Environmentalist of the week: EF Schumacher

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“An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited,” wrote EF Schumacher.

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The German economist is best known for his 1973 book Small is Beautiful, which somewhat controversially espoused the benefits of the small, the simple and the sustainable over the grand, the reckless and the unsustainable. 

With that defining work, Schumacher questioned whether Western economic theories and desires were compatible with the world in which they were enacted and pursued. 

The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology,” he wrote.

It was an unpopular message with many, but one that secured Schumacher’s international fame and influence. His ideas paved the way for the bold, principled environmental movement of the 1970s, a movement that hailed Schumacher as a hero.

He died in 1977, of a heart attack while on a lecture tour in Switzerland. But his influence is still felt far and wide, with many organisations and foundations established to promote his principles and secure the sustainable world he desired.

However, with the wanton pursuit of wealth and economic growth still driving our planet’s natural systems to the edge of disaster, it seems there is still much we can learn from EF Schumacher.

Further reading:

Environmentalist of the week: Sir David Attenborough

Environmentalist of the week: Rachel Carson

Book review: Small Is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if People Mattered – EF Schumacher (1973)

Sustainability institute of the week: Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems

Celebrating the work of E.F. Schumacher