Reforming the human economic system is quite a challenge, but it is one that must be met in order to establish a sustainable society. Today, the love for money and the pursuit of wealth takes more and more priority over the search for equity, liberty, justice, compassion, peace, happiness, or grace. Unless this policy of mindless acquisition is changed, many endangered species and our environment will suffer.
What we can do about this situation is to make a well-planned transition to a steady-state economic system. All this suggests is a change from a system for continual growth into a system appropriate for a sustainable society. It will be difficult, but not impossible. In fact, the greatest obstacle is only the inability of decision makers to take action! Economists and politicans sometimes behave as if the world and its resources were infinite. However, the truth is that continual growth will only lead to an ecosystem collapse, where all species, including humans, will be the victims.
So what can we do about it? Apply the brakes to material growth of the economy. Conserve and re-use what we already have. Stop paving over new land and try redeveloping older areas or city slums. Do not clear more land for farming; instead, improve it on existing cropland. Instead of opening new mines, recycle everything more. Make durability the goal of manufacturing. Exchange ingenuity and technological innovation for brute force. Focus on conservation, not convenience. Learn to extract more from each unit of energy and material. Expand economic sectors that use less of Earth's physical resources (such as the computer industry), and shrink the wasteful sectors.
If we can't follow these rules, compensate. Return little used and overgrazed land to nature. Make parks into naturally vegetated species-dense areas. These are proposals that city or local governments can take on. Think about it. You could spark protection, conservation, and beautification projects all across your area, province, and country!
But what is most highly required is a drastic retreat from overdevelopment. This could in turn help poorer countries to develop. For example, it has been estimated that if the U.S.A. were to cut its per capita energy consumption in half, making more energy available to less wealthy nations, it would only move the country to the level of energy use it had in 1940. Cars would be a little smaller, but the air would be cleaner, life longer, and the American ecosystem in better health. The energy saved by each individual American would be enough to double the energy available to 175 people in Bangladesh.
Richer countries could also help save the environment by helping other nations economically. Sound crazy? It's not. For instance, if the United States were to fiancially back Brazil's planned system of rainforest reserves, it could be return billions of dollars to the U.S. Climatic changes that would surely accompany the destruction of the Brazilian rainforests would be avoided, which otherwise would have reduced American agricultural productivity, saving more than $40 billion in export sales in 1980.
The environment does not follow national, geographic, or racial segregations. It does not follow such dividing lines as politics, economics, or war. What happens on this Earth affects Americans, Asians, Europeans, Africans, Australians, South Americans, and Antarcticans equally. So it might be wise to take notice of what environmental destruction is going on in the Brazilian tropics or the Sahara Desert or the Australian outback or the Chinese forests, because in the end, it all comes back to us.