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Living Sustainably:

Economic growth is damaging the integrity of our life support system. The impact of growth includes over dependence by many nations on rapidly depleting fossil fuels, heavy losses of wilderness (which support us with needed ecosystem services), more pollution than the Earth can process, and rapid climate destabilization. The dominant policy makers in business and government usually emphasize efforts that cause and exacerbate the problem (e.g., promote economic growth that exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity). Consequently, we cannot sit back and do nothing. By the way, economic growth in nations with much poverty is appropriate for the time being.

Unifying with the sustainable living movement is one way to make a difference. Participants in this movement are called “steady staters” by Brian Czech in Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All ( books/pages/9057.html). We at Campaign for Sustainable Economics envision sustainable living as low impact healthy living, which progresses toward a steady-state economy. This process of advocacy is envisioned as part of a multi-faceted effort to create change that includes cultural creatives, academics, environmental and social advocates, and environmentally conscientious entrepreneurs.

At this point a few governments (including those of Costa Rica, Scandinavian countries, and the City of Bloomington, Indiana) seem to be progressing toward sustainability. Some of the change that we seek has precedence in the grassroots movement that created liberty gardens, which was eventually facilitated by the United States Department of Agriculture during World War II* (Thomas P. Healy, “Local Production for Local Consumption: A conversation with human ecologist Richard Heinberg” Branches Magazine Volume 18 No. 3 July-August 2005).   

Get started by taking the Ecological Footprint Quiz at It is a guide to sustainable living (as well as to education and policy). Then click “What about other species?” to calibrate the quantity of public land protected for biodiversity. Biodiversity is essential to maintaining the integrity of the global ecosystem, which sustains us.

The quiz reveals that Westerners do not live sustainably. Westerners’ daily living is embedded in the paradigm or box of conventional economics. However, many Westerners do not even know that they have a paradigm. This paradigm formed the context for decisions on what to study, where to live, how to get access to resources, what to eat, drink and breathe, and what kind of work to perform. Think outside of this box of convention, including by resourcefully using the following ideas:

-         Take the Ecological Footprint Quiz at, as explained above.

-         Be aware of the personal and social costs to high levels of consumption. It might help to read The High Price of Materialism (

-         Being mindful about sustainability makes you a role model and catalyst for this movement.

-         Distinguish needs from wishes or desires. For instance, access to resources for living is a need; use of a car is a wish. Reading The Joy of Not Working can help (

-         Put convenience in its place. Convenience is appreciated as a consideration, but convenience can get in the way of sustainability, especially for pioneers. Nonetheless, do not get your feathers too ruffled; find your way to develop in an  ongoing process toward sustainable living.

-         Minimize the quantity of belongings and activities that interfere with sustainability.

-         Implement the slogan on waste of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” heavily emphasizing “reduce.” “Recycle” is a last resort because of the three practices recycling has the largest impact. 

-         Minimize the wish for storage. It helps to participate in sharing systems, including libraries, tool libraries, bike lending libraries, and neighborhood networks. Renting items can also help.

-         Emphasize doing business with local entrepreneurs. Local commerce typically has a lighter impact on the Earth, something your venders need to appreciate. Engage these entrepreneurs in progress on sustainability.

-         When you must conduct commerce, choose goods that reduce your footprint. As appropriate use the following guidelines to choose products: 1) locally harvested or extracted with a low impact, 2) durable, 3) nontoxic, 4) made of and with plants, instead of metal or fossil fuels, 5) locally manufactured with environmentally appropriate processes and materials, and 6) for the entire throughput are shipped a short distance or not shipped at all.

-         Provide or support a repair service for bikes and tools. Perhaps, supplement the repair service by sale of bikes and parts for bikes, providing the services of glass cutting, welding, and sharpening drill bits and blades.

-         Strive to keep the consumption of energy down and energy efficiency up to a level that is within the Earth’s carrying capacity, regardless of whether your energy sources are called “renewable.” So called “renewable energy” accounts for a fraction of what it takes to live sustainability ( and even such energy sources can be in excess (given levels of population and consumption).

-         Emphasize access that does not entail transportation. Coordinate selection of a residence with major destinations (community, work and recreation) that are close enough for walking or biking. Homeowners, sometimes switch to worksites that are farther from their homes. They could sell or lease their original houses to buy or rent close to their new worksites.

-         Ride a bike for local transportation. Bicycling is advantageous for expending fewer units of energy per mile than using a car and even walking. Moreover, bicycling can be powered by renewable energy (locally raised organic vegetables).

