Monday, September 17, 2012

Modernity Might Be More Costly Than You Think

Our scientific, technological and modern world is built on a strong belief in the autonomy of the natural system and the unbounded resourcefulness of science and technology as tools to understand the universe. This belief has brought us the nuclear threat, pollution, defoliation and a ravaged wilderness, all symptoms of an environmental crisis that puts the very existence of the human race and life on earth in jeopardy. It is time for a new relationship with nature, one motivated by equity, liberation and harmony.

The golden age of science that ushered in the industrial revolution began with Copernicus who set in motion a series of inquiries that culminated over 300 years ago with the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Methods of scientific explanation spread widely, permeating the social fabric of Western Society and the globe. Science would free us from the burdens of scarcity and help us conquer nature. Our productivity and consumption would increase. It certainly did, and we are now in an age of bondage to materialism and estrangement from each other, where middle class sensibilities motivated by self interest have brought us to the environmental precipice.

We are working harder and craving more in an effort to fulfill an internal emptiness which no level of material consumption can satisfy. The priority assigned to production must be de emphasized if we are to deal successfully with the ruin that our technical society has bestowed on us.

Our technology, dominated as it is by a Newtonian mechanistic paradigm that emphasizes quantity over quality, fails to recognize the elementary law of matter based on the second law of thermodynamics which says that any productive process is simply an irrevocable and irreversible transformation of low entropy into high entropy: in other words, the greater the level of activity, the less the availability of resources for the future.

It is regrettable that the field of Economics has not fully realized its entropic nature and underpinnings. It might have warned that bigger is not always better. The world, intoxicated with the idea of consumption, measures progress in quantifiable terms. A larger gross domestic product must go hand in hand with a “better” standard of living. Our strong identification with material consumption has led to misguided, false and even sacrilegious principles for economic development that are based on the central role that capital is expected to play in the transformation of a traditional society to an industrial one. The phrase “Economic Development” is itself culturally imperialistic because it denotes a specific pattern of consumption, production and behavior that is to be aspired to by all regardless of whether qualitatively the new level of aspiration is desirable. Growth-mania is a concept that is predicated on an anthropocentric view where everything is sacrificed for the attainment of growth even though the process may be built on greed and hedonistic acquisitiveness, a lack of meaning and purpose and with no distinction made between good and bad. This spirit of greed was best captured by J.S. Mill when he said: “Men do not desire to be rich, but to be richer than other men”. Neither the welfare of generations to come nor the irreparable deterioration of our delicate ecosystem are issues in our economic growth models. That threatens us all with a horrific future.

Nonetheless, an economic system is shaped by the mores and values of society, and there lies our hope for the future. We must change our values and adopt a new paradigm that respects Earth, looks to the future and concerns itself with equity and sharing. We must go outside the realm of science and examine what kind of economic and political order should prevail.

A society cognizant of the law of entropy would reallocate finite resources towards socially and environmentally responsible uses. The more we use our resources the less we will have for the future. Anthropocentric visions need to be modified and developed to teach an eschatology that liberates and makes progress meaningful. No level of activity, economic or otherwise, is justifiable unless it is simultaneously sustainable. We must learn to respect and protect nature since we are part of it and not apart from it. It is only then that we will be imbued with the high sense of ethics that is a prerequisite for correcting our environmental transgressions.

The environmental crisis has given us a future of uncertainty. Let that challenge us to introduce hope into our models by adopting:

(1) Consumption habits that can promote sustainability by putting to rest the infatuation with economic growth.

(2) Eliminate dependence on fossil fuels in an effort to contain the damage done through global warming.

(3) Preserve ecological diversity by protecting the intrinsic rights of all specie.

(4) Adopt measures that will prevent the human population from any further growth.

Unless the above are to be incorporated into our global policies and models then humanity will be looking towards a future with no hope. And that will be tragic.

And finally, dear reader, ask yourself the question whether the current political, social economic , demographic and environmental policies of any country in the world are sustainable?


