Crew Commentary

The Environment is Crucial to Economic Health

Tim Rumage - Planetary Ethicist


The days of the ‘economy vs. environment’ fight are over, and really have been for several years. How do I know this? Because the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland tells me so. Since 2011 environmental factors have been in the top 5 global risks in both likelihood and impact. This year, environmental factors dominate both categories.



“Biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rate, agricultural systems are under strain and pollution of air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health.” (1)


“. . . at a global level humanity faces a growing number of systemic challenges, including fractures and failures affecting environmental, economic, technological and institutional systems on which our future rests.” (1)


“Humanity cannot successfully deal with the multiplicity of challenges we face either sequentially or in isolation.” (1)


“Humanity has become remarkably adept at understanding how to mitigate conventional risk that can be relatively easily isolated and managed with standard risk management. But we are much less competent when it comes to dealing with complex risks in the interconnected systems that underpin our world, such as organizations, economies, societies and the environment.” (1)


“When risk cascades through a complex system, the danger is not of incremental damage but of ‘runaway collapse’ or an abrupt transition to a new suboptimal status quo.” (1)


“We have to work together – that is the key to preventing crisis and making the world more resilient for current and future generations.” (1)


This is the change of consciousness that those of us at This Space Earth have been striving for – there is only one Earth and we are all on it together. For humanity to have a future that it wants, we need to think and act in terms of systems, not silos, while operating in the context, capacity and constraints of the planet. 


And while those statements may seem obvious, our planetary footprint of 1.7 earths (2), the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, air pollution, water pollution, and the extinction of 150 species per day (3) clearly indicates that collectively we are not behaving in a way that understands and acknowledges the realities of the only known planet in the universe on which we can exist.


“The environment can be humanity’s greatest friend or, if poorly managed, our most implacable foe.”  Achim Steiner (4)                                                                                                                                    

“The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”  President Theodore Roosevelt (5)


There is hope and optimism for the future, provided we start thinking and acting in a planetary context. Given the lag time between cause and effect at a global scale, in the next 20-30 years we are going to experience pain from the events we unknowingly and unwittingly initiated decades past. As to the actions we collectively take going forth, it will be our children and grandchildren who will really reap the benefits. But that’s OK. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do – set up the next generation so it can have a better quality of life than previous generations?


“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”  Thomas Paine (6)


There is no question in my mind that we can solve the problems that confront us, be they environmental, social or economic. It does take an integrated approach as the three systems are intertwined, and if we examined them simultaneously we can find the solutions for they are inherent in the mix. Plus, I doubt that any of us truly wants to promote either a “runaway collapse” or an abrupt transition to a new sub-optimal status quo. (1)


Unfortunately the great unknown is, will we? 


‘Can do’ and ‘will do’ are different things. Will those who are ‘comfortably unaware’ be willing to acknowledge their differentiated responsibility to the health and viability of our planet’s future? 


I don’t know. What I am sure of, is that humanity’s future will be a shared one. 


“We have to work together – that is the key to preventing crisis and making the world more resilient for current and future generations.” (1)


The future is our fate – the future is ours to make.


Please choose appropriately.





(1)  World Economic Forum, The Global Risks Report 2018, 13th Edition



(2) https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2017/08/01/earth-overshoot-day-2017-new-calculator/


(3) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/17/un-environment-programme-_n_684562.html


(4)  Chape, Stuart, M.D. Spalding, M.D. Jenkins, (Editors),‎  (2008) The World’s Protected Areas: Status,        

       Values and Prospects in the 21st Century, University of California Press


(5) The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem


(6) Paine, Thomas. The Crisis, December 23, 1776

      If there must be trouble, let it be in my day,


(7) Oppenlander, Richard. (2012) Comfortably Unaware: What We Choose to Eat Is Killing Us and

      Our Planet, Beaufort Books)


(8) Alize´ Carrère, presentation entitled “Sustainability in a Changing World,” The 2017-18 New

       Topics New College Discussion Series, presented by the Sarasota World Affairs Council,

      6 November 2017