Adapting Institutions for Life in a Full World

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    Today’s dominant worldviews and institutions emerged during the early Industrial Revolution, when the world was still relatively empty of humans and their built infrastructure. Natural resources were abundant, social settlements were more sparse, and the main limit on improving human well-being was inadequate access to infrastructure and consumer goods.1 Current ideas about what is desirable and what is possible were forged in this empty world context. “Cheap” fossil fuels have provided the abundant energy necessary for economic growth and helped societies overcome numerous resource constraints. Fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanized agriculture have allowed humanity to stave off Thomas Malthus’s predictions of population collapse. As a result, the world has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. It is now a “full” world, where increasingly complex technologies and institutions, mounting resource constraints, and a decreasing energy return on investment have made human society more brittle—and hence more susceptible to collapse.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationState of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability
    Editors Linda Starke and Lisa Mastny
    Place of PublicationUS
    PublisherWW Norton & Co.
    ISBN (Print)978-0-393-33726-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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