Reframing the Sustainability Argument: It’s about How We Organize Ourselves

February 20, 2012 at 8:35 am 31 comments

Like a doctor treating a medical problem, without accurate and good information, the doctor can’t diagnose the problem correctly.  And, without an accurate diagnosis, he or she can’t develop a proper treatment.  Our society works in much the same way.  If the general population is not given accurate information about our sustainability problem, how can we expect them to realize that the treatment and its urgency are appropriate for the scale of the problem?

From our past experience, we’ve learned that the solution to our economic problems is through creating more jobs, more manufacturing and more consumption of goods.  The problem is that this solution clashes with our environmental reality—the way we live consumes too many resources and it is only going to become worse because of our population growth.  However, if we are content with a permanent economic underclass, then it may be possible to continue the current paradigm in one form or another.

The CBC documentary Surviving the Future echoes what is the common perception about how we will reach a sustainable future – through better technology.  I clearly reject this notion because the key to sustainability is in how we organize ourselves.  Solutions based on this assessment can be achieved with our current state of technology.  Time is more important than technology in determining our success because the longer we wait, the more complex and larger the problems become.

Our growing population is having a devastating impact on our environment and can’t continue.  Imminent ecological system collapses include fish depletion, water table depletion and the influence of fossil fuel, not only on the environment, but on our society.  It has distorted who we are as humans and our basic moral code of treating others as we would like to be treated is being compromised.

The good news is that, strictly speaking, we have enough resources and adequate technology to allow everyone a dignified life.  However, our current systems require a great deal of waste in order to work.  It is how we live that is creating these devastating consumption patterns that jeopardize our future. At some point, someone needs to be the adult in the room, stand up and make everyone face the facts.  How do we do this in our world with 7 billion voices?

At times I feel like I am alone in this argument for urgent action, but I know there are others such as David Suzuki that have a much larger sphere of influence and still there is not even a murmur of concern in capitals around the world.  Yes, there are documentaries such as Surviving the Future and online groups such as the  Future We Want.

Our failure to address what is probably the largest issue that humanity will face is a combination of a lack of leadership, the distraction that occurs with too many voices and the faith we place in the current economic paradigm.

The scope and scale of the problem requires a global response because it is both an issue of population and resources.  We can no longer afford to cling to quaint notions of a world with limitless resources.  A few generations ago when the world was less populated global coordination was not necessary, but today’s growth rate makes it imperative.


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Design, Economics, Environment, Leadership, People, Population, Sustainability, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , .

In Pursuit of Happiness What is Our Problem?

31 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thelondonflowerlover  |  February 22, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Thank you so much for this

    • 2. rghusted  |  February 22, 2012 at 8:02 am

      Thanks! I’m glad you find it helpful.

  • 3. Lynn  |  February 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I posted you on my facebook.


  • 4. Lynn  |  February 26, 2012 at 11:20 am

    BTW, the job problem in my opinion is a boondoggle. If we would remove the corporate assembly line there would be plenty of jobs without necessarily depriving people of food or work. Think community farming for example.

  • 5. Tim Joy  |  February 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Great blog you have going. Keep writing.

  • 6. rigbyte  |  February 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Quote: “….we will reach a sustainable future – through better technology. I clearly reject this notion.”
    So do all thinking people. Unfortunately, democracy, the political system that has brought stability and reasonable fairness to our lives, is the stumbling block to a sustainable future. Perhaps if governments were elected for ten years and individual members held financially and morally accountable for the results of their decisions, things might improve. But when the only hope of keeping one’s seat in the halls of power is to pander to the majority of voters, most of whom are, as you say, ill-informed, then there’s no hope of change. I also like your response to technology. Historically, every technological advance has brought with it another couple of problems to be solved by more technology… ad infinitum… except that we do not have an infinity of time in which to prevent chaos.

  • 7. starbryan  |  February 29, 2012 at 8:20 am

    The leadership issue is very critical along with the necessity to take seriously the steps necessary for SROI (Sustainable Return on Investment). Short term thinking without a long term vision is not optimal. I also recommend the Long Now Foundation. Thanks for the thoughts!

  • 8. Soumitri Varadarajan  |  March 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Faint Voice and commented:
    A good discussion of the sustainability paradox – more jobs but less environmental impact.

  • 9. Not Jack  |  March 4, 2012 at 11:38 am

    a voice of reason – how refreshing.

