How Humans Spare Nature: We Conserve Nature by Using Less of It—but To Do so We Must Embrace Modern Technology

While many of humankind’s environmental impacts have grown in absolute terms, several have started to fatten out or even decline. Per capita impacts have in many cases gone down, in large part because the technologies used to produce goods have become less environmentally harmful. While per-capita consumption has added to humanity’s overall burden on the environment, technological shifts have for the most part reduced it. There are signs that economic growth and human welfare are becoming increasingly decoupled from environmental impact.

As a general rule, the more synthetic our consumption, the less nature we destroy. We spare nature by using less of it. That is, as the demand for material goods saturates at high levels of income, the peak and subsequent decline of human impacts on the environment is a distinct possibility this century.

If food and energy production take up less land, there will be more space for nature, both near and far from cities. Ultimately, decoupling from nature in material terms might give us more of the beauty, diversity, and other immaterial benefits that nature has to offer.

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