Nick Sollogub said...

There is no country that is living in a sustainable manner. There are certain tribes scattered across the world that live in such a way. Sustainability is not possible if people are living with their comforts of technology and luxury. The only way this could be accomplished is by forcing everyone to live life in survival mode, not convenience. Once people are only taking their necessities from the planet we would see the tide begin to shift as far as balance between humans and nature. It would cease to deplete the earth of non-renewable resources, it would slow renewable resource consumption to a rate where it was able to sufficiently renew itself. The fisheries would come back to a healthy number. There would be no more emissions that pollute the atmosphere. I honestly believe that is the type of life we were intended to live. As far as population control that would be difficult. Shy of the governments allowing an amnesty for homicide day to thin the population, it would be difficult to reduce the numbers of people. Seeing how in my model there is no technology like computers, it would be difficult to track who is reproducing. Though there could be laws put into place to the extent of you are not allowed to produce more than you and your partner are, meaning each couple can have a maximum of two children, this allows them to feel that they have replaced themselves. As pointed out by the movie Idiocracy, the smarter population isn't reproducing while the more ignorant group is multiplying at a staggering rate. Survival of the fittest no longer applies. Perhaps there could be a license that is attained after taking a test to see who is allowed to procreate. This population explosion would slow down significantly, but there are still too many people on this planet to reach sustainability. But through people living simply again, the population would eventually return to a state of balance with nature. My footprint now is 3.76 worlds, and my biggest offense is food. But if I was able to live as I truly wanted, I know it would drop down to close to 1 planet.

Amanda Merlo said...

I'm not sure that every country is as bad as the United States when it comes to the impact we have on Earth, I'm sure many countries have less of a footprint than the United States, but I think that each country has room for improvement. As a whole, I think that all countries need to improve their level of sustainability. In the article it is said that we we set our to conquer nature and we did, but we not only conquered nature, we destroyed it. I think that all the steps in the end of the article will make a big change if they are practiced among people living on Earth but I think that it will take a long time for people to actually start living this way. I think it will take laws to change the lifestyle we have in order for people to change the way they live because people are mostly concerned about convenience. If something is not convenient to a person, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking instead of driving, people will not make the change. The only thing that seems to make a slight difference is when the price of something is changed, because that is one of the main concerns of citizens. Most people will not stop driving because of the negative impact they are making to the Earth, but they will stop driving if gas rices sky rocket and it becomes too much for them. As consumers we have to stop looking at the price of items and thinking only about how t will affect of wallets, but start thinking about how much it will affect our planet instead.

Maria Costa said...

I think that until I took this class my definition of "sustainable" was viewed through a lens of somehow encouraging growth, but now I have to say that I understand that growing is actually no way to be sustainable. It's interesting to me because I am currently very interested in economics, a field of study that is obviously very growth-centered. You are supposed to find the most efficient way to grow in which marginal benefits exceeds marginal costs. Economics is incredibly anthropocentric, concerned with what motivates humans to consume and produce certain products. I find it incredibly fascinating that it views resources as simply parts of a linear system. This course is forcing me to understand that the system is not so linear.

But so what? I realize this. It's not like I, as one person, can change that. The system operates on a global level, and it is successful on a number of levels. However, it will not continue to be successful because of the ways in which the anthropocentric nature of the system allows for the abuse of the resources we have available to us. So no, I do not think any country is truly sustainable, just as no corporation can truly be sustainable and continue to make a profit.

The problem is much bigger than motivating people to change their worldview. How does one tell a human to cut back, not to maximize their profits? How does one country (like the United States) start to feel beholden to another country in the Third World, upon which it dumps most of its environmental degradation? Is this even possible? I'm being super rhetorical because I'm very skeptical of it. Even some of the people in this class who believe we can somehow make people care - I don't know if we can! Will I care enough to stop living in an unsustainable manner? Probably not, because it is very hard for me to see the immediate benefit to myself. The actions I take will benefit my children's children, most likely. It's very difficult to keep that mindset, and if it's difficult for me, then it's a thousand times for difficult for an entire country to be that altruistic.

