (the dot labeled “the goal” on the chart). This is a big challenge because our entire economy is built upon increasing consumption of resources. The only way we can slow down the consumption machine is to put economic incentives in place for individuals, corporations, and even government to be more responsible. For example, if each of us had to cover the true cost of operating our automobile (including resource consumption and pollution taxes) more people would choose other forms of transportation, which would encourage innovation and spawn new industries.
Just a thought…