-         For travel to longer distances, use buses, shuttles, trains or even ships, instead of cars or planes. There are cargo ships that take passengers.

-         When you must shop with remote businesses use mail order. Even employees at storefronts can mail your purchases.

-         When use of an auto is unavoidable, share it and its expenses with others, perhaps as a club ( 

-         Live in housing that makes a small ecological footprint. The Ecological Footprint Quiz ( lays out some parameters and data on housing. In many respects the model of excellence in sustainable housing is Arcosanti (, which is pedestrian- and nature- centered, instead of automobile-centered. As ethics for sustainability evolve (hopefully soon enough to make a difference), ecocities such as Arcosanti might become the new consensus in appropriate urban design. Facilitate livability in socialization of residents and in the residential site’s design; planting fruit trees and native plants can help.) Features of housing that can make a smaller footprint are the following:

o       an inner city location that is not in a flood plain nor a green field area;

o       a multi-story building;

o       small square footage per person (or better yet, small cubic footage);

o       constructed of local materials, which might be clay, straw and paper bale, and

o       a greenhouse for warming in cold weather and for growing vegetables.

-         Convert an alley, road, parking lot or lawn into a vegetable garden or nature corridor.

-         Live on a diet of locally raised organic produce.

-         Grow organic produce for yourself and others.

-         Use a cold frame to extend the growing season for vegetable gardening. 

-         Organize a group to preserve locally raised produce. 

-         Be prepared for drought and any other crisis by effectively preserving (or otherwise securing access to) enough locally raised organic produce for a year round supply.

-         Dry well wrung out laundry on a clothesline.

-         Store gray water for reuse, including for vegetable gardening.  

-         Balance recreational, social, civic and work activities. One way to reduce work hours is to job share. Greg is aware of an instance of public school teachers sharing a job; each is responsible for half of a workday. Another way to reduce work hours is to create a business that allows you to work fewer hours; self-employment can entail working extra hours, so look before you leap. Also, just take off more days from your current job. Finding or creating alternative sources of health care might be necessary.

-         Adopt instead of procreating children.

-         Teach children to appreciate their ecological footprint and to practice sustainable living.

-         Be flexible about sustainability. For instance, a house that served well as a model of sustainability might have to be replaced with an ecovillage.

-         Explore more options by joining a group dedicated to sustainable living,  perhaps Center for Sustainable Living (

-         Promote sustainable living. 

-         Very importantly, advocate for a steady-state economy (

-         See Resources – Sustainable living, Resources – Sustainable living in Indiana, Resources – Education, research & employment, and “Places to Intervene in a System” by Donella H. Meadows (

*By the way, although not known as a grassroots movement, the Civilian Conservation Corps started by the Franklin Roosevelt administration of the USA is admirable for providing many who it employed with not just a job but with meaningful employment in environmental restoration and conservation. Of course given our excessive scale of economic activity, we need greater emphasis on effective and appropriate means to getting our physical economic scale to a steady-state economy; thus, our role is more to manage ourselves to facilitate sustainability, than it is to manage nature.

Emphasizing holism over reductionism or isolationism


  1. For prosperity we need ample resources.

  2. Economic growth is economic and environmental autism. Steady sate economics , on the other hand, means responsible fulfillment.

  3. We want to protect more resources to secure the future of people.

  4. Economic growth is pushing us to Mad Max. What we really need is steady-state economics so that all can prosper

  5. I believe in linkage, specifically that the health of humans is dependent upon the condition of the Earth

  6. A protected and restored planet means a protected human family.

  7. As members of the Planet Earth we can no longer deny our dependence upon nature.

  8. Biological and physical limits to nature are real. Stop the denial.

  9. We cannot continue pretending that resources are unlimited.

  10. It is time (or has long been time) to give back to nature. Although the dominant economic model regards nature as a servant that cannot be seriously harmed, economics is dependent on the Earth.

  11. Unlike conventional economists, ecological economists assert that global depletion of natural resources is a serious concern.

  12. Education would be better to be dominated by concern for our life giving ecosystems, instead of emphasizing harmful economic growth.

  13. Prosperity depends on the condition of the Earth.


A fundamental goal of conventional economics is economic growth. We hear it everywhere, so it seems like it must be a valid universal goal, perhaps seeming as valid as the truth that the sun rises everyday. A common definition of economic growth is “an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services” (      ). Hikes in the Gross Domestic Product are supposed to indicate our well-being. However, isn’t it odd that we are encouraged to participate in a seemingly constant cycle of working to support shopping until we drop? Where is the personal and social quality time in that scenario? After all for many Americans, excess spending and work to pay for the spending costs us less time and money for needed relaxation, play, reflection, personal reading, exercise, family life, improving our neighborhoods and other things that really matter the most.

