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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Feb 24;106(8):2483-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812570106.

Overcoming systemic roadblocks to sustainability: the evolutionary redesign of worldviews, institutions, and technologies.

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  • 1Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, George D. Aiken Center, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, and Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.


A high and sustainable quality of life is a central goal for humanity. Our current socio-ecological regime and its set of interconnected worldviews, institutions, and technologies all support the goal of unlimited growth of material production and consumption as a proxy for quality of life. However, abundant evidence shows that, beyond a certain threshold, further material growth no longer significantly contributes to improvement in quality of life. Not only does further material growth not meet humanity's central goal, there is mounting evidence that it creates significant roadblocks to sustainability through increasing resource constraints (i.e., peak oil, water limitations) and sink constraints (i.e., climate disruption). Overcoming these roadblocks and creating a sustainable and desirable future will require an integrated, systems level redesign of our socio-ecological regime focused explicitly and directly on the goal of sustainable quality of life rather than the proxy of unlimited material growth. This transition, like all cultural transitions, will occur through an evolutionary process, but one that we, to a certain extent, can control and direct. We suggest an integrated set of worldviews, institutions, and technologies to stimulate and seed this evolutionary redesign of the current socio-ecological regime to achieve global sustainability.

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