Our human population is ever increasing. We are exponential in our growth and impact on our planet. David Attenborough has had something to say about this as a growing threat to our own survival on this planet.

We often blame our ‘human nature’ for our railroad track to destruction. We perceive ourselves to be members of a race that is fundamentally flawed and inherently doomed to suffering and consumption. We perceive wisdom is rare, crime is normal and our unsustainable lives unavoidable based on our ‘human nature’. This would indicate a rail road track to extinction – an inevitability – but should we aim to extend our existence longer, we might consider modifying our self destructive behaviours.

So what is the solution?

Utopian Design or Evolution?

Do we try to imagine a sustainable future then design a utopian society that will save the day?

Historically plans designed based on utopian ideals of an imagined future have failed to be successfully sustained, simply because they don’t work. Perhaps utopian systems don’t work because they are based on everyone having godly qualities of perfection

Evolution, on the other hand, works with what we are – accepts us for being selfish, mean, cruel, greedy, violent, kind, loving, thoughtful, generous etc – evolution doesn’t require some sort of utopian perfect god like human beings for it to be successful - evolution works.

If we look at other species of life – we can see that they don’t seem to plan their evolution based on utopian ideals – they evolve based on a feed back loop between their environment – circumstances and their biological survival needs as a species. The ones that keep up and adapt survive – the ones that don’t die out – become extinct. The ones that survive have evolved a strategy that works.

When we think about living a sustainable life we might think this means we have to give up something that we need. But in fact many species of animals are perfectly happy and have all their needs met – and yet don’t cause as much damage to the world as we humans do. So I would suggest that it’s not about giving up what we need, but in fact it is about being innovative about meeting our needs in sustainable ways.

Our latest and most successful change or evolution is a system that hasn’t been designed, planned or based on utopian ideals – it hasn’t been orchestrated by governments, political movements, or social idealisms – it has evolved over time – about 300 years.

It has been achieved incrementally, by people working off each other’s ideas. It has been lead by no one. It wasn’t the initiative of any political, government or religious body. It has no targeted end point. It proceeded according to no plan. It rewarded those who further the evolution in kind.

The industrial revolution is something that wasn’t organised, it wasn’t designed or a utopian ideal – it was something that evolved over time in all areas based on needs that people had and skills and ideas that people tried. A feedback loop was created where our needs encouraged innovation that was shared, tested and embraced in a process of evolution.

What innovative practices can you share that will contribute to the sustainable survival of life on earth into the next century?

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Replies to This Discussion



I couldn’t agree more.


Part of our self interest is to gain more well-being.  The reward centres in our brain do this when we eat nice food – but they also do it when we gamble – it triggers the same reward centre – also take drugs – and also do nice things like cooperate with others, share, be kind to others, feel compassion, and other altruistic behaviour.


So it is selfish in one way to be altruistic, because it increases our well-being through triggering our reward centres in our brain (according to Neuroscientist Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape).


Again I think it’s our consumerism that’s the problem.  And like you say our culture that perpetuates the consumerism.  But it’s basically our economy of products – we must sell products to make money to buy food – we must sell products that only last as long as it takes for us to run out of money to buy food and so we need to sell more of them, regardless of if it makes sense to make so much crap and throw it out after a short time of use.


My current theory on changing everyone to cooperation from competing is to make smaller groups and get rid of the product economy.


But this is something that won’t happen over night.  It might happen in a generation if we make changes now.  It might not even be a good solution, but I would be interested to discuss it to it’s conclusion so that we can find out! : )


I totally agree that social welfare is a key to less children – and less religion – societies with more social welfare have less religion and less population growth – compare US with northern Europe and Australia.  US has low social security and high religion and high growth in population.  Others have secular societies and population reduction.  It think social welfare is a great key to it… great idea!

"So it is selfish in one way to be altruistic"

it is a selfish act in a technical sense, but I'd rather see people being selfish and helping other people than being selfish and screwing over other people. As i've said, I think cooperation is the key to human success, it has been for a long time and the more we can cooperate on a global scale the better the outlook for humanity. Cooperation has become more and more favourable as social structures and technology have developed, as soon as we can embrace the idea that cooperation is of greater personal benefit than competition the better off we'll all be.


"we must sell products that only last as long as it takes for us to run out of money to buy food and so we need to sell more of them"

Its been like this for thousands of years, whether with money or direct trade of products. The only difference with modern consumerism is that companies have become ever more efficient at making profits and at perpetuating the circle of consumerism and the general public have become ever more greedy. I was shocked to see just how many toys some of the young kids in my extended family had, they are 3 & 6 years old, and they had amounted more toys than I did in that time than I had in my entire childhood... a lot more! and to think years before I was born kids might get one present for their birthday and thats it. the worst thing is that they didn't play with most of them, ever. and growing up expecting so much material wealth is only worsening the issue.


