Ecology-EconomyLooking at the origins of words can be revealing. For example, “ecology” and “economy” are both derived from the Greek word “ecos” which means home.  Ecology is literally the study of home. Economy is the management of home.

These days, many people think of liberal scientists or tree-huggers when they hear about ecology or the environment, while the economy has become an all-important man-made deity that must be “saved” at all costs. I am dismayed when I realize that these two concepts, originally so intertwined, are now more often than not, diametrically opposed.

We’ve all heard someone say that tackling issues like climate change will be too damaging to the economy (although it will be quite the contrary). There are countless examples that illustrate how our economic priorities are exclusive of the environment.

The earth, much like our individual homes, is inextricably linked to and indeed is the very source of our economy. The recent economic meltdown is a good example of the fundamental importance of maintaining a healthy and balanced real estate market. But it is also an indicator of a deeper, more systemic problem.

The purchase of a home is often the largest single investment a family will make. When it is built on financial quicksand however, disaster becomes inevitable. The most fundamental guiding principle is to never live beyond our means. Whether it is the debilitating trap of credit card debt or the act of buying more home than one can afford, losing sight of one’s limits is never a good idea.

In a society where human beings are regularly labeled as “consumers,” perhaps it is no surprise that we fall into this trap. Consumption has become so competitive that a man was recently trampled and killed by people rushing to get bargains on cheap goods from Asia.

Now look at the bigger picture. There are 6.7 billion human beings on the planet. We are the most abundant mammals on earth. There are more humans than there are rabbits or rats. Just the basic acts of eating and drinking are enough to strain available resources, and indeed they are.

Added to our sheer numbers is the amazing array of technology that we employ, amplifying our collective impact thousands of times over. It has been estimated that it would take at least five Earths to provide the resources to meet the needs of our current population if they were all to have what we take for granted in America.

What has our consumption led to? There’s quite a list so let’s just look at a few issues concerning our oceans. Once considered a source of protein so vast to be limitless, the top oceanic predators are now nearly gone, including tuna, cod, swordfish and shark. Once we target a species of fish for market, it only takes about fifteen years to reduce their numbers by 90% due to our technology and insatiable demand. We are fishing our way down the food chain. Jellyfish, anyone?

The dead zones we’ve all heard about are growing around the world, a result of pesticides and fertilizers from industrialized farming. The slowly swirling mid-ocean gyres have become collectors for anything that does not sink – floating islands of plastic and other debris. The largest is now the size of the continental United States.

Supposedly we are the smartest species on the planet. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be redesigning our failing systems to not only halt the destruction but to heal the damage? Shouldn’t one of our primary goals be preventative health care for the Earth?

And even if you are still one of the few climate change skeptics, it is undeniable that the CO2 we’re adding to the atmosphere is acidifying the oceans, making it increasingly difficult for many marine organisms to survive. Coral reefs are disappearing and plankton, the very base of the global food chain, is in danger.

This all points to one thing – we are living beyond our means. We’ve lost sight of our limits. We’ve fallen under the spell of an economic system of our own design, telling ourselves that growth is good, growth is necessary, growth must never end. Just as the failing housing market was the tipping point for economic catastrophe, our worship at the altar of unending economic growth is tipping us toward a permanent failure of unimaginable consequences.

And it is all unnecessary. Supposedly we are the smartest species on the planet (although there is clearly evidence to the contrary). If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be redesigning our failing systems to not only halt the destruction but to heal the damage? Shouldn’t one of our primary goals be preventative health care for the Earth?

They say that people live longer and healthier when they consume fewer calories. It might make sense to use this opportunity to shift the fundamentals of our bloated economic system away from constant, cancerous growth and toward a steady state of healthy balance that includes the natural systems upon which life depends. Let’s rejoin the roots of ecology and economy to create an Ecos we can all live with.

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