This article emerges out of a number I tossed out in a posting on Facebook a day or two ago, suggesting that the average American would need to consume something on the order of 5% of the resources they presently consume (collectively) if their standard of living were to be equalized with the rest of the world’s population without destroying the planet’s ecosystem (i.e., how much less would we need to consume for the rest of the world to be able to consume an amount equal to what we do).
A friend asked me where I got that number from, and I’m somewhat embarassed to admit (since I’m such a data driven person) that I can’t actually recall at this point – I did the math in my head a while ago. I did some research for real numbers, mostly searches and reading on ecological footprint figures, as I vaguely recall basing the calculation on something along those lines; at this point, while the 5% number may actually have been based on some other metric entirely, the footprint metric seems the most reasonable one to use for the purpose of discussion.
There is an old saying: If something is unsustainable it can’t be sustained. Our economy is starting, just starting to show us what happens when you continue unsustainable practices to their conclusion.
The day will come when instead of habitually saying, “How can I make money off of this” as things happen, they will say, “Is this really sustainable?” Unfortunately we are only at the very beginning of the kind of pain that is going to teach us as a society that this is the correct way to evaluate what appear to be opportunities.
Let me explain:
We have learned that it is a good idea to store explosives in special bunkers with thick, concrete walls. Think about how we learned that it is important to require this.
We have learned about clean, safe drinking water. Think about how we learned that this is a good practice. We have learned to build sewer systems instead of dumping bedpans into the street. Yes, we used to do that and now we don’t. Think about how we learned not to. Along the same lines we have largely learned to wash our hands after we go to the bathroom and before we eat. Think about how we learned that this is a good practice.
We have set up building codes that prevent fires and collapses from earthquakes. At least in California we have. In other parts of the country they don’t require buildings to be earthquake-safe. We do, they will. Think about why we do and they don’t but will. Think about why we have fire codes for buildings across the country.
Are you getting my drift? These are things that people didn’t know to do, but now they do know. But people seem to have to go through terrible, devastating, tragic shocks before they learn. And finally we learn, and routinize safe practices. We had been through severe economic shocks and then the Great Depression and there were some things we as a people thought we had learned. Think about how bad the depression was and the things that we set up to try to prevent it from happening again: regulations, oversight, a strengthened democracy with citizen control of public resources, strong unions to serve as a counterbalance to corporate power, high taxes on the rich and corporations so income would be more fairly redistributed and the benefits of our system shared widely — only to gradually let most of that slip away. So the control of our country’s decision-making had reverted back to the wealthy and predatory capitalism was reinstated. We, the People were harvested for every last dollar and hour of labor and when we were finally tapped out the economy had to collapse.
There is every sign that this economic collapse could be worse that any before it.
So, like I said, the day will come when people look at events and instead of saying, “How can I make money off of this” they will say, “Is this really sustainable?” But I fear that we are going to have to reach the bottom before we learn this.
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Take a look at the California Climate Change Portal.
This website contains information on the impacts of climate change on California and the state’s policies relating to global warming. It is also the home for the the California Climate Change Center, a “virtual” research and information website operated by the California Energy Commission through its Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program.
California Attorney General Brown recently announced the state will sue to block a huge Nestle bottled-water plant unless its effects on global warming are evaluated. Why bottled water? A recent Huffington Post piece by Diane Frances, Bottled Water: The Height of Stupidity talks about the bottled-water scam,
Bottled water is a joke, one of the biggest consumer and taxpayer ripoffs ever. I applaud California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown who said recently that he will sue to block a proposed water-bottling operation in Northern California by Nestle.
. . . Not only do society and the environment pay an unfair price for this consumer hoax, but consumers are being hoodwinked. They are paying from 300 to 3,000 times more than the cost of tap water without any benefit.
. . . The water is usually not superior to “city” water or tap water, and is merely a big branding hoax by soda makers. In some cases, this “designer” water is drawn from tap water and labeled for suckers to buy as though it is a superior product.
. . . One expert estimated that the amount of petroleum — used to make the bottles, transport, refrigerate, collect and bury them — would fill one-third of each bottle.
These plastic bottles are creating landfill problems worldwide, and are washing up on beautiful beaches around the planet.
The Sustain newsladder is the newest addition to the Newsladder family. This newsladder focuses on sustainability, environment, ecology, etc. Go take a look.
The way the newsladders work is you sign up, then add and recommend stories. The top recommended stories appear in the newsladder feeds – there are a few in the right column here.
It is Buy Nothing Day. Switch off from shopping for a day or two. Stop and think about all the ways your own lifestyle are harmful. hink about all the ways you use energy. Think about all the things you throw away, including plastic and paper wrappers.
This is not just silly stuff, it is important. It is time to realize the part we all play in this out-of-control economic system that is literally consuming the planet out from under us. Global warming is real. Deforestation is real. Depletion of the seas is real. There’s an old saying, “If something is unsustainable, it can’t be sustained.”
From the Buy Nothing Day press release,
Some see it as an escape from the marketing mind games and frantic consumer binge that has come to characterize the holiday season, and our culture in general. Others use it to expose the environmental and ethical consequences of overconsumption.
Two recent, high-profile disaster warnings outline the sudden urgency of our dilemma. First, in October, a global warming report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern predicted that climate change will lead to the most massive and widest-ranging market failure the world has ever seen. Soon after, a major study published in the journal Science forecast the near-total collapse of global fisheries within 40 years.