Earth Day Founder Denis Hayes's "One-Man Anti-Stimulus Package"

With market bubbles, the truth about risks is simply too painful to confront, Denis Hayes said at the Ceres conference in San Francisco this morning. It’s no different with our current “ecological bubble,” he said, explaining that no one wants to confront the real risks and costs of how we’re burning through finite natural resources. Hayes was the brains behind the first Earth Day back in 1970, and he’s now president and CEO of the $100 million Bullitt Foundation in Seattle. Exposing painful ecological truths — and what they mean for the economy — is what he does. So today he talked about a “one-man anti-stimulus package” and zero population growth. Yeah, he went there.

“Mother Nature does not do bailouts,” Hayes said. “Sooner or later, Mother Nature is going to come and break your kneecaps.” Avoiding or postponing ecological collapse as a result of climate change, he said, means coming to terms with the planet’s limited resources and carrying capacity. We simply have too many humans, Hayes said, although he stopped short of proposing a way to slow population growth.

Hayes’s anti-stimulus package involves shifting the economy to one that can thrive on reuse and repair, rather than constant consumption — investing in one pair of better-quality shoes and making them last with repairs rather than six pairs of lower-quality shoes for the same cost, for example.

What’s interesting about Hayes’s ideas is not so much their controversial nature (feel free to debate them in the comments below), but the context of their presentation. He delivered his keynote this morning before an audience of environmentalists, sure, but also global corporate giants. Hayes began his talk with mention of the fact that Ceres held its first meetings, two decades ago, in “greasy pizza parlors.” Now it’s in the grand ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel.

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