"My current theory on changing everyone to cooperation from competing is to make smaller groups and get rid of the product economy"

yes, worthy discussion indeed. How would smaller groups work in your picture? Would this be more like multiple self sufficient groups? This would mean giving up urban living, which in some countries like northern Europe which has a very high population density, might be difficult. Given people's self interest that needs to be taken into account, how would you convince people to give up comfortable city living for living in the country in small groups?

Radical change on an international scale will only happen in the light of a disaster that will shake people up. Cities and the supply chain are actually more efficient models than kibutz style living. not to say that the kibutz is bad, only that its efficiency potential is lower. Modern cities are based on outdated town planning etc. and the greed, waste and pollution inherent in the out of control consumerism we have now is making living conditions far more inefficient.

Asking people to give everything up and move to small communities is not going to be easy and seems very impractical. it also seems like moving backwards for humanity. I for one do not want to live on a kibutz, and I am a lot more open minded than the majority you'll have to deal with. We need to improve what we have, people will not accept the idea of leaving everything behind. Humans accept progressive, gradual change, most people are not good with sudden, extreme change.


Some more practical and hopefully implementable suggestions for change:

Banking & Debt: Banks (until a point we can get rid of them completely) should restrict loans only to essential needs like housing. If you want a new car, save up for it, i did for my first car, I got a very cheap car that got me from A to B. If you can't afford a $50,000 car then buy a $2000 car and don't get a loan. If people can't get given debt they can't get into debt. Lower credit card limits and block people from using the cards if they fail to pay off the balance on more than a few months in a row.

worldwide Banking should not be commercial, it should be a not for profit public service. All profit from the banks should be paid back into public services, and then taxes could be lowered in other areas. Money is not a commodity, its an exchange voucher with fluctuating exchange rate, it shouldn't be treated like a commodity it should be a public service.


Critical thinking should be taught in schools at a young age. Mainly it isn't taught AT ALL, not even in science class where we are normally told the science textbook is the bible of science and shouldn't be questioned - as science has learnt throughout time, they aren't always right, they accept that, but only the kids who make it to University get the opportunity to start asking questions. Critical thinking as a subject is NEUTRAL on all issues, all it seeks is truth. In theory teaching this to christians cannot be offensive to there beliefs so there is no reason they could legitimately refuse to have it in the curriculum... they'll find a way though I'm sure.


"societies with more social welfare have less religion and less population growth"

I'm not sure. Its a simplified view. China has low "religion" (Mainly Buddhist, Taoist and Atheist) compared to the US but very high pop growth. The US is secular government, even if it doesn't act like one... I don't think there is a definitive explanation for pop growth, there are a lot of factors. Rural vs Urban living for one. Education (especially sex ed, family planning), Religion, government handouts for parents, social propaganda, peer group, availability of contraception.

As far as credit cards go, it would also help if they weren't advertised like free money.

I hear what you are saying about urbanisation and the disincentives of having children vs the incentives of having children in a rural setting.

I’m not sure that this has to do with technology trend, as much as it has to do with both people working to pay off a mortgage. Here the middle class want to buy a house, and so they both work full time to buy the house they want, large enough with enough garden etc. Then they can only really afford to have 1 child, but they have 2 because they know that an only child can be lonely and so then they leave the child in child care from 6 weeks to keep their job and maintain their mortgage payments.

I’m not sure how this might relate to technology, but it defiantly relates to life style, keeping up with the Jones’ and feeling that we must have possessions like modern cars, big houses and other consumables like good fashionable clothes etc.

It’s this sort of culture that is killing our world bit by bit – this sort of consumerism that is killing off species and leading to food mountains that are rotting. It’s surely not ethical.

But if we go back to a less is more lifestyle – in that we don’t aspire to have so much ‘stuff’ then we might find that we have more time on our hands and therefore feel the urge to have more children? If these children want less in terms of resources is that better or worse? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to see the stats on what’s happening with all that – along with some predictions based on current trends.

Women having their own independent income is def a plus, because it means they don’t have to be with a man for protection and resource security. And therefore like you say are getting married later and having less children.



I agree that we are still evolving – that is the nature of evolution – that it continues – we can’t get outside of it – it’s not possible – it’s like saying that god is outside of reality – what that implies is that god doesn’t exist!


I’m trying currently to get my head around the who idea that hunter gatherers had an erratic retaliation strategy to other tribes/groups that we had going on, that also lead us to be altruistic – Sam Harris has linked the two states in his book The Moral Landscape.  But then, my husband said that he saw a show about a group who lived on an island just north of Australia who didn’t have a work for fear until bombed in the second world war.  Then they came up with a word for fear.  They lead a good life it seems, without predators as such and without competition with other groups it would seem, as they lived on an island.


So perhaps they evolved away from the need to have antisocial behaviour to protect their group from others, but were able to maintain their altruism with each other, and shared all their food.


It’s certainly easier to share food with my children and close relatives than it is to see how my taxes should go to people I don’t know or don’t necessarily like, to pay for their food and shelter…


Either way, I wonder if our agricultural revolution hasn’t caused some of us to evolve and breed for passivity in our democracies, as opposed to the aggressive behaviours we see in other groups with different systems.  Perhaps democracy breeds selectively for more co-operative people.


