Climate Change


The Three Economies



[ NOTE:  This is a chapter excerpt from David Houle’s latest book, the first of an eBook trilogy entitled “Moving to a Finite Earth Economy – Crew Manual”.  The subtitle of the first eBook is the name of this chapter, The Three Economies.  All three books are to be priced at $2.99.  Book 1 is now available on Amazon ]


 The Three Economies

 “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” – Kenneth Boulding (economist)


“Environment and economy are two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.” – Wangari Maathai


“Entering the 21st century, the vast majority of humanity has been living in a world with a footprint greater than the planet’s capacity. Clearly, humanity cannot continue to live beyond the Earth’s means… we must alter the trajectory, the thinking, and the practices that have placed us in this mission critical state.” – Houle and Rumage, This Spaceship Earth


Here we are, 19 years into the 21st century. We have postponed preparing for global warming and climate change for 50 years. We are now confronted with the reality that both are here, now. We put ourselves into this current position of “fight or flight”.


I have long thought that the 21st century would be the Earth Century. It has been a major concept in my presentations for the past decade. This is the century when we collectively prioritize our relationship with planet Earth above all else.


“The twenty-first century will be the Earth Century. It will be during this century that humanity faces the reality of whether it wants to destroy itself, and much of what exists on this magnificent planet, or not. Assuming we make essential course corrections, future historians will write about the Earth Century as a turning point in human history… So stop getting excited about Earth Day. Retire that thinking and refocus on the next ninety years of the Earth Century.” – David Houle, “Entering the Shift Age” 2012


As a futurist, I have stated that we left the Information Age and entered the Shift Age. Ranging roughly from 2005 to 2030, this is when much of human reality shifts to the new, future reality. It’s a transition from what was to what will be.


“The Shift Age is and will be the age when humanity alters its sense in relation to our planet. This goes way beyond what we think of as the environmentalism of today. It is a much more long-term stewardship point of view. All of our previous history has been about economic growth and use of the planet’s resources for our immediate needs. The Earth seemed to be unlimited in its space, resources and ability to absorb whatever humanity did. No longer.” – David Houle “Entering the Shift Age” 2012


How will humanity be living at the end of the Earth Century? Will civilization be at the same level as we have now? In a basic and existential way, the answer is truly up to us. Our future is ours to design, create and live.


“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” – R. Buckminster Fuller


A huge part of shaping our collective future will be how we change the global economy and all our respective nation state economies. Driven by the Carbon Combustion Complex, the growth economies of today must cede to a new economic model.

In the Earth Century, humanity will have to move away from our growth economy paradigm. There are alternatives to the growth economy. We focus on two that are designed to slow our destruction of the biosphere. They are the Circular Economy and the Finite Earth Economy.


The chart below frames all three:

Let’s look at each of the three economies.


Growth Economy


The American Dream has been exported around the world. It is the dream for more: more cars, more factories, more buildings, more freeways, more money, more houses, more appliances, more everything. The dream has become a nightmare, wreaking havoc across the globe.


Every reader of this book has lived his or her life in a Growth Economy. For most of history, humans have lived in growth economies. Think about how the economic health of any developed country is measured. All the metrics concentrate on growth, expansion and output. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an output. We measure the success of a nation’s economy by how much growth has occurred in its GDP.


In all of these growth economies, there is little or no accounting for the use of natural resources. Countries behave as though Mother Nature provides its bounty for free. Our current form of Capitalism does not take into account the value of natural capital.

Chart 4.1


It is time to redefine global GDP by taking a more planetary approach, one that values Nature’s resources. More on that ahead when discussing the Finite Earth Economy.


Currently, natural capital is not accounted for in the financial reporting of Growth Economy corporations. And the majority of GDP (measured in dollars) is purchased by individual consumers. In the United States, the world’s largest economy, consumer spending accounts for 70% of GDP. Our consumer society urges us to shop, buy, buy, consume, buy more. Keep up with the Joneses. Your self-worth is determined by how much stuff you accumulate. When a product begins to wear… throw it out. Buy another one.


This is now a major problem because we are consuming more than Earth can regenerate. Americans’ annual consumption is at the rate of five Earths. In other words, if all the world consumed at the American level, five Earths would be needed to support our current life style.


