Since 1900, the world has been creating energy inefficient economies and infrastructure dependent on a cheap oil subsidy that nature is now withdrawing. The subsidy led not only to energy inefficiency, but as well to the inefficient use of virtually all natural resources including water, land, forests, fisheries, soils, waste disposal, and minerals. It also supported an unsustainable six-fold increase in the human population and, for countries like the United States, the unsustainable global projection of military power to secure access to a disproportionate share of the world’s resources—particularly to oil.

Oil substitutes are an essential, but only partial solution. The greater attention must go to eliminating the inefficiencies the oil subsidy has supported and bring ourselves into balance with Earth’s natural systems.

According to the consensus recommendation of the scientific community, to stabilize green house gases we must achieve a global reduction in green house gas emissions of 80 percent. Given the disproportionate responsibility of the United States for existing emissions, to fulfill our share of the overall responsibility our target must be closer to 90 percent. Business as usual is not an option.

Crucial Steps

Crucial steps toward ecological balance include :

Compact Communities: Personal transportation accounts for another major portion of U.S. energy inefficiency because of land use patterns that create auto dependence, fragment our lives, and destroy community. Rational transportation policies and the reconfiguration of our use of physical space to bring home, work, school, shopping, and recreation into close proximity can eliminate the need for most private vehicles, recover land needed for agriculture, forests, and natural habitat, and help restore the relationships of community essential to human well-being and happiness.

Local Living Economies: Healthy ecosystems are everywhere locally rooted, diverse, largely self-reliant in nutrients and solar energy capture, exquisitely adaptive to local conditions, and use local resources efficiently and sustainably to optimize the well-being of all their members. A livable human future depends on sweeping economic restructuring to create a planetary system of local living economies that mimic these positive dynamics of healthy ecosystems. Economic localization will build community, strengthen sense of attachment to place, eliminate wasteful movement of resources, goods and people, and create incentives for each locality to live within its means and to invest in restoring the health of its local natural regenerative systems.

Living Buildings: Building construction and maintenance account for a major portion of U.S. energy inefficiency. To meet our target of a 90 percent reduction in green house gas emissions, all new construction will need to meet the living building standard, which requires that buildings be at minimum environmentally neutral and preferably make a net positive contribution to energy production and to clean air and water. We will also need an ambitious program aimed at retrofitting existing homes and buildings.

Smart SecurityWaging war and maintaining the capacity to wage war are the most destructive and unproductive of human activities. Ending war and dismantling the capacity to wage war can yield an enormous social and environmental peace dividend. Consider the case of the United States, which accounts for roughly half of world military expenditures.  We face no conventional military threat. The use of conventional military force against unconventional enemies only creates new unconventional enemies, as demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan and thereby undermines security.

Our most credible security threats come from weather chaos, oil dependence, disruption of food supplies, water scarcity, social breakdown (including organized terrorism) born of extreme inequality, and a collapsing dollar. A rational policy would advance a global initiative to renounce war as an instrument of foreign policy, limit our military to a predominantly civilian National Guard home defense force, ala Switzerland, and redirect the human and material resources of the armaments industry to environmental rejuvenation, education, health care, and increasing the energy efficiency of human habitats.

Demographic Transition: In a full world with a commitment to equity, every addition to the population reduces the per capita share of resources and increases social tension. Nature has its own mechanisms for correcting population imbalances through the Malthusian solution of plague, famine, and intraspecies violence. Population issues are complex and politically controversial, but we ignore them at our peril. We can leave it to nature to set the upper limit on population size or we can act as a species to manage a demographic transition to a balance between human numbers and our available environmental niche as an act of conscious collective will.