Perhaps also safety and social security, breeds for secularism and also more calm people.  If living in America, maybe it’s beneficial to marry into a group of aggressive christians, as you’ll be more protected, and secure more resources, whereas in Norway, you’ll more likely want to marry into a group of easy going secularists…

I'm afraid I must bow out of this discussion.  It has grown like a fungus, without any bounds and no know predetor to stop it.  It has invaded my body and soul and all I can do is sit in the corner and try to hold on to my sanity...oh, no, no get away from me, get away...



I agree that compassion and acceptance of others is useful.


But what does concern me is that sort of behaviour being mistaken for permissiveness or worse still supportive to unethical or immoral actions.


For example, the Vatican has turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse for the best part of it’s existence, choosing to have confession, forgive and move offenders to other parishes.  They didn’t get the message not to do it, they got the message that if they got caught, they would need to move house.  It leaves hundreds of children scared for life – if not thousands or more – I really don’t know the figures, but I find it abhorrent.


The same goes for routine mutilation of female children in certain Muslim cultures where they cut off their genitals.  This again is wrong and should be stopped.



I couldn’t agree more with your pointing out that consumerism is wrong.


The west is like a bully and enslaves the east to child labour etc for the sake of what?  Golf and yachting. 


But what are our sustainable and perhaps ethical alternatives?



I can see the difference between sustainability and self sufficiency.


We can live a globally sustainable life – but we do need to change our culture dramatically.


Whereas becoming self sufficient can dramatically reduce your personal carbon foot print for example.


They both involved co-operation – one more personal, one less personal.


I think the first leads most people to carrying on with their lives, and letting the government make policies  and then vote them out if they don’t like what they see – a loss of privileges – so it’s quite unworkable if everyone isn’t making an effort in some way – and so we’ll see the slow and painful death of species as we carry on in our selfish lives wanting sustainability but not prepared to support the governments to do what they need to in order to make that happen.


There are lots of unanswered questions here, that I think could do with lots of exploration yet…


I’ve been lead to believe that hunter gather groups generally didn’t seek to conquer others, lock away their food and make them work for the system, in the way that we do.


Stock piling wasn’t present in hunter gatherer societies – because it wasn’t conducive to success – you would be chucked out the group and then die.


We have evolved and bred or adapted culturally to stock piling.


Yes, you’ve got it right about the greed – we haven’t targeting greed because our economy relies on it.  but all those values are christian values any how – hunter gatherers weren’t so pious I think.


I agree that talking to others is key to change – I think there are lots of other possibilities to changing also, but I don’t know what they are yet, as such…  but communicating is a great start to changing views and stimulating ideas …

"hunter gather groups generally didn’t seek to conquer others" "Stock piling wasn’t present in hunter gatherer societies"

Sure, I didn't intend to suggest either of these things about hunter gatherer lifestyles of old... But that modern society is similar to that lifestyle but with added negative aspects like stockpiling. Hunter gatherers did not compete with other tribe because there environment provided for their needs, which were a lot less consuming of the environment than how we live now. However, tribes undoubtedly clashed, war for anything other than survival or resources would have been folly in groups that small as the entire tribe could end up wiped out. In societies with populations of millions, why would the government care about the cost to human life when they are helping to secure resources for the people back home? In a small tribe, the lives of the members are invaluable to the survival of the tribe as a whole, in nationalism a percentage dead is an acceptable loss for progress of the powerful.


"but all those values are christian values any how – hunter gatherers weren’t so pious I think"

If anything christians seem to be against greed - at least in the bible, as if they all adhere to that in there everyday lives... Greed is part of the human condition, the problem with modern greed is it is not targeted at things we need (more food for example, might have been something stone age man wanted because they were concerned they might not get fed again for a while) but it is exploited by consumerism. Greed won't go away, exploitation can be avoided.

A better understanding of what actually makes Humans happy (into which plenty of research is being done at the moment) might be a step in the right direction. People think consumerism makes them happy and that view is perpetuated by the media and advertising, but all it does is make them want more more more, they will NEVER be satisfied with what they have living that way. being satisfied with what you have is one of the fundamental needs for being content, and therefore happy.



How do we improve the education of those in our lives?


I home educate my kids.  Which I think a good innovation.  I’m not sure how yet, but I think they’ll be able to tell me the results when they are adults…  I’m hoping it’s positive! : )

Educate yourself. If you do not already have a full grasp of "Critical thinking" as a subject make sure you do before you try to educate other people about it. a book like this is a good read, there are many on the topic:



As I mentioned in the previous post, the great benefit of this subject is it is completely neutral in terms of politics, religion, everything really. It a logical approach to understanding arguments and information that comes into your life everyday. Plus, being able to spot fallacy in peoples arguments is a decisive and concise way of avoiding long pointless debates.


If your kids enter adult life with the ability to spot B/S a mile off and use rational thought to make decisions they are going to be a long way ahead of the majority of people who go to state schools.




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