Oh man. I need 4.06 Earths to sustain my lifestyle. My biggest offense seems to be based on the building I live in while at school, and that actually is something I have zero control over. But again, that's simply my excuse.

Thomas Midolo said...

Living sustainably means that the rate at which we utilize resources is less than the rate in which the resources are replenished. It means that resources and land will be available and plentiful for future generations. At the rate society is burning through resources in the modern era, we are living unsustainably. Our society is built on advancement and moving forward. Therefore, if we are moving forward it means more things are being produced and consumed. The only way to start living sustainably is to reduce the amount of resources and items we consume. However, the difficulty with this is that no company will cut production and sales in order to better the environemnt because that would mean less profit. It would cause a major paradigm shift to change the ways of our society. The advancement of science and technology will only lead us further and further from sustainable living. As the blog entry states, people are wanting more and more but there are not enough resources to satisfy desires! The current political, social economic, demographic, and environmental policies of every country in the world are unsustainable. Every country competes with each other to be better and more advanced than the other. With the constant race for technological advancement, it is impossible to live in a sustainable world. COuntries continue to use more and more resources to continue advancing when the environment calls for a step backward or a reduction of consumption in all respects.

My ecological footprint is 5.22 earths.

Davin Ajodhasingh said...

To reach a steady level of environmental sustainability is almost impossible. We have unlimited wants with limited resources and the modernization of society and advancements in technology have made our society very greedy. We desire more than we need and most of us do not realize that our pursuit of materialistic objects that we can comfortably live without, is killing our environment. Of course, it is difficult to be sustainable. How do we even begin to define what we really need and what we can do without? We are using our natural resources faster than the rate of replenishment and todays goods are inferiorly manufactured, making companies, and corporations money by forcing consumers to dispose and buy more or new goods in the not too distant future, ie: Apple and the iphone. America is the worst at sustainability and since most developing nations look at America as a model, efforts to become and a promote a more sustainable country will prove futile. America has about 5 percent of the world population but yet has an overproduction in food of nearly 30 percent. America tries to practice “sustainability” by having companies operate abroad where they are able to exploit other countries for their labor and resources. We can never be one hundred percent sustainable so it is important that we prioritize wants in a utilitarian fashion to satisfy as much people as possible while our minimizing impact on the environment. It’s more of a question of determining what wants we “need” and what wants we can survive without. Modernization has caused us to become too dependent on technology to the point where someone would quicker pull out their phone to tell you the time than look at their wristwatch that they somehow forgot they were wearing. True story.

Camille Rousseau said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abby Lee said...

The United States is one of the worst contributers to environmental degridation because not only do we have a lot of disposable money, but we also are very individual based and competative. Not only do these values promote a selfish attitude, but they also create a set of values based on individual rights and liberties. An example of this is univeral health care. People are outraged at the thought of paying more taxes to support their fellow citizens' well-being, but they fail to realize this health care will make society as a whole better and more efficeint.

If we are to move toward a society that is more sustainable people have to change this set of values to be more based upon the rights of society and others. People need to make the mental connection that when they gain individual rights, there is an oposite reaction taking place which takes away the right of someone else. When we take our right to smoke in the park, we take away the right of someone else to sit in the park without breathing smoke.

There is no society which is completely sustainable and does not have any negative impact on the Earth. People have a romantisized view of other cultures and native peoples that involves them being one with the land and not having any negative impact. This is not completely true. While many native tribes are FAR more sustinable and respectful toward the land, humans always and will always have some effect on the land they use and live on. Once we accept this we can figure out ways of lowering this impact in a realistic way instead of making ourselves the enemy.

Kassandra Martinez said...

