A fable about sustainability

The goose that laid golden eggs

Once upon a time, there lived a very poor farmer who constantly struggled, always finding it hard to feed his large family. He prayed constantly to the universe for help and one fateful night his prayers were answered. In a dream, an old woman told him to go to his local market early the next morning and buy the first goose he saw. The old woman made him swear to look after the goose, and as long as he wasn’t greedy, the goose would live forever and lay one golden egg each day to benefit him, his family, and his descendants forever.

The next morning the farmer did as he was instructed. He bought the first goose he saw and took it home. The morning after that the farmer was amazed to see that the goose had laid a golden egg. The farmer took good care of the goose and the goose continued to lay one golden egg every day. The farmer and his family could always eat well and they eventually became quite wealthy.

However, after some time, and even though he was well off, the farmer became jealous of the village banker who was much wealthier than him. The farmer ignored the old woman’s instruction to not be greedy and to respect the goose. He successfully forced the goose to lay two golden eggs a day, and then three. The Goose obliged the farmer with increasing difficulty, but it soon died of exhaustion.

The farmer killed the goose that laid golden eggs!

This is a fable about sustainability. The goose in the story (first told by Aesop) is the natural environment, and the golden egg is nature’s bounty. But one golden egg a day is all the bounty that nature can sustainably provide indefinitely. One egg is sufficient bounty for our needs, and for lives of well-being and flourishing. However, we are greedy like the farmer, we want more than we need. We are forcing nature to provide more than it can sustain and we will soon exhaust it.

One golden egg is the biocapacity of the earth. Humanity’s ecological footprint is currently over one and a half golden eggs a day, and this is growing. Also, this is a global average, affluent people use five, six or more golden eggs a day.

When will we learn? When our goose is dead?