“Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”
Vice President Richard Cheney, 2001
I have begun wonder lately whether anything I personally do can be considered sustainable. I live at 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and I’m in the process of converting my home to a zero energy standard powered completely off-grid with a hybrid wind and solar system and transforming my 3 acres into model of permaculture capable of providing all of our food requirements. At a personal level that seems “sustainable” and at least provides a sense of satisfaction and security, however from a global perspective of 6.7 billion people it amounts to nothing more than a personal fortress. A fragile island of self-sufficency, in a world racing toward ecological overshoot and collapse.
Is Cheney right about conservation being no more than a virtue? Is what we do at a personal level no more than a greener than thou ego fantasy? Is nothing we do personally sustainable in the larger context of a growing pop of 6.7 billion people and the equivalent 2 to 3 more earths required support a Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian population determined to achieve the American standard of consumption?
It is likely that we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth. The point at which the combination of the world’s population and that population’s average level of consumption exceeds the capability of the earth to provide sustenance. Individual actions to achieve a sustainable level of consumption are no longer meaningful. Actions and policies of entire countries are only slightly more meaningful.
I don’t agree with world view embedded in Cheney’s cynical quote, however one word speaks to the truth. Our continued survival on this planet will depend on a comprehensive world policy of sustainability and living within our planet’s carrying capacity and that policy must address and include the politically explosive issue of population growth.