Honestly I highly believe any country is living in a sustainable manner because we as human beings are a very selfish and inconsiderit species. We care more for our wants instead of our need and for that we are causing much more damage then we really think; and for that we don't want to pay the price instead we just keep ignoring the consequences. Though I hope the US and many more countries start off by trying to take those steps mentioned towards the end of the article. Even if they have to pass laws that many may agree or disagree with but in the end will help our environment. Single individuals might make a statement within their community but we need each and everyones of us to help in order to patch up the holes we have made.
My footprint is 2.68 and what i have to reduce more of is my carbon footprint. Which isn't all that bad, i should just start riding my bike when its places close by.

Megan Foballe said...

Our current economic system is one that certainly and regrettably has serious misperceptions and underpinnings.

However, it is not one that will easily be toppled-it is currently seen as the only option. However, with the advent of so much globalization and “world economy” in recent years we have already seen a shift in our economic views.

While whether this is a change for the better is definitely in question, it still has changed nonetheless- giving us hope for another shift towards a system that truly appreciates nature for what it is. It is its own system with inherent rights and intrinsic value that cannot be quantified by mercantilism.

The closest thing we have seen to this school of thought was the adoption of a new constitution in Ecuador granting rights to nature.

This however is an indigenous culturally-based ideology and not feasible here in “more developed” countries. Canada is currently undertaking a project to attempt to quantify the value of the Borealis forest, a clear example of a nation’s money-hungry culture dictating its views of nature.

Unless there is an absolute and total paradigm shift that scales back our quantity over quality mentality and soon, the second law of thermodynamics is going to catch up with us and our children to come. And the picture is not pretty.

Virginia MacDougall said...

The typical definition of living sustainably means that the rate that we, as humans, exploit resources needs to be less than the rate at which they are being replaced. It basically requires us to learn to live within our means. It is not a surprise that no country is truly living sustainably because we are a selfish species and have neglected to look at the big picture, and even of those that claim to, neglect to come up with the proper diagnosis for our earth; that is, if there is one. There are so many elements that would need to remain in balance, such as the resource stock, population growth and size and energy consumption. These and many more wouldn’t only need to remain in balance with one another in a single country, but remain balanced on a global scale. To take a serious thought towards sustainability would require us to reexamine our lives as a whole, as well as our ideas of growth and “standard of living” or our consumption. Distribution and consumption remain at the center of the thought of the economics of sustainability, and on the global scale of consumption, depends on the amount of resources being used and the population size. So, there is no country on this earth, that is run on policies that are entirely sustainable and we are very far from it. We all talk about the numbers, what we should do, what can be done, but none of us are truly willing to give up or moderate our lives to live sustainably.

Jeffrey Prizzia said...

There is no country in this world that is living in a sustainable matter. We as a world need to come to the realization that if we do not stop abusing our resources and world then there will be no world in a few years to abuse. Politically speaking this world does not really get too far when trying to expand sustainability, but we do make small efforts which maybe help us get somewhere. Our efforts that we make are not going to help us because everything in this world is a domino effect. So our government is producing more efficient automobiles but all the energy that goes into those vehicles that are produced is no better for the environment. With that said economically it hurts us too, because we sink all this money into this new technology and just keep on spending money but keep polluting the earth with the objects that we are buying with the money. Instead we need to recycle what we have instead of keep on buying new stuff over and over again. Where does all this metal and solid materials that we get rid of to replace go? We just keep piling this stuff up but it must be going somewhere and at the same time taking a toll on us. Laws must be enforced across all countries that will clearly help the environment in huge leaps and no small hops. Human population should have more standards regarding how many kids are allowed in a family and if you want to have a large family that is fin but maybe there will have to be tighter restrictions on the family and how they use their resources. My ecological footprint is 5.36 earths, I need to cut down on my driving and start being economical when it comes to going out and doing errands.

Alfredo Dumalsen said...

