September 27, 2007 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

This blog is my attempt to explain more clearly what I mean by the concept of the Sustainability Puzzle. If we look at the world as a whole, how people live their lives and earn a living, scientists estimate we currently need at least 2 and a half planets to “sustain” the systems we’ve created that support the way we live — and that is with at least half the planet in poverty. In short, I believe we can do better.

The first question to ask is what do we mean by sustainability? Well, one way to look at it is from the American Indian perspective. In their decision making process, many tribes would think in terms of how their decisions and actions would affect the seven generations that followed them – not wanting to negatively impact their opportunities through short-sighted choices. Today some refer to this socio-economic goal as “intergenerational equity”–I prefer to keep it simple and call it “being responsible.” While integrating such a long-view perspective into our modern world would have wide ranging implications — from the food we eat to how we produce power, from how we transport goods to how we build our homes and communities – it’s more important to face the facts: we are consuming our children’s resources and not living within our means.

So, why is it a puzzle? First, I truly believe it’s possible to sustain everyone and not diminish our modern comforts. In fact, I believe a truly sustainable system can raise the standard of living for the majority of people in the world. And, the ability to achieve this does not lay in some distant technology of the future, but in common sense solutions that already exist. In order to be sustainable, we will need to consume fewer resources than we currently do now. The “puzzle” part is re-organizing these elements in a way to achieve a system that everyone can benefit. The internet will be a key component of the solution because it can replace much of the brick and mortar infrastructure that has evolved to form our marketplaces. But, the internet can do the same virtually and more cheaply, while allowing greater access and less environmental impact through web pages, virtual presence and VoIP technologies.

My sister told me a story this week that I’d like to share with you because I think it demonstrates the predicament we face today. One day a storm came to a village and the rain started falling. A man of great faith looked out his window and saw the streets flooding and climbed to his roof. He prayed to God to save him as the waters continued to rise. Well, later that day a man approached in a canoe and asked him if he would like a ride. The man of great faith declined the offer knowing that God would save him. A little while later, someone else came by in a row boat and again offered a lift to the man on the roof top and again he said no because God was going to save him. The waters continued to rise and the man continued to pray and a little while later a motorboat came by offering him a ride. The man with great faith turned down the offer knowing that God would save him. Well, the waters kept rising and eventually he drowned. When he arrived in heaven he stood before God and asked him “Why didn’t you save me?” God replied, “I sent you three boats! What more was I supposed to do!”

The solutions to save our world are here. Our challenge is to recognize the pieces of the puzzle and start building a sustainable world that we can all enjoy.

Additional Reading:

Behind Consumption and Consumerism


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Economics, Environment, People, Population, Sustainability.

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