A version of this post originally published in February 2014. We reposted it in celebration of Earth Day 2016 and to inspire further conversation.

With a world population almost three times what is sustainable, it’s time to get serious about managing an imbalanced planet.

One of the most interesting comments I’ve read regarding sustainability came from this article by Andrew Zolli for the New York Times, written in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy:

“A dialogue is emerging around a new idea, resilience: How to help vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.”

With a world population 3x what is sustainable, it’s time to get serious about managing an imbalanced planet. Tweet This Quote

Having spent a large part of my career working in and around environmentalism and conservation, a reality-check of ‘sustainability’ is something I’ve had on my mind for awhile. With its arch enemy—population growth—driving ever-upward, I’ve wondered whether we’re stalling for time or delaying the inevitable. The problem with this school of thought is that many consider it defeatist.

Technology allows us to stretch the limits of what’s possible—grow significantly more food per acre, or live in climates we were never meant to live in. These are all activities which make us feel comfortable about the world and the places we live within it. Much of this technology has become invisible. For example, we no longer think about the innovations that allow us to grow more food, get electricity to our homes, or the satellites that help get cars and planes from A to B. It’s only when we don’t have access to these things that we suddenly realize how exposed and dependent we are on them.

Technology allows us to stretch the limits of what’s possible. Tweet This Quote

The environmental movement is around forty years old. We can learn a lot from history, but today not enough of us are listening. Our world population of over seven billion is already two to three times higher than what’s sustainable and, according to the World Population Balance website, recent studies have shown that the Earth’s resources are enough to sustain only about two billion people at most European’s current standard of living. In short, we’re in trouble.

  1. First, we need to get people to listen and take interest, but not in the way the wider non-profit movement has historically tried to get us to (i.e. guilt-based education).
  2. Second, we need to rethink our relationships with local business, local resources, and each other.

Want to positively impact the world? Rethink your relationship with money and resources. Tweet This Quote

I do know that with the current economic climate, conditions are better than they’ve ever been to get people to rethink their relationship with money, resources and each other. These may not directly impact the environmental or sustainability agenda, but the secondary benefit of people making better use of the human, social, financial and environmental capital around them almost certainly will.

Ken Banks

Author Ken Banks

Ken is the founder of kiwanja.net, Means of Exchange, and FrontlineSMS. He is a Pop!Tech and Ashoka Fellow, Tech Awards Laureate, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and has been internationally recognized for his work applying mobile tech for positive social and environmental change in the developing world. Ken is also the Entrepreneur in Residence at CARE International.

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