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Obstacle 8 - The lack of an alternative socio-economic model

and the inertia of the present one

Updated December 2021

Biosphere’s unsustainabiliy is an enviromental issue. But the causes, counter-effects and potential solutions have a transboundary nature covering social and economic issues. The present socio-economic model pursues constant economic growth based on an always growing market and an unlimited exploitation of natural resources, constituting one of the reasons for biosphere’s disintegration (Otero et al. 2020).


Natural resources are already over-exploited and sooner o later the world population will decrease (Figure 1b). The overvalued technological improvements in efficiency have so far not allowed for reductions neither in resource use nor in pollution release (Otero et al. 2020).


An alternative socio-economic model based on finite resources, limited pollution and a degrowing population will be necessarily different from the present one. Meanwhile, the proposals for alternative socio-economic models and practices (e.g., “doughnut economics” Raworth 2017; “circular economy” Geng et al. 2019, Pieroni et al. 2019, Wang et al 2021; “ageing population” Kuroda 2019; O’Sullivan 2020; the integration of the above, D'Amato and Korhonen 2021) do not weight population degrowth (except Rees 2020) and are still vague (Otero et al. 2020; Wang et al. 2021).


The present disintegration of the biosphere already imposes a strong burden to economy (see Biosphere diagnosis) and the actions required to achieve sustainability will further impose strong economic, social and political constrains. Whatever the future socio-economic model would eventually be, the transition to it will take decades.

Sustainability - World population.jpg

Figure 1. World human population.

a) during the last 12,000 years.

b) during the last decades and projections to the end of the century (United Nations, 2019).



D'Amato D and J Korhonen (2021) Integrating the green economy, circular economy and bioeconomy in a strategic sustainability framework. 

Ecological Economics188:107143. 

Geng Y, J Sarkis and R Bleischwitz (2019) How to globalize the circular econmy. Nature 565:153-155.

Kuroda H (2019) Demographic changes and macroeconomic challenges. Document by the Governor of Bank of Japan, Keynote Speech at G20 Symp.2019, Tokyo, 8 pp.


Otero  I, K Farrell, S Pueyo et al. (2020) Biodiversity policy beyond economic growth. Conserv. Lett. 2020.

O’Sullivan J (2020) Silver tsunami or silver lining? Why we should not fear an ageing population. Discussion paper by Sustainable Population Australia, 52 pp.

Pieroni M, T McAloone and D Pigosso (2019) Business model innovation for circular economy and sustainability: a review of approaches. J. Cleaner Production 215:198-216.

Raworth K (2017) A doughnut for the anthropocene: humanity’s compass in the 21st century. The Lancet Planetary Health 1:e48-e49.

Rees W (2020) Ecological economics for humanity’s plague phase. Ecol. Econ. 169:106519.

Wang Y, Z Yuan and Y Tang (2021) Enhancing food security and environmental sustainability: A critical review of food loss and waste management.

Res. Envir Sustain. 4:100023.

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