    I particularly agree with your comments regarding time and technology – and our means of organizing ourselves is key – I think it’s the foundation of the “occupy” movement.

    keep up the good work

  • 10. jmaltura  |  March 6, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Reblogged this on The Responsibility Police and commented:
    Check out this cool blog post. Let’s get together and organize.

  • 11. ecocred  |  March 6, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Great post!

  • 12. narf77  |  March 9, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Cheers for liking my post and a great post. I have just finished my Diploma of Horticulture and am starting my Diploma of Sustainable Landscape Design and have been thrown headlong into finding out what “Sustainable Landscaping” is. As a long term Permaculture lover this might seem to be a very easy transferal of information but I discovered that “Sustainability” is a very complex and multi levelled concept. I say “concept” because people and organisations are using Sustainability as a marketting tool and Buzz word to increase sales and charge more for their products rather than an ethical choice. We are trying to leave the smallest carbon footprint on the earth that we can but until world governments make it policy (like our Australian Government is trying to do) to minimise carbon use, people are free to choose however they want to live.

    Living as sustainably as you can is hard work. It is also physically, mentally and spiritually a lot more satisfying. Where once life revolved around corporate satisfaction and a desire to make more money to feed an ever increasing spiral of want, the simple varied cycles of nature are suddenly revealed and brought to the fore and suddenly life takes on an entirely different meaning. Our own human life cycles stop being about age refusal and denial and we can live our lives with understanding, dignity and mutual respect for each age group for everything that they have to give. We have stepped so far off side from what our human condition is meant to be that we no longer feel in touch with our natural state and most of us feel adrift and alone.

    Living a more sustainable life and incorporating what each one of us can do unites us all in a common bond of care and understanding about just how fragile and tentative our place on this earth really is and we can develop gratefulness and thankfulness for our lives without societal and media pressures giving us a false sense of need. Government policy needs to give individuals the ability to become educated about sustainability and the ability to take advantage of low impact technology (solar, wind turbine, hydro etc.) through low and no interest grants to lower income people so that the importance of sustainability is brought to the fore and not seen as a “Hippy choice” but rather something that we all need to be doing to save what is left of our precious non renewable resources and in truth, our earth.

    Again thank you for liking Serendipity Farm. I am constantly amazed at the wide variety of readers that like my posts. Hi to all of you fellow travellers on lifes paths and bonne chance with your sustainable journey

  • […] Continuing with thoughts regarding sustainable design as a key goal for those looking to build “Green”, you’ll find an essay reposted from Robert Husted’s  most relevant and interesting blog site. […]

  • […] Continuing with thoughts regarding sustainable design as a key goal for those looking to build “Green”, you’ll find an essay re-posted from Robert Husted’s  most relevant and interesting blog site. […]

  • 15. Cities of Light  |  March 16, 2012 at 1:23 am

    Nice work there fella! Keep up the clear thinking.

  • 16. Peter Bruce  |  March 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Excellent post. I agree that we need to reorganise and reprioritise, but that doesn’t have to exclude technological improvements. Techology and reorganisation will work better than either alone.

  • 17. Ananthakrishnan G.  |  March 19, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for extending the sustainability debate with your highly relevant views at a time when GDP growth is all that many governments care about.

  • 18. permoccupy  |  March 21, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Thanks for liking my post on PermOccupy. Hope you will read the paper when you have time, if you haven’t already. It is linked in the comments and is an open source document.

    But you are right, and let me be more explicit: localization. Small, walkable, self-reliant communities. Indeed, it is about organization. As another commenter said, Occupy might hold part of the answer when combined with a commitment to sustainability and with permaculture as a means to design it.

    As to the time, well time is very, very short. more and more scientists are saying 2020, and most sooner, for significant actions to be taking hold. But don’t be surprised if the Arctic melts out but for a little ice north of the Canadian Archipelago any of the next three years.

    A little old, but still dead on. Bear in mind, these were before we were aware of the state of the permafrost and the clathrates:

  • 19. nancyvandenberg  |  March 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Lots of great thoughts! I think the problem is that no politician dares to get away from the growth paradigm, and so they don’t help to educate citizens about the real problems and the solutions. Magical thinking seems to be encouraged, rather than realistic solutions. But I think there are still a lot of people who do realize the need for less consumption, and a shift in use of energy. I hope, for the sake of future generations.