Chart 4.2 – Per capita consumer levels  Source: Global Footprint Network


We have all been raised in this economic environment… where our personal consumption is disconnected from the depletion of planetary resources. We have been born and raised in a world saturated by advertising. We receive hundreds of messages every day, via every conceivable format, designed to persuade us to buy ever more things. As stated in Chapter 2, we should forgive ourselves for our planetary transgressions. We didn’t know that how we were living, collectively and individually, was stressing the planet. If there were only one billion people on Earth, it could support our consumer lifestyle… but there are close to eight billion people with more being born every minute.


So, we start with forgiving ourselves for what we have unknowingly done. Now that we know – know that we are at cause for global warming and climate change – what are we going to do?


We need to move away from our Growth Economy model as fast and as far as possible. 



The Circular Economy


Environmentalists realized decades ago that our Growth Economy was the engine driving pollution, biosphere degradation and global warming. With the first Earth Day in 1970, an ever-increasing population of environmentalists decided to create an alternative economy. They named it the Circular Economy. The three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – became a part of our lexicon. It espouses an economy that was to replace the produce, use and discard paradigm with a closed loop system that produced, used and then reused or reprocessed. The result would be lower consumption.


There are many smart climate scientists and environmentalists who still think we should embrace the Circular Economy. It has cachet in some circles as a viable alternative to the Growth Economy model. The issue is that, as of this writing, the size of the circular economy is roughly 9% of the total worldwide GDP.2 It is now 49 years after the first Earth Day in 1970, when the underlying concepts of the Circular Economy first became widely known and understood. If we had collectively stepped up and committed wholeheartedly to the development and expansion of the Circular Economy, perhaps half of the global economy would today be circular. Our climate change plight would be much less dire.


Chart 4.3 – Source: The Circularity Gap Report, Circle Economy, January 2019


The Circular Economy would have been a great alternative to the Growth Economy, if a large percentage of the population had embraced it, but they didn’t.  Now, almost 50 years from that first Earth Day, only 9% of the global economy can be categorized as circular. This is another example of our choosing not to take action because climate change was perceived as a future, not a present threat.


We have squandered the past several decades and humanity has not collectively adopted a Circular Economy. And now it’s too late. It took 50 years to reach 9% of worldwide GDP.


We have 11 years.



Finite Earth Economy


As the chart at the top of this chapter notes, we must move to an economy that is about conscious non-consuming. We must create an economy that puts the Earth first. It is about us and how we manage the finite resources of the planet. We must save the only home we have. We must move to a Finite Earth Economy.


In a Finite Earth Economy, Earth comes first. All economic, material and energy issues attend to the needs of the planet first… then humanity’s needs.


Earth First.


The premise of this book, and the reality of the urgency of our current situation, is that we must move to a Finite Earth Economy as quickly as possible.





  • The 21st Century is the Earth Century. This is the century when humanity

MUST deploy a sustainable stewardship of planet Earth.


  • The Growth Economy model, which has served humanity for all of history, must now be retired as unlimited growth cannot be sustained on a finite resource planet.


  • The Circular Economy never gained enough traction to counter balance the damages done by growth economies – particularly since the global population has tripled over the last 70 years.


  • Moving to a Finite Earth Economy is essential for slowing global warming, confronting climate change, and securing the long-term economic viability of human societies.








1 comment


One response to “The Three Economies”

  1. Avatar Kent Neuroguru norton says:

    Although the facts are the chief Seattle simply praise the president at the time for buying his land. He did not say this but it’s a store in speech it was written in 1971 by a film rider apparently according to Snopes. I’m going to put it down here because it does fit directly to the article although reportedly it is not true not necessarily fake news but something that may stir up in the action. How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
    Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

    The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful Earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the

    Chief Seattle
    Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.

    So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great White Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.

    This shining water that moves in streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events in the life of my people. The waters murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

    The rivers of our brothers they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember to teach your children that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness that you would give my brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The Earth is not his brother, but his enemy and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the Earth from his children, and he does not care.


    His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother, the Earth, and his brother, the same, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the Earth and leave behind only a desert.

    I do not know. Our ways are different from yours ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.

    There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insect’s wings. But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night. I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleansed by a midday rain, or scented with the pinon pine.


    The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench. But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow’s flowers.

    So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition – the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.

    I am a savage and do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be made more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.

    What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.


    You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the Earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

    This we know – the Earth does not belong to man – man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

    Whatever befalls the Earth – befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life – he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

    Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – Our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for red man and the white. The Earth is precious to Him, and to harm the Earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass, perhaps sooner than all
    other tribes.

    But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are slaughtered, the wild horses tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the Eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.

    Chief Seattle

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