By Zora Lathan, May 2016
“If all humans consumed as much food and resources as people in the United States do, the Earth could sustain only about a quarter of the current population.” ―Worldwatch Institute, 2013
“The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.” ―Edward O. Wilson
Everyone wants to live well, but how is that defined? While some of us are incorporating a mindful, harmonious existence of mankind with nature into our definition of living well, many Americans define themselves and their successes by what they own and what they consume.
Should living well for some, i.e., material wealth, be gained at the expense of others and the environment?
As the current 7.3 billion human population continues to increase—with another 2 billion projected by 2050—environmental impacts of every kind are rapidly increasing. These impacts are not only due to increasing numbers of people, but also to the changing lifestyles and the rate of consumption of natural resources by societies worldwide.
There is a growing awareness that the consumption of finite fossil fuel resources, and the pollution caused by its production, isn’t sustainable and compromises everyone’s future. In the last several years, global warming has emerged as the apex of environmental issues—a crisis too big to ignore. Our natural resources are being rapidly depleted, while the pollution from carbon dioxide, methane and other emissions is causing the planet to warm, resulting in sea level rise and increasingly erratic climate events. Environmental degradation is taking place at unprecedented levels, and on a global scale.
Global warming is beginning to raise eco-awareness to a higher level than many other environmental issues. But what will be the result? Will we reduce humanity’s footprint on the Earth and move toward more sustainable lifestyles? And what will be the consequences if we don’t? Are we destined to create the apocalyptic future depicted in countless sci-fi and futuristic movies?
It’s strange how completely we’ve become consumers. We’ve allowed our common sense to become enslaved to marketing messages. $500 billion is spent each year to convince consumers around the world that they’ll be better off drinking Coke, eating Big Macs, driving cars, owning pets, using disposable diapers and formula, and flying to far off luxury destinations. Of course, buying into all those products will mean working longer hours—even if that means putting your child in daycare and not having enough time to take care of oneself, cook healthy meals, exercise and so on. But the good news is that as you get fat and sick from eating junk food and living a sedentary and stressful lifestyle, there are pharmaceuticals you can buy to control your blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, even serotonin levels when you become depressed and your pet dog can no longer make you feel better.
It’s sad really: in 100 years when the Earth heats up another 4-5 degrees Celsius—because we failed to curb our rapacious ways—it’ll be consumers we’ll blame for being unwilling to give up their decadent love of luxuries. -Erik Assadourian, “Escaping Fido’s Cave.” Learn more at Worldwatch Institute.
Americans have long held the lead in the consumption of natural resources and the pollution produced, however, China, India, and other developing economies are fast emerging with burgeoning middle classes seeking to emulate western lifestyles and consumption patterns. The pace of change is accelerating nationally and globally.
If all humans consumed as much food and resources as people in the United States do, the Earth could sustain only about a quarter of the current population. Humanity as a whole is becoming more wasteful as people across the globe define themselves and their successes by what they own and what they consume. In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?, contributing authors discuss ways that we can move away from the consumer culture that is undermining the planet we live and depend on. Learn more at Worldwatch Institute.
Is the crush of modern-day life and the doom and gloom predictions for the future too much to contemplate? For many, media bombardment, noise, crowding, and the sheer rush of our complex, modern society are the antithesis to living well.
For some, there is the tendency to bury ones head in the sand, and to adopt an attitude of “don’t bring me no bad news,” essentially being complicit in being dumbed down and distracted. However, as the saying goes, “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”
VISION FOR A GREEN FUTURE
Eco-awareness is indeed growing, as are sustainable living practices. Ghandi famously stated, “We must be the change that we want to see in the world.” Another familiar saying, “You do not describe what you see, you see what you describe.” If a critical mass (say 10 percent or so of the population) could envision and live a largely sustainable lifestyle, this could change the paradigm from one of resource depletion and destruction to a paradigm of “living well and green” for all of earth’s inhabitants. A post-scarcity future, e.g., depicted in the long-running Star Trek TV series—where humans have progressed beyond mere survival concerns and where poverty no longer exists—has certainly been imagined by many.