The costs of economic growth are not just personal they are also social and environmental. Economic growth wrecks our home in the deepest sense of home, namely the Earth, our finite life support. The stress exceeds the Earth’s limits. This fullness of the earth is aptly described as follows:

  1. unsustainably large and growing human populations that exceed the carrying capacity of the earth

  1. high entropy-increasing technologies that deplete the earth of its resources and whose unassimilated wastes poison the air, water, and land

  1. land conversion that destroys habitat, increases soil erosion, and accelerates loss of species diversity (Costanza et al. p. 3).

Another way to understand the fullness of the Earth is to take the Ecological Footprint Quiz at The quiz focuses on personal consumption. Consequently, the data shows that an American who takes very conscientious measures can still live in excess of the Earth’s limits. Thus, change is not just a matter of personal choice but also a matter of policy.

By now, you might have noticed that conventional economics is the problem, not the solution, to our economic woes economic woes.

Economic growth and mainstream economics is insidiously linked to a failure in appreciation for the Earth as the life support system of human beings. From the perspective of conventional economics the Earth is very narrowly regarded as a subsystem of economics that is good for the extractable resources such as lumber. Big picture concern for ecosystem services such as forests for flood prevention, water purification, and prevention of global warming by absorption of carbon dioxide does not compute. These services are usually (if not always) provided by nature less expensively than those provided by technology, because of the relatively low price of restoration and protection, and the absence of pollution and waste. Nonetheless, actions (or inactions) of preservation and restoration of nature usually go un-rewarded or under rewarded, despite the high value of the ecosystem services. That is the cost of servitude to markets instead of putting markets at our service.

This failure in appreciation did not just occur yesterday. When the Earth’s resources were ample, it seemed that no harm could be done. At that time economic growth could enhance the quality of people’s lives. However, growth has also been a catalyst in the collapse of entire societies, such as by the loss of agricultural production by ruining soil with minerals in irrigation water. It has gotten to the point in which economic growth is no longer a matter of just the local wisdom to conserve soil because economic growth has slammed into the walls of the Earth’s limits, including as exemplified by peaking in oil production, global warming and no definitively safe and effective technology to come to the rescue.

This lack of appreciation has ties to technological optimism. This model of thinking is well articulated as the following:

The “technological optimist” worldview assumes that technical progress can solve all future problems. It is a vision of continued expansion of humans and their dominion over nature. This is the default vision in current Western society, and one that represents continuation of current trends into the indefinite future. It is the “taker” culture as described so eloquently by

Daniel Quinn in Ishmael (1992) (Costanza p. 464).

Given that economic growth no longer solves problems but creates problems, the world needs a new paradigm in economics, namely ecological economics. The ecological economics model places economics as the subsystem of the ecosystem. Unlike conventional neoclassical economics, which places the ecosystem as a subsystem.

Paradigm change occurs when the dominant worldview is no longer useful. As a result ways of thinking must adjust in a widespread manner. For instance, at one time Europeans considered the Earth to be center of the planetary system. Galileo’s discovery that the Sun is at the center convinced astronomers to change their broad theories about the orbit of the planets. Scientific understanding sharpened with this new worldview.

Likewise, we can no longer have a growth-centered economy in which the Earth is considered to have infinite room for economic growth. The Earth is full so economic growth can no longer be used as a goal of economics. Technology must be deemphasized and we must look more to our natural, social and community resources for solutions.

The three main goals in ecological economics identified by Daly ____ (       )         include market efficiency, but instead of being the focus as is conventional; it is third in importance, constrained by the goals of sustainable scale and just distribution. A sustainable scale is the core or main aspect of ecological economics. Sustainable scale is that level of economic activity that is in equilibrium relative to the capacity of the Earth to support. Just distribution of resources and property rights is “within the current generation of humans and between this and future generations, and also between humans and other species” (Costanza 462). It would be irresponsible to neglect the poor by leaving out just distribution. 

In conclusion, given our fundamental dependence upon the finite and full Earth for our sustenance, ecological economics must inform our education and policy making, advocacy, and living. Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field, so while its emphasis is on economics and ecology it extends even beyond academia to everyday people’s lives. I urge parents and educators to take responsibility for our future by facilitating the appreciation for the importance of ecosystem services and to offer those under their supervision a coherent vision for sustainability that is not muddied by notions such as sustainable growth. For help with a coherent vision see “Visions, Values, Valuation, and the Need for an Ecological Economics.” I urge policy makers, and compassionate people to appreciate the big picture of our fundamental dependency upon nature as a system, not just a supplier of raw material, for our sustenance and use understanding of limits to engage in sustainable and just economic policies.  Endorse the Position on Economic Growth at Click resources to learn more about ecological economics.

