I believe that the model of extractive economic growth has more than run its course. It is overwhelming the environment limits of a finite world and creating institutions that destroy the social fabric of community. In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond traces the disappearance of societies to their inability to adapt to catastrophic environmental change, often abetted by political corruption and hostile neighbors. The single most important factor was overpopulation relative to the environment’s ability to support human life. The lesson for today’s world should not be lost on us.
In search of an alternative way of living, many have turned to reviving local communities, practicing sustainable food and energy production, and focusing on the quality of our lives. A recent report on “The 10 Poorest Countries in the World” reminded me that it’s not that simple.
Nine of the poorest countries are in Africa and the poorest of all is Haiti. Six have per-capita incomes under $1,000 a year – in Congo people live on 63 cents a day. Several countries have or had rich natural resources – from Zimbabwe’s now-ravaged land to Sierra Leone’s diamonds to Equatorial Guinea’s oil and gas. Yet the bulk of the people rely on subsistence agriculture, which is not the romantic yeomanry that many of us like to envision, but a way of life that ravages both the people and the land.
We do need a new path forward, but for the 135 million people in the 10 poorest countries, that path may not be into the past.