Ecosufficiency is living a good life while caring for the planet.

Simple as that.

Exactly how you do it is up to you. A good life should afford you shelter, food, family, happiness and fulfilment. If you can supply yourself that while living within the environmental capacity of the Earth then you are ecosufficient.

Humans by our nature exploit and manipulate the environment. We are a technological and innovative species. We’ve already achieved great things and will no doubt go onto achieve more. Planet Earth is our only home and so far it has been surprisingly robust and durable despite our increasing consumption and manipulation of it’s resources. However environmental exploitation cannot last forever. The human race is forcing rapid change. The atmosphere is changing, habitats are being lost and species are dying. Without restraint we will be left with in a dirty, polluted and spoiled world. We will have failed to care.

Hope is not lost though. We are not just a clever species but we recognise our failings. We have empathy for the creatures and organisms we share the world with and most of us know where we are going wrong. It is in our nature is to improve our lot in life and this eventually leads to an insatiable demand for resources. We need fuel for our vehicles, energy for our homes and materials for the various products we use. All this comes from the Earth in some way.

Many people think the answer is technology. Increased efficiency. Getting more from less resources. For example imagine a new device that means your car can drive for more distance on less fuel. Increased fuel efficiency. This, the argument goes, saves fuel and so emits less carbon and pollutants into the air. Therefore the atmosphere is cleaned up. A good thing certainly. However there is still the demand. Now we can drive more for the same cost. The throughput of fuel doesn’t drop it stays the same and may even increase. Unfortunately technology often just increases our opportunities to consume more resources. More efficient air planes for example leads to lower cost holidays which leads to more mass tourism which leads to more environmental degradation. Similar for sea based shipping. Lower costs means cheaper products which means more goods flowing around the world with all the associated energy use, materials waste and end point plastic and chemical pollution when these goods are disposed off.

Every year there is a new innovation. Smartphones for example. Incredible devices that connect people and give everyone almost limitless knowledge instantly at their fingertips. Unfortunately the rare earth metals and the mining required to extract them from the Earth that go into these devices though are a sorry tale of environmental destruction and human exploitation. Yet still we buy them and upgrade them regularly and throw them away into landfill still fully working when they no longer suit our needs.

We only have to look at the way we are going to realise that technology may not be the answer. Every year there is innovation. Power saving appliances, electric cars, tidal energy. All have promise but none limit the demand for resources which is ultimately the problem. So far we haven’t been able to halt the overall decline in our atmosphere and environment. We are perhaps looking at it from the wrong direction.

We need to cap our unsustainable and polluting resource exploitation. This is what is damaging the world. Some resource use is needed to aid our technological progress (helium extraction for supplying MRI medical machines as a quick example) but this has to be done within the carrying capacity of the Earth. The Earth is a big and robust place. It will always be around no matter what we do to it. However the conditions on it and the species that exist there may not be if we ruin the environment. The safe carrying capacity of the Earth is where the use of resources is maintained at a safe, steady and optimal for life level. Unfortunately we are now exceeding this level, the atmosphere is steadily filling with excess carbon dioxide, changing the climate more than it would naturally. Our water is increasing polluted and plant and animal species diversity are reducing.

An answer might be to reduce our consumption. A bit less of certain things until we get to a safe carrying limit. Does this mean giving up the things we have progressed to rely on and enjoy? Will this lower our quality of life? Is this unfair to those people of the world who have only just started to emerge from poverty? Perhaps.

But perhaps not. Are we clever enough to fashion a life that is sufficient? To just take enough and no more. A good life that allows us to have all the best human needs but also to respect our greater home. That is the challenge.

That is ecosufficiency.

How we practice being ecosufficient is down to us on an individual level. Some people may live a significantly low impact life, give away their possessions and grow their own food in the woods. Most of us will carry on living as we have done but scale back on the more wasteful elements of our lives. Do we need to buy that, do we need to fly to another country for a soulless consumer type holiday, do we really need another vehicle/house/toy etc. A little goes a long way if everybody does it.

A few practical guidelines:

  • The food you eat has a significant environmental impact. Local and in season is ideal. Home-grown is the ultimate, it’s healthy and a great pastime.
  • Flying emits huge amounts of pollution and carbon high up in the atmosphere where it does that most damage. Is it really essential. Your own area/Country surely has wonderful places to visit?
  • Reduce, recycle, reuse your items. Buying more new things wastes energy and resources.
  • Upgrading old devices might be fun but do you really need to. Holding onto the old one for a year longer saves some resources and also saves you some money.
  • If there is a choice choose the sustainable option, for example local charcoal from a coppiced woodland rather than imported from virgin forest.
  • Cars are a great luxury, do you really need more than one? Do you really need one at all?
  • Solar panels on your roof are a great technology. Combine them with reducing your electricity consumption for the perfect combination.

A good life shouldn’t be hard or deprived (unless you like it that way). You can be clever and creative about how you live well. The main guidelines is to just think about the potential harm your choices may do.