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How Do We Create A Sustainable World?
One of the most difficult aspects of change we have to face is our approach to the world’s natural resources. They will run out unless we change our consumption patterns. We have consumed more of the earth’s resources in the last 60 years than in any known history.
The International Energy Agency recently released its Global Energy Outlook at a press presentation on November 9, 2011 in London. Some of the more worrying trends are that countries’ economic concerns are diverting attention away from sustainable energy policies. They are seen by some as expensive and unpopular, ignoring the long-term scenario that unrestrained exploitation of the planet’s resources means its eventual depletion! How can a species that self-identifies as an intelligent species take actions that are clearly not in its best interests in the long run? Staying active is insane.
Even a population of 7 billion people accounts for less than 1% of the world’s animal biomass. Small debris like this shouldn’t pose a threat to the entire biosphere, but we do. Anthropogenic CO2 emissions have returned to all-time highs, and spending on oil imports is nearing all-time highs.
How did we get to this point? The Industrial Revolution, with its innovations from simple tools to complex machines and the development of the chemical industry, transformed labor-intensive, agricultural-based societies into large-scale industries after the mid-1800s. transformed our way of life into a sophisticated manufacturing and information society. While this has given us many benefits, it has also created a culture that relies on the continuous consumption of finite world resources to maintain momentum. The identification with the consumption of is consciously promoted by advertising and business, and is still seen as an indicator of social status…the latest car…the latest fashion, etc.
The consumption and disposal cycle of modern life relies heavily on the promotion of new products and the obsolescence of others. Billions of dollars are spent each year in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to tell us that our self-esteem equals ownership of the latest. We consume everything we can’t use, not just what we need. In poor and developing countries, just like in rich countries, people want an unsustainable way of life. Wealthy people (about 20% of the world’s population) use her nearly 80% of the world’s raw energy resources and contribute a large share to the world’s waste and pollution.
Half of the world’s forests have been lost. Currently 25% of his reef is lost. Species extinction, especially of the world’s fish species, is increasing at an alarming rate, fueled by unsustainable levels of fishing, habitat destruction (dead zones), and climate change.
The consumption curve of China, the next major developing country, is rising. If the Chinese were to consume the same amount of meat as the Americans, they would need two-thirds of the world’s current annual grain production to feed their herds. If they burned coal per capita at the current US level, he would use more coal in a year than the world’s total annual coal production. And if they used oil at the same rate, they would use more oil annually than the world currently produces.
India and behind it Africa are looking to follow in China’s footsteps in emulating Western lifestyles and eating habits. What is still there is much less accessible and much more at risk of ecological disaster in the extraction process (think deep-sea drilling). There are possible relationships. Our current lifestyle upsets the ecological balance.
Chemically enhanced mechanized farming increases yields per acre, but it also increases the growth of algae that clog lakes and waterways. and poison entire insect populations. We inject over 100,000 compounds into the air, land, rivers and seas. It makes me wonder why dumping millions of tons of sludge and solid waste into the ocean is causing our fertility to decline and our children to suffer from all kinds of allergies and chemical sensitivities. We have to go and return to the food chain and our own bodies.
It makes no sense for rich countries to think that this issue should be addressed equally both in their own countries and in poorer developing countries, where self-sufficiency is still the main concern. Western countries spend more money on diet products alone than the entire United Nations World Famine Budget.
Faced with some of these harsh realities, more and more people around the world are finding their current lifestyle unsustainable and rethinking their individual choices, values and behaviors. Still a few people, but growing all the time. In last week’s elections here in New Zealand, the Green Party became the first environmental party in the world to win more than 10% of the votes of that country’s voters. Both right and left parties are mixed under a prime minister who wants to be inclusive.
People are starting to shift their mindset from consumption based on quantity to consumption based on quality and need. A new way to combine the simple lifestyle of using natural resources with modern technology. In-depth research into the environmental considerations of our products and the ethics of making and using our products prior to purchase. A deeper commitment to buying local, fresh and organic produce at the most affordable prices possible. It is precisely this point that we need to focus on at the grassroots level of our own lives in order to create and foster change on a global level.
The true engine of the consumer-driven economy is us and the decisions we make as consumers. Pointing your finger elsewhere is pointless. After all, if we personally (through our consumption habits) encourage green companies, renewable energy technologies, water, air and soil protection, and a commitment to buying only recyclable goods, the world less pressure on their delicate ecosystems. And resources will be moderated, and the laws of supply and demand will kill businesses and practices that still operate in ecologically unacceptable ways.
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