I was reminded of a parable recently, and it’s one that I would guess many non-Christians will even know. “The Prodigal Son” is found in the Gospel of Luke, and it’s one of the more famous New Testament stories, right up there with “The Good Samaritan.” Here are the basics:
A rich man has two sons, and the younger one is impatient for his inheritance. He asks his father to divide his estate, and his father agrees (not what I would have chosen, but who am I to nitpick the premises of Jesus’s parables?). The son then goes off, lives large, and spends it all (which is what “prodigal” refers to – it means “extravagantly wasteful”). Basically, it was the 2000-years-ago equivalent of moving to Las Vegas, renting a penthouse suite for a year, and hosting a rager every third night.
Now destitute (and possibly dealing with the consequences of liver disease – Jesus didn’t say), the younger son returns to his father to ask for forgiveness and a job. The point of the story is that the father did forgive his son, embraced him, and welcomed him back to the family. Lots of good stuff.
Here’s what I got to thinking about. Things could have gone much differently for the younger son if he had just had a little foresight and fiscal responsibility (yeah, yeah, I know I’m messing with the premise of the story again). He could have calculated his net worth, invested it in a diversified manner, taken an annual draw from the income earned on his inheritance, and maintained a reasonable standard of living indefinitely. Tisk tisk younger son. That’s what you get when you are unsustainable in your use of resources.
In other news, last week humanity passed Earth Overshoot Day. It’s the day each year when we collectively use more from nature than Earth can renew in the year. Stated another way, we’ve used up our annual natural “income” and are spending our natural capital, harming the long-term ability for us to meet future human needs. Stated another way, just like the prodigal son, we’re hosting ragers every third night.
Even worse, an Earth Overshoot Day of July 29th is a global metric. What would the date be if everyone on Earth lived like Americans? Drumroll please……..March 15th. Yikes!
We have a problem with excessive consumption. Our species has become prodigal, and we are spending not just our inheritance, but that of countless generations yet to come. I fear how they will judge us.
For this reason more than any other, we must work to create a circular economy. It’s our only real hope for transitioning society to sustainable resource use and moving Earth Overshoot Day to December 31. So take a look at some of the steps you can take to #movethedate. Then do them!