As it turns out, a robust economy and a healthy environment are incompatible. If we rev up the economy, the environment suffers. If we protect the environment, the economy tanks. On the face of it, there’s no way to win; we’re literally damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Double damned, actually, because in effect we can’t have either one. The pundits won’t say it, the media won’t air it or print it, the politicians won’t think it and business leaders all deny it, but the status quo has lose/lose written all over it.
There are only two ways out of this dilemma; one you won’t like, and the other you’ll like even less. The first option is to slow the economy gradually but quickly by various means to avoid the harshest impacts to people, and then replace it with an entirely new, sustainable system that protects the environment and excludes no one. The second option is to crash the economy dead in its tracks, cull the human herd by 75% or more, and then reset the board for a new game (presumably of Monopoly). A third option (an ode to the status quo but no way out) is to stay mired in our dilemma, resist all temptations to act in our own best interests, ignore the obvious, deny an undeniable reality and essentially let nature fix the problem for us.
Of several strategies capable of slowing the economy, austerity seems like the best choice. Austerity, as proven on numerous occasions, can effectively slow an economy―or bring it to a complete standstill―in a relative short time. Another result of austerity―intended or not―is that it increasingly puts the superfluous population at greater risk by denying people trapped in this demographic access to the things they need to survive; people who lack the means to survive usually don't. In addition to cooling off the economy, austerity sets the stage for reducing global population numbers to a sustainable level.
There are two kinds of austerity, one soft, the other hard. "Soft" austerity is self-imposed―the kind you accept voluntarily and do willfully―a conscious effort to reduce one's appetite for consumer goods for the greater good of all. Such efforts might include intentionally downsizing one's home, becoming car-free, or reducing one's energy consumption in myriad ways; all are forms of soft austerity. One willingly sacrifices a certain amount of personal comfort, convenience and pleasure for the sake of a smaller carbon footprint.
"Hard" austerity, thrust upon one against one's will by an outside force, chokes off the money supply in the economy. In essence it denies people access to the goods and services they need to survive. It's the kind of austerity that’s pervasive in the world today. Hard austerity is not only a means of population control, it's also a tool that, when skillfully wielded, ensures the wealthy remain at the top of the world pecking order. To put it simply, the wealthy impose austerity on the rest of us (none for them, thank you) by capturing most of the newly created wealth and/or the money increase that accompanies it.
Unfortunately, austerity imposed by the wealthy is aimed at the wrong end of the economic spectrum. For maximum effect, austerity must also target the rich because it is they who contribute the most to environmental destruction. By focusing austerity only on those already struggling to make ends meet, the wealthy betray their true intention to soften up the superfluous population prior to a cull. It’s capitalism they care about, not people or the environment.
Used wisely and applied fairly, austerity measures can be valuable assets in helping humans avert a global environmental disaster. When used in the way that the wealthy now use it, austerity is only an implement of destruction.
In the first analysis, austerity seems like the easiest, cheapest and surest way of bringing the global economy to an idle in the shortest possible time―short of a sudden crash. In the final analysis, nothing changes; the inescapable truth is that economic contraction is an environmental imperative if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe that inevitably leads to a major extinction event.