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Ask any policy wonk, politician or pundit – Republican, Independent or Democrat – about the sine qua non of economic policy, and the chances are pretty good their answer will boil down to one word: growth.

No matter what their stripe, a growing economy is practically synonymous with a good economy.

Yet this flies in the face of reality.  It is a disconnect, a non sequitur, an impossibility, a folly of immense proportions.  Because the plain fact is, the economy can’t continuously grow in a finite world, and we are already bumping up against limits.

Right now, it takes 1.5 Earths worth of resources to maintain our current economy.  By 2050, assuming only moderate growth, we’ll consume nearly 3 Earths worth.

But of course, we only have one planet.

Those extra worlds we consume represents debt – assets taken from our children.  In ecologic terms, it is called “overshoot.”  And living systems cannot long survive in overshoot mode.

The term overshoot comes from ecology, and a classic example of an ecological overshoot might serve to make this concept more real.

So here you go.  In 1944, the US Coast Guard released 29 reindeer onto St. Mathew Island. By the summer of 1963, the population had exploded to over 6,000 animals.

Quite a success, eh?

Not really. By the end of 1963, the population plummeted to fewer than 50 scrawny, starving animals.  They’d experienced an ecological overshoot.