Securing natural capital and expanding equity to rescale civilization


In biophysical terms, humanity has never been moving faster nor further from sustainability than it is now. Our increasing population size and per capita impacts are severely testing the ability of Earth to provide for peoples’ most basic needs. Awareness of these circumstances has grown tremendously, as has the sophistication of efforts to address them. But the complexity of the challenge remains daunting. We explore prospects for transformative change in three critical areas of sustainable development: achieving a sustainable population size and securing vital natural capital, both in part through reducing inequity, and strengthening the societal leadership of academia.

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Figure 1: The relationship between national-level poverty (as measured by HDI) and vulnerability (as measured by the Index of Climate Hazard).
Figure 2: History of growth in world population and environmental impact of Homo sapiens , indicated by its surrogates, per capita and total human energy use.
Figure 3: China’s new system of EFCAs.


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We are indebted to the following colleagues who were kind enough to give useful criticism: K. Arrow, P. Dasgupta, L. Goulder, R. Horn, D. Karp, S. Levin, C. Mendenhall, H. Mooney, P. Raven, E. Rosa, M. Ruckelshaus and H. Tallis. We are grateful for support from the LuEsther T Mertz Charitable Trust, the Moore Foundation, the Winslow Foundation, and Peter and Helen Bing.

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P.E., P.K. and G.C.D. wrote the article jointly.

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Correspondence to Paul R. Ehrlich.

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Ehrlich, P., Kareiva, P. & Daily, G. Securing natural capital and expanding equity to rescale civilization. Nature 486, 68–73 (2012).

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