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3. Economic logic requires that we maximize the productivity of the limiting factor in the short run and invest in increasing its supply in the long run.

This is common sense. If you have a distribution system and the roads are falling apart but you have abundant supplies of gasoline and trucks, you fix the roads. The only way to maximize natural-capital productivity is to change consumption and production patterns. Inasmuch as 80% of the world receives only 20% of the resource flow, it is likely that the majority will require more consumption, not less. The industrialized world will need to radically improve resource productivity, both at home and abroad, so that there does not have to be a reduction in quality of life.

4. When the limiting factor changes, behavior that used to be economic becomes uneconomic. Economic logic remains the same, but the pattern of scarcity in the world changes; the result is that behavior must change if it is to remain economic.

That last proposition does more than any other to explain the despair and excitement on both sides of the issue. On the environmental side, scientists are frustrated that business does not understand the basic dynamic involved in the degradation of biological systems. For business, it seems unthinkable, if not ludicrous, that you cannot extrapolate the future from the past and continue with present methods. In this intensely uncomfortable phase, people recognize, one by one, that economic activities that were once successful can no longer lead to a prosperous future. In itself, that recognition has caused polarization, frustration, anger, and name-calling. At the same time, it is already fueling the next industrial revolution.

The patterns of change that underlie natural capitalism appear to be the only known way to improve ecological health, create net economic growth, and provide meaningful employment in a world where one-third of the workforce—1 billion people and increasing—is marginalized, with no decent work or no work at all. It has been said that people are the only species without full employment. And we are also striving earnestly to make this ever more so, jettisoning people to create one more wave of short-term profits. The zeal to eliminate people is rooted in an obsolete industrialism designed for the bygone world of scarce people, general poverty, sparse technology, and abundant nature. The success of industrialism and capitalism has largely reversed those conditions. Today, continuing to deplete natural capital to make fewer people more productive and more people unemployed exhausts both the environment and society. Its logic is backward—using more of what we have less of (natural capital) to use less of what we have more of (people). The result is massive waste on three fronts: overstressed resources and hence deteriorating living systems, underworked or overworked (either way, harried and disrespected) people, and the expenditure of vast sums expended to try to cope with the costs of both.

Civilization in the 21st century is imperiled by three main problems: civil societies' dissolution into lawlessness and despair, the deteriorating capacity of the natural environment to support life, and the dwindling of the public purse needed to address these problems and reduce human suffering. All three megaproblems share a cause: waste. Its systematic correction is a common solution, equally unacknowledged yet increasingly obvious.



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