I’m taking a break from posting the Festschrift paper to do some reflection on the topic of how people perceive the environmental situation. It’s interesting to me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that humans have lots of problems to work on and yet some seem to be uniquely pessimistic about the environment (not violence, hunger or disease, bullying, war, etc.) Since I am now in a business that seeks to do away with all bad things, I feel that the gloomy cloud that has settled around our perception of humans and the environment could use some further exploration.
There was an interesting article in New Scientist this week here about changing to a more sustainable future… I hope you can see all of it without a subscription, but below is an excerpt andhereis the essay in Word.
Still, that doesn’t tell us how to get there from here. Again there’s no shortage of ideas. Ecologists, economists and politicians have proposed many initiatives to foster sustainability. Most repurpose tools we are familiar with – international agreements, laws and regulations, taxes and subsidies, plus new technologies. Others are more radical, advocating structural changes to key institutions such as banking and finance, corporations, land and resource ownership, and government. Many individuals, grass-roots groups such as the Transition Network, businesses such as Unilever, universities, cities such as Vancouver, and a few nations, including Iceland and Bhutan, are putting these ideas into practice.
Of course, most of us are not green crusaders. Yet we are already changing our lives, our work patterns and what we consume in ways that suggest the drive for sustainability may be pushing at an open door. For a start, we are driving less. The annual distance travelled by UK car and van drivers fell by 7 per cent between 1995 and 2012. Germany, Australia, Japan and even the US all report the same trend. Why is that? Cost is a factor: young people are learning to drive later, put off by the price. We are also driving less to see friends and making fewer trips to the shops and to work by car – the rise in urban living, social media, online shopping and digital homeworking are seeing to that.
Driving less, and walking and cycling more are seen as positive lifestyle choices these days and are increasingly a feature of city living. Dense urban populations make recycling and other resource use more efficient, too. That doesn’t mean a return to slums. If building materials can be produced sustainably and houses can be designed to be carbon-neutral, people can still live in ample and comfortable homes, says Mary Ritter, head of the European Union’s climate innovation centre Climate KIC.
Porritt believes that the biggest changes will come in response to large popular movements galvanised by droughts, floods, famines and other crises. “Suddenly there’s a shock to the system, and re-evaluation kicks in big time,” he says. Yet some changes just happen and we hardly notice, such as putting out the recycling or insulating our lofts.
One of the most important is that we are having fewer children. Today the average woman has 2.43 children, fewer than half as many as 40 years ago. There is big population growth still to come in some places, especially sub-Saharan Africa where there is less access to contraception. But after quadrupling in the 20th century, the world’s population, currently at 7 billion, is unlikely to rise by more than 50 per cent before settling down. So we can think about how we do sustainability with a stable population, rather than one that is continually growing.
Population is only one part of the equation, of course. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, points out that the amount of stuff people use and the resources needed to produce that stuff are the other issues we need to worry about. In the developed world, at least, there is growing evidence that we have reached “peak stuff”. Individuals and society have got richer, and the rate at which we use resources has levelled off. Homes and factories are becoming more energy and water efficient and much of our new technology is smaller and lighter, reducing the amount of materials required to make them. So in many ways, the developed world is already dematerialising. The challenge is breaking the historic link between prosperity and energy and resource use fast enough.
This week I happened to spend a great deal of time organizing my electronic entertainment so this article highlighted some things I noticed… I used to drive around and shop, now I don’t. If RS is closer and has price match with BB, I won’t be driving to BB. Shelves of CDs are now on a jump drive. Shelves of sheet music are also on a jump drive.
But there are a couple of assumptions I would argue with.. 1) “cities are better for the environment and people” and 2) “meat is always worse” for the environment. If indeed transportation becomes based on renewable energy sources, I guess we would be reducing it by living in cities because.. (?) And locally meat may be the only food able to be locally produced due to cold or dryness or both.
That evening I was listening to WNYC (the Jonathan Channel, my favorite radio program) and ran across this:
Turn away from factory farmed meat. Instead of trying to get everyone to become a vegetarian, which is an impossible goal, Martins focuses on improving our food system and getting rid of factory farms. “It’s better to construct an action-based result.” Martins said. “ I believe in creating a solution rather than creating a utopia that will probably never exist.”
It seems like many things are getting better due to people’s awareness and economic drivers. Note the question at the end of the essay is whether the link between prosperity and energy and resource use will be broken “fast enough”. We have moved from worry about the ultimate condition being bad to worrying about the speed at which we approach a positive outcome, isn’t that something to celebrate. It does leave the question “not fast enough” for whom or what?