  • 20. Balance3  |  March 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Let’s radically re-frame the “sustainability argument” and re-organise THE WAY we make and deliver the products we use. It’s not so much about the 100g smartphone – it’s more the 10KG of resources used to produce it. However smart the gizmo may be, the underlying production process and supply chain thinking dates from the start of the 20th century, when the thinking was “dig it up, make it, use it, trash it”.

    Apply emerging regenerative business principles like product-of-service, design for re-manufacture, closed materials loops, etc. and you get game-changing new ways of doing profitable, sustainable business.

    Smart thinkers at the end of the 20th century developed new business principles (like Biomicry, The Natural Step and Natural Capitalism), and smart entrepreneurs have been developing ways to do profitable regenerative business for more than 20 years.

    So we may end up not needing to have an “argument” at all – because the win/win/win opportunities of regenerative business are just too good to miss out on…

    • 21. rghusted  |  March 24, 2012 at 5:56 am

      This is definitely an important piece in the sustainability puzzle!

      • 22. Balance3  |  March 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

        One of my “imagine ifs” is:

        Imagine if every sustainability advocate could tell the story of Ray Anderson and Interface Carpet like this:

        In 1994, after 21 years in business, Interface made a “mid-course correction”. They set a new goal – to become the world’s first RESTORATIVE business.

        They took a sledgehammer to conventional wisdom and turned their ideas about their business upside down.

        As a result of this “correction”, from 1996 to 2008:
        – They cut GHG emissions by 71%
        – They avoided $405 million in costs
        – Powered 7 of their 10 factories with renewable energy.
        – Reduced their scrap sent to landfill by 78%

        – Sales increased by two-thirds
        – Earnings doubled
        – They built a strong reputation in their market for a unique product range.

        They proved that: “Done right, sustainability doesn’t cost. It pays.”

        (from the book “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist” by Ray Anderson)

  • […] [Source: The Sustainability Puzzle] […]

  • 24. Nourishing Words  |  March 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I think “the faith we place in the current economic paradigm” is a huge part of the problem. We’re plodding along blindly, denying the reality that this system will crash—is crashing—and that we need to simplify and localize our concept of money and how we use it. If we can’t understand it, how can it be good for us….

  • 25. Mark Brooks  |  March 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Great post. One thing that has always troubled me is the “needs” part of the most famous definition of sustainable devt: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations” (paraphrasing). There hasn’t been nearly enough attention given to what our “needs” actually are. Do we “need” to have that new 50-inch plasma TV? Do we “need” the over-sized Tundra SUV to drive to the grocery store? If we consider these to be needs that must be met by our current economic system, we will never realize sustainability.

  • 26. powerofslow  |  April 3, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Brilliant post. I’m with you. For the record, I really admire David Suzuki too! Viva the power of slow!

  • 27. Leaves Heal  |  April 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

    This is beautiful:
    “Time is more important than technology”
    I love seeing people who grasp this. We can replace a computer, a program, a website. We can’t replace the time we spent working to pay for them, or the time spent using them. I love that quote :-)

    • 28. rghusted  |  April 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

      Hey! Thanks :-)

  • 30. Mike Austin  |  April 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I was astonished to have your visit to my blog post, “Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists. Thank you.

    From long experience I agree with most of what you wrote in “Reframing the Sustainability Argument: It’s about How We Organize Ourselves.” And so you can hear it, one of the primary reasons I stopped my radio show, Blue Planet Almanac, is I *felt* alone, and that one was listening. Nonetheless, my shows stats showed that some people were listening.

    Some people do, in fact, pay attention. One of them (I’ve never met) asked me to pen an essay on consciousness and development for their journal, which will be published in June. When I read what they wanted, I was astonished they were asking. Someone whose work I respected had noticed what I said and what I was about. And it was hard to believe they were asking me to write my take on their theme. I was also astonished at the company of compassionate, brilliant minds who will also pen essays for their journal. Two of them are heroes of mine, and one’s also *very* cute ;)

    Blessings and boons to you, Robert. I’d recommend the daily news service of an old friend of mine, Stephan A. Schwartz, at Search his archive by keyword for good information. His daily was how I saw the Al Jazeera report which you liked.

    • 31. rghusted  |  April 25, 2012 at 7:15 am

      Mike, like you I am also astonished when people actually recognize my thoughts as helpful. I’ve been making an effort to read other bloggers who write on the topic of sustainability and “liking” their posts — it’s sort of my way to “pat them on the back” and acknowledge their contribution in raising humanity’s consciousness of our sustainability problem. Thanks again for your reassuring words!


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