The United States is now produced more physical things (i.e. cars, buildings, clocks…) than it has at any time in its history but it actually REDUCING the amount of materials taken from the ground to do it. One word explains how can that came about: efficiency.
There is still absolutely vast amounts of work to be done to improve our global situation but there is now more than just blind hope that new technology will save our collective futures.
Our society (both the in the rich first world and poor third world countries) is so wasteful that it is relatively easy to BOTH increase production and reduce consumption. This is no longer just economic theory. The US has had massive (like 25%) decreases in the consumption of copper, tin and crucially, water in the last 15 years. Decoupling economic growth from consumption has been achieved.
A related finding is that energy consumption in the United States has also been flat for the last decade and with further efficiencies is expected to decline in coming years.
The combination of small direction from government as to public policy requirements and crisis like the 2008 economic collapse and the 2014 oil price collapse, have forced private sector companies to reevaluate their operations.
This is the stuff of first year business school Organizational Behavior classes in which Winston Churchill’s famous phrase “never waste a good crisis” is drilled into students DNA. When times are good, very little changes.
It takes a substantial downturn for large organizations to stop what they are doing and figure out a better way. Today we are reaping the benefits of these changes.