It is possible to “live well and green,” that is, to live a materially comfortable, non-exploitative and peaceful life, while protecting and restoring the environment. Living a green lifestyle doesn’t mean living without the material comforts of life. It does, however, require conscientious decision-making and environmental awareness, limiting excessive consumption, taking action to protect and restore the environment, and creating new cultural norms of “having enough.”
Sustainable living practices include, e.g., reigning in our appetites to excessively consume, reducing the use of natural resources, using renewable energy, limiting if not eliminating waste and pollution, eating lower on the food chain, eating locally grown food, and choosing green products and materials. [It also includes] “placing more emphasis on publicly provided goods and services, on services in place of goods, on goods with high levels of recycled content, and on genuine choice for consumers. Governments can reshape economic incentives and regulations to ensure that businesses offer affordable options that meet consumers’ needs. They also have a role in curbing consumption excess, primarily by removing incentives to consume—from subsidized energy to promotion of low-density development.” –World Watch Institute
To promote such practices, we need win-win solutions that take into account human nature. The Nature Climate Change study shows that human beings are too selfish to endure present pain to avert future climate change.
The Nature Climate Change study also underscores why “win-win” climate policies — like innovation investments that can lead directly to cheap clean energy, rather than policies that make dirty energy more expensive — are likely to be the most effective ones. Barring a species-wide personality change, few of us will be willing to endure present pain so that our grandchildren won’t have to endure an unlivable climate. We’re likely better off tailoring solutions that work with our selfishness and brief attention span, rather than hoping we suddenly become better, more farsighted people. (By Bryan Walsh, Oct. 21, 2013, Time.com) Learn more here.
WHAT’S POSSIBLE, the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit Opening Film, was presented to world leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on September 23. This short inspirational film shows that climate change is solvable. We have the technology to harness nature sustainably for a clean, prosperous energy future. Learn more at – www.TakePart.com/climate. Watch – WHAT’S POSSIBLE.
Narrated by Morgan Freeman:
One day we will wake up to find that the energy that powers the alarm clock came from the breeze through the trees the night before. And we will go to work that morning riding the rays of the sun. It will light our cities and power our businesses; it will warm our homes and cool our workplaces; it will reduce sources of conflict and fuel our economies. It will connect us all. It won’t scar the land or poison the seas. The food we eat will be good for our bodies and good for the planet, and the weather that day won’t make us worry for tomorrow. There will be more jobs and less disease. The sea level will stop rising and species will stop dying. The question is how do we get to that day from where we are today?
All 7.3 billion of us.
We start by deciding that beyond our doubts and differences such a day truly exists; and that is something each of us can do today. We can make today the day we stop thinking that the changes to get there are impossible and beyond us, and start realizing that they are not only possible, but what the future requires of us. We must stop turning from the warnings of science of fear and denial, and instead turn toward the solutions and partnerships we need. We can make today the day we stop pointing at each other in blame and instead chart a new course together. We have never faced a crisis this big, but we have never had a better opportunity to solve it. We have everything we need to wake up to a different kind of world. We need our leaders to be brave and their choices to be bold. They will either remember us as the generation that destroyed its home or the one that finally came to respect it. We have every reason in the world to act. We can’t wait until tomorrow.
This is our only home, you can choose today to make a world of difference.
A WORLD OF SOLUTIONS is a sequel to WHAT’S POSSIBLE, the short film that screened to world leaders at the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit, and then reached millions of social media feeds worldwide. Like its predecessor, this film was directed by Louie Schwartzberg, written by Scott Z. Burns, and produced by Lyn Davis Lear. It features the creative gifts of narrator Morgan Freeman and composer Hans Zimmer. Watch – A WORLD OF SOLUTIONS.