Macroecology meets macroeconomics: Resource scarcity and global sustainability

James H. Brown, Joseph R. Burger, William R. Burnside, Michael Chang, Ana D. Davidson, Trevor S. Fristoe, Marcus J. Hamilton, Sean T. Hammond, Astrid Kodric-Brown, Norman Mercado-Silva, Jeffrey C. Nekola, Jordan G. Okie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The current economic paradigm, which is based on increasing human population, economic development, and standard of living, is no longer compatible with the biophysical limits of the finite Earth. Failure to recover from the economic crash of 2008 is not due just to inadequate fiscal and monetary policies. The continuing global crisis is also due to scarcity of critical resources. Our macroecological studies highlight the role in the economy of energy and natural resources: oil, gas, water, arable land, metals, rare earths, fertilizers, fisheries, and wood. As the modern industrial-technological-informational economy expanded in recent decades, it grew by consuming the Earth's natural resources at unsustainable rates. Correlations between per capita GDP and per capita consumption of energy and other resources across nations and over time demonstrate how economic growth and development depend on "nature's capital". Decades-long trends of decreasing per capita consumption of multiple important commodities indicate that overexploitation has created an unsustainable bubble of population and economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-32
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Engineering
StatePublished - Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support was provided by National Institutes of Health (grant T32EB009414 for JHB and JRB), National Science Foundation (grants OISE-0653296 and DEB-1136586 for ADD; grant DEB-0541625 for MJH; and grant DBI-1052875 to the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center for WRB), a NASA Astrobiology Institute Postdoctoral Program Fellowship (for JGO; administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities), and Rockefeller Foundation (grant for MJH). We thank many colleagues for stimulating discussions and Paul Ehrlich and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.


  • Ecological economics
  • Economic growth
  • Global sustainability
  • Human ecology
  • Macroecology
  • Resource scarcity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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