Hints and silhouettes of sustainable living do appear in some cultures throughout the world, but unfortunately their cultures do not embrace the technological and economical advancements as other cultures. Yes, there are some indigenous tribes who thoroughly take advantage of the natural resources and are able to efficiently utilize them for a significant period of time; however, their economic status seems to reach a plateau. For instance, indigenous tribes throughout the world may practice sustainable lifestyles, but they lack innovation, especially in terms of science. They use their efficiency of resources to survive for the future, but that’s simply it. Today’s society welcomes innovation and science. Unfortunately, because of the Newtonian mechanistic paradigm this society embraces, new technologic advancements have been the avenue for consumerism to improve economic development; thereby, depleting the natural resources at a fast rate. Advancement in technology should be used to contribute to sustainable living and alleviate the planet, not extort its resources for selfish gain. Reverting back to primitive techniques of harvesting may have its value, but society should use science to enhance those sustainable techniques. Researcher’s need to take a more delicate and resourceful approach when using natural resources. Technology has the potential to allowing cultures to achieve that paradigm shift because it was the basis for the industrial revolution, which improved economic growth (but exhausted the environment and its resources). Now, I believe science can be used for the good if used in a sustainable approach.

Craig Mayle said...

No country that I know of is living sustainably. As was mentioned in class, even Europe has shied away from most of their sustainable initiatives because of the Financial Crisis and subsequent European Debt Crisis. However, if the European and world economies were structured in an environmentally sustainable way, these crises would not have made them less concerned with sustainability. If anything, they would have sharpened Europe’s concerns over the matter. I’m alluding to the solutions mentioned in the text, such as green taxes and full-pricing. If these became components of the global economy, then it might be possible that sustainability could exist in some countries. However, as mentioned at the end of the post, it is important that laws for population control be created and enforced, since there is no way to sustain an exponentially increasing population, no matter how eco-friendly the economic systems become. In regard to the first three things that were mentioned as needing to be adopted, I really believe that this kind of shift in our economic model will take care of those.

My footprint makes it so that 1.83 Earths would be needed. This seems to be due to my vegan diet and my frugality- I primarily buy 2nd hand and don’t throw things away till they’re of absolutely no use to me. I also live in a tiny room in a huge building.

Jessica Y. Sanchez said...

Although some policies have been created to help the environment we all have to answer the important question of, are we willing to give up the life styles will live now? I am someone who wants to do right by the Environment, but I often find myself fighting off the urge to be a selfish me. We have come to associate doing better and being happy with superficial thing; a big house, a nice gas guzzling car, and all the latest and greatest gadgets. Now stepping aside from the selfish me and onto a more grand scheme of things, is America willing to keep the unemployment the same or increase it, stop production of good and trade for the greater good of Earth? To grow economically we need to create more jobs, goods, and, continue to produce at the cost of our Environment. I believe that almost every human wants to help the Environment, but not at the cost of themselves.

If everyone lived my life style, we would need 4.94 Earths.

Emily armstrong said...

(1) Consumption habits that can promote sustainability by putting to rest the infatuation with economic growth.

(2) Eliminate dependence on fossil fuels in an effort to contain the damage done through global warming.

(3) Preserve ecological diversity by protecting the intrinsic rights of all specie.

(4) Adopt measures that will prevent the human population from any further growth.

All four of these proposals are important, however the problem that the U.S. is having is that no one is making a big enough effort to make these ideas possible. Yes it is true that we need to prevent the human population from any further growth, but are we willing enough to go as far as putting restricts on the amount of children one family can have? Some people would say this is unethical, which leaves us with a controversy. Since there is no other hypothesis to solve this problem we are left back where we started. Not to mention, everyone in the worLd would have to change their everyday ways and habits in order to reduce issues such as carbon emissions, and global warming significantly. Lastly, the government would have to get involved to help try to protect important species that are necessary in society. This would be difficult because people without an interest in the environment would ignorantly make the argument that we have bigger world issues Than worrying about the environment. They might be more focused in world hunger, and poverty, but in reality the environmental issues are just as important. People need to realize that if we don't start acting on this issue, then a bigger crisis is going to take place. At this point people will regret being unsustainable and inefficient, but it will be too late.

Brando B r a n d i n i said...

