F. Schmidt-Bleek1 and Harry Lehmann
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The
occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.
As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must
disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862
A. Where we stand
Ecological disruption is still increasing at a fast pace, as are global natural resource use, and population. Current environmental and economic policies have not been able to stop this trend. Traditional environmental protection and economic policies were not designed to lead to ecologically sustainable conditions. They tend to focus on correcting specific dangerous developments in the environment after these were discovered and politically acknowledged as a thread. Obviously, these policies cannot be precautious.
Planet earth is a closed system. Materials, fresh water and space are limited. Only solar radiation and geothermal energy are available without limits. Within one hour, the sun radiates to earth as much energy as the entire yearly energy need of the world economy. To date, neither solar energy nor the inexhaustible storage of geothermal energy have as yet been utilized to the possible extent. This is not because technology could not have been developed for transforming this ecologically neutral energy into technically useful forms. This failure is a consequence of saving money at the expense of ecological stability. Massive material flows in form of fossil energy carriers are set in motion in order to drive the industrial metabolism.
As a consequence, we are losing natural capital and in particular eco-systemic services at increasing speed, services that are pre-requisite to human life on earth. Increasingly, the world experiences such costly consequences as water shortages, desertification, climatic change, extinction of species, spread of old and new diseases, floods and hurricanes. In order to approach sustainable conditions, a systemic risk reduction policy has to be applied that focuses on the basic reasons for the present disharmony between the human economy and nature.