Humans are treating the natural world like a giant Ponzi scheme, according to David P. Barash in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes that a small number of investors are cashing in on the earth’s natural resources, constantly paid off by “more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based—as all Ponzi schemes are—on the fraud of ‘more and more,’ with no foreseeable reckoning, and thus, the promise of no comeuppance, neither legal nor economic nor ecologic. At least in the short run.”
Treating the environment this way is unsustainable, like all Ponzi schemes. According to Barash, people cannot continue to rely on the next technological advance to come to humanity’s rescue.
The problem is that the unsustainable, consumerist mindset can’t simply disappear. It needs to be replaced with something, Amitai Etzioni writes for Prospect. A mass dialogue is already underway “about the relationship between consumerism and human flourishing,” that could redefine humanity’s relationship to work, consumption, and the definition of the “good life.”
“We need a culture that extols sources of human flourishing besides acquisition,” Etzioni writes. He suggests people focus on communitarian pursuits, that value human relationships, and transcendental ones, like spirituality, art, and philosophy. Whatever people choose to focus on, Etzioni writes that society needs to value pursuits enrich people’s lives, rather than extract from the earth.