The word sustainability is a paradox. It serves as an illusion of what is really there. Environmentalists throughout American society have pushed towards environmental sustainability and yet the world as a whole continues to head in the wrong direction. Even outside of American society, humans have proved negligent on the environment. On my carbon footprint analysis, it was determined that it would take 3.81 earths to sustain my lifestyle. This number is outrageous and unacceptable. Not only do I shut off unused lights and typically conserve energy, but I commute by bicycle to avoid gas emissions. The biggest issues the globe face in terms of environmentalism include overpopulation and capitalism. As global citizens, I strongly believe that we have a moral obligation to take care our planet as it takes care of us. As we let our planet deteriorate, so will the human race. Rather than reproducing like rabbits do, people should set birth limits for the benefit of the whole. The idea of giving up certain civil liberties for the benefit of the whole goes as far back as John Locke and his idea of social contract. The larger the human population the more difficult it would be to provide resources for all, widening the gap between the rich and poor. Even if people were willing to sustain human population, it is in the best interest of multibillion-dollar corporations to keep the public blind. Companies would pretend to go green to establish a larger group of consumers. Politicians will frame their issues around the environment to sway over those who are undecided. Unfortunately, global sustainability would not work unless there is a total paradigm shift. One where people relied on each other and sincerely cared for the good of the world.

Jaclyn Barbato said...

Unfortunately, I believe the countries of today's world are more willing to enforce policies to diminish the negative effects after a problem has been allowed to develop itself than to actually face the problem. This is unjustifiable, as it does not promote sustainability, and infringes upon future generations these negative effects associated with the problems we refuse to tackle. The post uses the word, "cognizant", which is an adjective contradictory to our actions. Everyone is consumed with "Keeping up with the Jones" rather than being concerned about what this could be doing to the standard of living of future generations. Technology has allowed us to become lazier, and in doing so has also made us ignorant of the effects of our actions (Ex. New iPhone comes out, people will buy it for 'increased productivity' but when they buy said product they do not see the abundance of resources wasted to create it). I do not believe we should stray from 'science' per say to bring forth a paradigm shift but instead we should stray from technology. Although this may make some tasks we can easily perform today seem daunting, it is an efficient way to bring us closer to nature, giving us a better understanding of the science that is all around us (governing our planet).

Jaclyn Barbato said...

***CONT: My own ecological footprint was estimated 4.22. I live more than comfortably and although there's plenty of people who are not as fortunate as I am, there are also people who live more lavish lives than I myself do (My family of 5 being included). Looking at the "Compared to Global Acres" chart on the bottom, the only place where my footprint was above average was in Housing (A family of five is a bit above the average household!). This leads me to believe that our global averages are far too high, and they can easily be reduced if everyone could re-evaluate the way they live (and more importantly the way they waste!)

Celine Hamel said...

The environmental policies and the political and economic demographic of the United States is grossly unsustainable compared to other countries around the world. That does not go to say that the rest of the world is safe, they are not by any means acceptably sustainable either. Focus on economic growth needs to come to a screeching hault around the globe. Given history of human nature, this will not happen until something extremely dramatic, and probably terrible happend to the human race. Once everyone's eyes are open to the real problems we face our paradigm will shift to saving the Earth by becoming more sustainable in everyway.People now are ignoring concrete scientific facts and evidence that we are in way over our heads, we need a rude awakening as a species, and only when that happens will we start moving in a direction of hope for humanity.

I also participated in the ecological footprint calculator, and I ended up with 3.65 planets. I've done similar calculations in other classes I've taken and I got almost the same answers. It is really scary that this is how big of an impact I have, and to think that people have double the impact as me is even more frightening!

Laura Sorrentino said...

