Carrying Capacity: Rethinking Economics (The Laws of the World House)


In the midst of all our concern about the economy, taxes, the deficit, and our national debt, we have ignored the more pressing issue of whether our current forms of economic activity can be sustained by the carrying capacity of the planet. Unless and until we address this fundamental issue, we will not be able to avoid both ecological and economic collapse at some point in the near future. We are at a critical point in human civilization’s relationship with our one and only home, a point where we either understand that we have to live in balance and peace with each other and all of life, or we will see this be the century of suffering like no other.

In all of our economic, political, social, and personal choices, the time has long been here that we need to ask the critical question, “Are we relating to each other and with the rest of the planet in ways that are sustainable?” The foundations of our current social, political, and economic systems were laid at a time when the carrying capacity of the planet was not at the forefront of anyone’s minds. As Adam Smith discussed the role of the invisible hand in our economic interactions, as John Locke praised the transformation of wilderness into valuable property through human labor, as Francis Bacon dreamed of how human beings might be able to continue conquering nature through scientific advancement and technological manipulation, as René Descartes thought of non-human animals as natural machines with no intrinsic value, and as Immanuel Kant thought of the natural world simply as a means to be used for human ends; none of these foundational thinkers dreamed of the day when human activity would press against the very carrying capacity of the planet, the capacity of the planet to support human activity in a sustainable manner. But that time has come, it is here, and it has been here for some time. In the United States, we have internalized the foundations of the current paradigm in such a way that resistance against it seems to be un-American in the eyes of many who cry out that Green is the new Red, but the reality of our current situation reveals that unless we find ways to creatively transform our current economic activity towards sustainability, we will find ourselves continuing on the path towards unparalleled global suffering. For the sake of all life, we have the moral responsibility to find new and sustainable ways forward.

Earth horizon

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