Achieving universally high life satisfaction requires two- to six-times the sustainable level of resource use based on the current relationship between humans and the planet, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Sustainability. The study sheds light on the challenges of defining sustainable development paths globally.
Economies worldwide rely on excessive use of natural resources to ensure adequate levels of support of physical needs such as nutrition, income, access to energy, and sanitation, and social needs such as democratic quality, equality, social support, secondary education, and life satisfaction. As a result, the health of the planet is under threat due to related man-made impacts, such as climate change and chemical pollution.
Using carefully formulated biophysical and social indicators, Daniel O’Neill and colleagues quantify the links between human needs and critical planetary processes. Their results indicate that no country at present meets the basic needs of its population without overusing biophysical resources. The authors find that although it could be possible to meet the physical needs of the population within planetary boundaries for all countries,satisfying social needs requires a fundamental restructuring of infrastructure, technologies, institutions and markets. Development pathways compatible with a healthy planet involve tackling overconsumption in wealthy countries to achieve ‘sufficiency’ in resource use, decarbonizing the energy system, and reducing income inequality, they conclude.