Sustainability Redefined

I used to think that sustainability was all about saving the planet.

I’ve come to realize that the planet doesn’t need saving.  The planet’s been around for some 4.6 billion years, it will be just fine.  It is human civilization – as we know it today – that’s at risk.  While homo sapiens have been around for 130,000 or so years, it’s only within the last 12,000 or so years that agricultural settlements emerged, which roughly coincides with the start of the Holocene, an era during which the earth’s systems have experienced dynamic equilibrium.

Since 1775 or so, humanity’s impact on the environment, thanks to scientific and technological advancement, industrialization, and urbanization, has been dramatic.  Our pattern of development and our insatiable habit of consumption are both affecting the biosphere, which is the envelope of natural systems within which we live.  Most of the international scientific community concurs:  our “developed” way of life is changing the rhythms of our global ecosystem.   The days of dynamic equilibrium exist no longer.  The era that we are entering, the Anthropocene, will become an increasingly unfamiliar place.

Smog, not Fog – Beijing, China (January 2013)

CHINA-ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION

Photo courtesy http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2013/01/beijings-air-pollution

To complicate things, as world population grows, the number of people living in extreme poverty grows.  The chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is growing as well.  Demand is growing exponentially for a finite and endangered supply of natural resources.  In fact, most wars today are intrastate, not between states, and most are fought over natural resources, water being an example. This does not bode well for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

What’s needed is a concerted effort among people around the world to change how we live.  This concerted effort must include people from all constituencies, including individuals, business enterprises, governments, and a wide array of other organizations.  It must include everyone, black, brown, tan, white, red, blue, fat, short, abled, or not.  The future shape of human civilization transcends all borders, tangible and intangible; so too our efforts must transcend all barriers.

I used to think that if the people of the world, as consumers, could change consumption behavior, then businesses, governments, and other organizations would change in response.

I’ve come to realize that as much as people want to change (granted, some do, some do not), it’s just not that easy.  Let’s assume for a moment that I want to remove myself from the energy grid.  This requires significant intellectual and capital investment.  Or, let’s assume that I want to eat only organic food.  This requires a doubling (or more) of my food budget.  Clearly with these examples I am dramatically oversimplifying things.  That said, my point is that people may want to change consumption behavior, but in order to do so, reasonably obtainable alternatives must exist.

This is where businesses, governments, and other organizations come in.  With this blog, I’ll share with you my thoughts and ideas about the intersections of our existence and my perspective about shaping a future of well-being.

© Taryn Fisher 2013

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