I began to suspect sustainability (to avoid the very likely collapse, based on the solid model and numerous symptoms) has to do with ethics (or moral, value) when I asked myself a question, “Is it rational for a self-interested person choose to act in a way that promote the collapse, even he/she agreed on the assumptions of Limits to Growth and so the collapse?”

Imagine I am the self-interested person (I don’t even care about my future generations) who buy the Limits to Growth scenarios, what will I do? I know that all are interconnected (interdependence). An attack to Nigeria oil fields can trigger a rise in global oil price, which can affect people far away from Nigeria who even have no idea where Nigeria is. Besides distant in space like previous example, I also know that cause and effect can be distant in time. The lowering of interest rates has contributed to the housing bubble. So the collapse may lead to world (nuclear?) war, international terrorism, epidemics, which can affect my personal interest negatively.

To be rational, I will weight the risk of unsustainablility on me (highlighted because self-interested person only put effect on himself into consideration, not even effect on his children, so the rational calculation is based on a person’s value) and the benefit I gain from not doing it (e.g. immediate gratification by unnecessary consumption). I found that it is totally rational for me to defer sustainable decisions until the risk of unsustainablility on me exceeds the benefit I can gain from not choosing it.

In other words, unsustainable business as usual becomes less attractive when collapse becomes more obvious. Of course there is uncertainty because we cannot know exactly when the risk of unsustainablility exceeds the benefit (bounded rationality), and the perception of risk vary from person to person. But it is no doubt that when I perceive the collapse has larger negative effect on me (e.g. a nuclear war involving the country I am living in), even I, an extreme self-interested person, will start act to avoid it.

Do we need to wait until that time when the collapse might have reduced significant world population? Fortunately no. Evolutionary psychology research has found that people are not born to be pure self-interested, but also component of altruism, to keep their kin, race, species, earth’s life or even living things in the universe survives. The distribution might be normal between these two extremes, but I suspect education (especially during the early childhood) can influence the degree of altruism. To avoid collapse, majority of people just need to be altruism on (care about) the species level (humanity), because human society is the concern of collapse. Earth will heal itself and some species will be able to live through the great change of Anthropocene and might overtake human.

Therefore, ethics is very important for sustainability (another is the understanding of dynamics). Since its importance is diminishing when we see more and more symptoms of collapse, it is possible to convince more self-interested people to act for sustainability. Relying on altruism need to fight with strong self-interestedness part of human, which is difficult.

Lastly I would like to share a nice (not only its message, but also the way it presents) visual:

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