It is unfortunte that we not only rely so greatly on our environment, but we take advantage of it too. The majority of humans believe that nature, our environment and resources will be here forever. The rapid growth of our economy and technology is definitely speeding up the depletion process, yet we have become so brainwashed by the paradigm that growth through quantity is the key to achievement. In reality, we are exhausting our resources to the point where there actually wont be enough to sustain our way of modern life. Since we are so used to seeing and feeling the environment around us, we dont believe it will truly run out. As a result, we will never truly understand the balance between the environment and our species that is necessary to sustain a healthy earth. First, no healthy diet can be overburdened with anything and too much of anything is never good. Therefore, the environment has an extremely precise method in order to maintain equilibrium. Eventually a great deal of our population will die off since we have exceeded our carrying capacity to an extreme. Our species is not so wise, because if we were, then we would not reproduce at the current rate we have been. It is a shame that technology and consumption has blurred our natural senses that all animals are born with; the senses that guide us and teach us how to survive. We have been given the luxury to live with products and services that assist us in everything we do and have taken complete advantage of them. Once our population is balance we will still be depleted of many resources to sustain our way of modernity. At that point a change must be incorporated in order to prevent an overburden from happening again. Hopefully our future will not result to this option and we can change our ways now, even though that is not very realistic. To rid our infatuation with economice growth, to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, to preserve diversity, and to prevent any further population growth is in my opinion not possible for our species currently. We have depended on capitalism for our stabilty in our modern economy. Production and consumption have completely taken over our world by providing jobs and giving us the lifestyle we would like. We will continue to pay for these goods and services because we can not survive in todays world without them. As a result, theses goods and services will continue to be provided and increasingly as our population grows. As for other countries in the world, I believe it is no different. Yes, there are other countries that are ten times more sustainable than in the United States, however that type of lifestyle is still not possible with the enormity of our population. We all share our earth and no matter where you live, the overall sustainability of any country will not be enough to save our planet, therefore those countries are not technically sustainable. For every person on earth to live my lifestyle, we would need 4.92 earths.

Brionne said...

As we are on the topic of environmental sustainability in terms of politics, socially, economically, and demographically, I thought this would be an appropriate time to bring up an article I recently read which ranked the most sustainable G20 countries around the world. Germany placed first, with Japan and Australia rounding out the top three.

I found it interesting that Germany placed first considered they are arguably an economic powerhouse, on par with the U.S. and China in terms of manufacturing, producing, and consuming. Germany has a very high standard of living due in part to its strong economy; in the top three in terms of exporting and importing goods.

How is it that a country responsible for producing goods that fuel the insatiable consumer appetite ranks as the most sustainable country in the G20?

For starters, Germany has a wonderful social welfare system, highly skilled individuals that continually shape their economy through high levels of innovation. Since the country is such a large consumer of energy, its no surprise Germany uses non-renewable resources to power its large economy. However, Germany is a leader in green technology; committed to lowering their emission standards, increase their recycling efforts, and boost the overall awareness and use of renewable products and energy sources.

Moreover, their political environment also recognizes climate change as a legitimate issue, and combined with social efforts, there is an consensus in Germany that we must do more to combat the degrading anthropogenic effects on the natural world.
But, how can we promote sustainability, when we continue to consume more?

In comparison, the political climate of the U.S. is split between recognizing climate change and environmental degradation as legitimate issues. There is very little movement on the social front besides recycling, that our community is willing to do. For example, gas prices go up, yet we pay top dollar at the pump, and refuse to utilize public transportation, or alternative transportation. Equally important is our economy. How is it that companies are posting record profits, yet unemployment remains high, and our economy is ‘struggling’? We have become so blindsided by profit and fueling greediness that we fail to realize that corporations do not need to have billions in cash lying around, and creating money out of money is not plausible.

If we want to save our planet, and ourselves we need to start accounting for the external costs that aren’t factored into the cost of producing our goods. We need a shift from consuming for want, to consuming for need. I’m not advocating that we go back to picking berries; I just think we need to take a step back and reevaluate our position. Do we really need to buy plastic water bottles because we’re too lazy to tote around a reusable container? Think about it.

Anne Bingaman said...

