Why Biocapacity Accountability Needs To Replace Disembodied Supply and Demand Pricing

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James Quilligan:

"As a subsystem of a larger ecosystem, the supply-demand model does little to equalize the natural sources of productive input with the natural sinks of consumed output or waste, leading to massive market failure. Under the illusion of supply-demand equilibrium, human population is now using the basic resources of food, water, energy and minerals faster than Nature can replenish them to meet the needs of its people. To reverse this critical overshoot, we’ll have to transform our epistemology, our ideologies, our institutions and rules, as well as our methods of accounting.

All of this requires a clearer understanding of the interactions between the biosphere and human society. The ecological threshold of available resources and the allocations of those resources to meet the needs of a population are actually opposing forces which continuously counteract one another. This dynamic principle exists between every species and its environment: living organisms react to changes in their ecosystem and make adjustments to survive.

Through this constant interplay between natural and physical forces, instead of supply creating its own demand through prices or demand being dependent on income, the signaling of need by an organism routinely triggers the creation of its own supply. These self-regulating forces work in Nature and within the biology of the human body; they must also work in human societies. Measuring the replenishment of renewable and non-renewable resources will enable a society to sustain their yield relative to the offsetting needs demonstrated by the size and growth of the human population.

These divergent forces must be given an empirical basis in socioeconomic policy beyond the inept framework of supply-demand. Counterbalancing the needs of a population with its resource support systems requires a major readjustment. Here’s how this might work. What’s now included on the supply side as extraction, production and waste is redefined as the self-organization of resources within the ecological limits of the planet for their regeneration. And what’s now reported on the demand side as a measure of income is redefined as the self-sufficiency of people in meeting their daily requirements through the common use of these resources.

When supply becomes an ecological value and demand becomes the value of human need, ‘build it and they will come’ is transformed into ‘demonstrate the need and it is met’. Now, instead of a crude approximation for economic equilibrium, we have an actual measure for the cooperative activities of people managing their resources to meet their needs — a measure based on the level of regenerative output which their ecology can optimally ‘carry’ or sustain.

The term for this dynamic equilibrium between people and their environment, which points the way out of our supply-demand matrix, is biocapacity. Biocapacity expresses the intrinsic value of sustainability within an ecosystem. It is based on the thresholds of resources which can be sustained in an environment as measured against the allocations of resources sufficient to meet the needs of its population. Through this ecosystem value, biocapacity offers direct indicators and guidelines to help us organize our own sufficiency through the steadily fluctuating, self-adjusting metabolism of society as a living system." (http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/finance_investment/james_quilligan/beyond_supply_demand_dynamic_equilibrium_between_g)