What Does Your Ideal World Look Like?

Natural flows
Industrial  Flows
Industrial Flows (Image by Hubert Blanz)


If you could redesign your world any way you want, how would it look?  How big is your vision? Is it just about you, your car, your house, your travel, and your bling? Or does it involve your friends, your family, your neighbours, your town, your country, and other countries too?

What happens if you extend the vision of your ideal world 2 years, 10 years, 100 years down the line? Will that vision work if the 8 billion other people who are scheduled to share the world with you by 2020 also want the same thing? How about for the 14 billion people that may be around in 2100?

These are the kinds of questions that only a few eccentrics, scientists and philosophers posed a hundred years ago. Now, they are questions that face us all. We are coming to realize something that humans never even conceived of for thousands of years of civilization. Not only natural resources (like fossil fuel and rare earth metals) are limited, but nature’s capacity to provide us with renewable services (like providing pure groundwater, and healthy soil), as well as filter out all the waste we put out has limits too. In total, around 60% of the Earth’s Ecosystem Services (ES) have been degraded in just 50 years (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Do we want to shrug our shoulders, say who can really know at such large complicated scales, and keep inadvertently pushing the bar on this one? I, for one, don’t.

So, how, with the given way the world works, can we prevent overwhelming natural systems and potentially causing them to fail? We have come to see that when these systems do fail, the cost of clean up is mind boggling, such as when there is an oil spill, or when an entire fishery collapses, such as the cod on the Grand Banks of Canada.   As a result of realizing how tenuous the situation is, over the last few years an international movement has sprung up to monetize nature’s services.  It might not be a perfect route, and it may be fraught with issues along the way, but the idea is that it will be oh so worth it if we make the effort.

Monetizing Ecosystem Services is also the best idea I have seen to make the most effective changes the most efficiently to address global issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, and water supply in the absence of strong government leadership.

And if we don’t… well, this isn’t a blog about future doomsday scenarios. There are enough blogs on the Internet catering to that fair.  The idea here is to look around and see what we really value keeping, as well as what we can, and most likely should, change for the better.