Sadly, it is nearly impossible for everyone to agree upon this, especially when there are people who are so opposed to sustainability and in favor of such excessive economic growth. In the U.S., part of the problem is ignorance and part of it, I believe, is laziness. People are unwilling to change their lifestyles when they are so dependent upon the resources that we are wearing thin. With so many powerful people focused on economic growth (government, corporations, etc.) it gives very little hope to the environmental movement. Regulations and policies only go so far, particularly because the government rarely enforces them. Many people feel that the capitalist system is the only one available since it has been the only one utilized throughout history. Though there are a vast amount of ecological and environmental economists, it appears that the traditional/neoclassical school of economics always takes precedence. I feel that the environment is completely dependent upon a paradigm shift and I can only hope that, gradually, we will make it happen.

Nataliya Magomedova said...

In our capitalistic and materialistic world, economists introduced "Social Darwinism" and the idea of "Business as usual" the idea of competition and rivalry to supply more and keep the demand high. At first, these aims were geared toward the housewife of the 60's, because they were ultimately the ones spending money. Whether or not they needed a microwave or the latest laundry detergent at that time is totally arguable but its the fact that advertisements made this statement clear "Your life would be BETTER with it!" Did it in fact make it better? Well, now we have studies saying that those same microwaves release electromagnetic radiation. And that laundry detergent factory is polluting it's nearest river. On the topic of modernity and our current way of life, the advertisements are not that much different. Whether its the new Iphone 5, or the latest jeans, we are somehow persuaded to believe that it would make our life BETTER if we had them. The truth is, we are all guilty of depleting the earth. As long as humans are alive on this earth, they are, in some way or another a degradation to the earth. What economists failed to quote darwin on is that COOPERATION is in fact as big, if not bigger than competition, If we all cooperate in educating ourselves and others, we have every reason to start a movement toward a complete paradigm shift.

Olivia Hu said...

The U.S. is one of the few first world nations to refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which is an indication that U.S. citizens don't place stewardship at a very high priority level. Even though people consider New York City to be a depraved, polluted place, it is the greenest per capita city in the U.S. The majority of working adults commute to work, and apartment buildings need less gas for heaters in the winter, as heat rises throughout the building. During a discussion in another class over suburban vs. urban life in the future of environmentally friendly living, our class concluded that metropolitan areas would be the way of the future to be more environmentally conscious. The American Dream of a white picket fence, two or three cars per household and a backyard, is not sustainable. There simply isn't enough land for everyone to possess these items. Hopefully as time goes on and our surroundings change, people will be forced to adjust to an inevitably more compact world.

Leeann Moreau said...

The other day I was wondering how much of an impact buying and iPhone would have on my ecological footprint and if I could justify buying one while still calling myself an environmentalist. I thought that it wouldn't be that hard since Apple is all about being green and eco-friendly. Turns out this is mostly a marketing tool to get the fresh young hippies to buy their product. Here's what I found out on their website; smaller, thinner products produce fewer carbon emissions and use less natural resources. So say they. I did some extra research that said the products apple uses to make their products are limited. They also are farmed by 'gangs' that rip up Chinese farmland to get to the raw materials and leave the countryside ravaged. Something I don't think I can make up for by keeping a garden, taking shorter showers, and recycling everything I come across.

This being said, I stumbled on an article critical of Apple and their less than green practices that sported an edit at the top saying after several complaints from customers, Apple reclaimed their high EPEAT rankings. It also said that. "EPEAT has a comprehensive rating system that identifies some of the more eco-friendly products on the market. To date, there isn't a computer that gets a perfect score." If a big company like Apple is willing to alter their pattern when asked, why not ask more?

Donte Kirby said...

6.3 earths is my ecological footprint and I realize that I am the problem that this article talks about. I don't necessarily think I'm trying to fill an emptiness inside with material goods but I want them. I don't feel like i desire to be richer than other men but the idea sounds good to me. Towards the issue of environmentalism lately all I feel is apathy. When the effects of a crisis isn't readily apparent in my day to day life then that crisis doesn't concern me and that's how I feel 95% of the world feels.

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