I urge advocates to do more than just do good. Make a profound difference in the world by strategically addressing systemic causes. Why just feed some starving people, reduce a corporation’s pollution, cure a cancer or protect a wetland from maldevelopment, when you can get at the root causes of these problems? Frequently at the root of these problems is the push for economic growth that has ties to high population levels, depleting and poisoning technologies, and liquidation of natural resources. Perhaps the ultimate use of the wisdom in the precautionary principle is to adopt steady state economics. How would Gladwell handle: Use your projects and accompanying rhetoric as poignant springboards to briefly point to the importance of a new model of economics, which has a place for limits, sustainable levels, just distribution and sustainable development. Now perhaps there is a place for sharing a dream as did MLKJ. Contextualize projects, including your own regarding their strengths, weaknesses with regard to how well they meet standards for movement toward sustainability. And point to the paradigm of economics as a subsystem of ecology and what it means to be a part of nature. And to the ways that society needs to change in order to make this happen, in the USA this could include dropping the privileges given to corporations under some interpretations of the 14th amendment. Remove from your ambiguous or pro-growth rhetoric about smart growth and sustainable development. For creating inspiration focus on the vision; concreteness and concision is important, as is brevity about problems, so that you do not loose your audience with elaboration on a comprehensive message and so that you focus on your mission. See our talking points. Also, build alliances with other organizations; of particular interest is “‘social movement unionism,’ in which the labor movement makes linkages between workplace, civil society issues and the larger structure of harm.” To enhance alliances stretch your mission so as to create opportunities to engage organizations with similar missions and get at systemic change. Of course the stretch will likely extend beyond just economics, for instance law and political science are an important concerns because of the lack of culpability by corporations for harm and the heavy influence of businesses in the political processes. Also helpful, create sustainable development projects as springboards to point toward needed paradigm change. For instance, a reforestation project could point to the environmental, health and economic benefits as well as the need for sustainability to be a commonplace concern and for political processes that support sustainability over the wealth of corporations. There is much helpful information for strategic planning and creation of projects in Ecological Economics: A Workbook For Problem-Based Learning by Joshua Farley, Jon D. Erickson and Herman E. Daly. Primarily useful for strategy are The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, “A Systemic Approach to Occupational and Environmental Health” by Skip Spitzer in RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH NEWS #817 and #818 at and “Places to Intervene in a System” by Donella Meadows in Whole Earth Winter 1997. Also consider these actions. Volunteer with Campaign for Sustainable Economics.  

I urge everyone to strive toward sustainable living. Although significant change is a matter of large-scale efforts, we cannot count on the large-scale being implemented in a timely manner, so grassroots efforts are need. Richard Heinberg points out this need for local efforts and the possibility for success as exemplified by the Victory Garden movement during the two world wars that was initially opposed by the Department of Agriculture, but later it claimed credit for the program (Healy). Thus, within a context of quality living carefully monitor your impacts and scale back. The Ecological Footprint Quiz is useful for understanding our personal impacts. Live close to work in shelters that make small ecological footprints; keep a vegetable garden; live on a diet of locally raised organic produce; preserve food for year round use; start a food preservation cooperative; eliminate the noise in your life, especially unnecessary belongings and activities; ride your bike for transportation; balance work, recreation and social obligations. One way to reduce work hours is to share a job. There are many opportunities for people to become activists, such as the following:

1.      Create or join a group that supports sustainable living such as Center for Sustainable Living in Bloomington, Indiana, and.

2.      Persuade your vendors to focus on sustainable development instead of growth, including with locally made products that on the whole enhance instead of harm the environment, including items that are might not currently be available such as lumber that is used or from a sustainably harvested from a local woods.

3.      Boycott products that

4.      Procott products and services that are beneficial.

Just be wary when it comes to sustainable living. For the time being at least we cannot claim to actually be living sustainably. That comes with the big changes that we are attempting to be catalysts for. Also be wary because there are those who mindlessly proclaim their endeavors to be sustainable such as smart growth, biofuels, and solar panels on suburban houses.

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Campaign for Sustainable Economics
% Greg Buck

537 Fletcher Avenue #2
Indianapolis, Indiana 46203

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