Posts filed under ‘Philosophy’

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect is used to illustrate an element of chaos theory.  It suggests the possibility that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a hurricane on the other side of the globe a few weeks later.  As far as affecting weather, this seems to be more of a mental exercise rather than a meaningful explanation of weather.  However, in our globalized consumer economy, it demonstrates how a seemingly innocent action in one place can have large, unintended consequences on the other side of the planet.

Examples of ill considered consequences of our economic system include growing corn for fuel which raises the cost of staple items in Latin America.  Our disposable attitude towards technology leads to environmental pollution and poisoning in China.  Making the automobile the cornerstone of our mobility increases productivity everywhere so that the society can afford them and then estranges those in a society who cannot (see The Transportation Trap).  The connections are infinite and ubiquitous in our everyday lives and only seen by those who take time to notice.

What future do we want?  Well, the one we’re going to get is the one we are building now and this is not the future I want.  For myself, I do not want my prosperity to be the source or cause of someone else’s suffering – whether I understand the intricate linkages or not.  I am sure many will disagree or have an opinion about.  However, it’s an important enough question that we must openly and seriously discuss and debate it.  It is not enough for governments to hold a conference; rather everyone must become engaged and involved in the conversation if we are to have a meaningful mandate for a change to sustainable systems.

I believe humanity has reached a unique point in its evolution – a place in time when we can and will define our character as a species.  The difference between a child and an adult is in acknowledging their responsibilities. A modern world cannot ignore the “negative externalities” of its economic system and an advance society cannot ignore its responsibilities.   So too, we cannot consider our civilization to be “grown up” until we acknowledge our responsibilities.

The challenge humanity faces is not a technical one – we already have the know-how to make our world sustainable.  The challenge we face is one of collective will – we fear the uncertainty of change.  I have a belief (probably naïve) that, like myself, the great majority of my fellow humanity does not want their prosperity to be the cause of another person’s suffering.  If so, the means to bringing about a sustainable world may be found in tapping into this sense of compassion by making people aware of the Butterfly Effects of our globalized, consumption economy.  The problem is: how?  My next blog entry will propose a relatively simple, inexpensive and non-regulatory solution.  My sincerest hope is that we choose a future we all want.


July 24, 2012 at 7:17 am 3 comments

The Responsible Society

While I work on a new post, I thought I’d recycle one that hasn’t been viewed in a while. One of my other writing themes has been to find the magic argument that will convince the rest of the world that we need to become sustainable now. I’ve tried many different angles including religion (see Manifesting the Golden Rule). This post was an attempt to wake people up to being truly responsible for their actions. Hopefully someday someone will find that magic words…

The Sustainability Puzzle

We teach the subject of social responsibility in our universities, we lecture the topic to our children and I think many assume that society is generally responsible. But, are we? It seems to me that just as a person is responsible for their choices, society is likewise responsible for its collective actions. What does this imply? It implies that society is responsible for the failure of the systems it implements and that poverty, homelessness, hunger and inadequate healthcare are the manifestations of our system’s failures.

Throughout this blog, I’ve tried to capture the implications of responsibility by describing the essence of what distinguishes children from adults – taking responsibility for their actions. It does not magically happen at the age of 18, 21 or even 74. It is a state of mind that we accept when we are mature enough to comprehend it. And, like a teenager modern society wants…

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March 24, 2012 at 6:11 am 6 comments

In Pursuit of Happiness

In this blog, I’ve very often discussed happiness which at first glance may seem unrelated to sustainability.  However, as I see it, the two are quite inter-related because the fundamental drive of people, perhaps even the purpose of life is to find happiness.  In the world we are now creating, people believe they will be happier once they have x, y and z – usually things that can be bought.  Where our modern pursuit of happiness clashes with sustainability is that after we’ve bought x, y and z we realize we’re still not happy and develop a new list of things to buy that will make us happy.  And, little by little we are consuming our world.  From my experience I’ve found that happiness is found in our relationships and not in our stuff.

The engine of our world economy is our consumption and this creates problems not only in terms of environmental sustainability, but also has consequences in how it creates poverty.  So much of our consumption economy is simply driven by corporations, businesses and advertisers need to feed their profitability by fulfilling peoples search for happiness. If I am correct that it is relationships that foster happiness then, this is a huge distraction of resources, wasteful and is contributing to other people’s poverty.

The question then is how do we build a civilization that contributes to relationships?  I think the answers already exist and have a proven track record.  For example, pedestrian friendly communities help people to know their neighbors and develop a sense of connection with their community.  Public transit is a major element that contributes to the pedestrian culture.  Local economies literally allow people to invest in their own communities and the welfare of the people that create it.  Systems that require less work create less stress and more family time.  And, finally communities that utilize sweat equity rather than taxes create a greater sense of connection not only with the community, but with the idea of self-governance and responsibility to their community.

One of our obstacles to making fundamental changes to our world stems from public confidence in several myths about our civilization.  The first is the images of happiness that I’ve just discussed.  Once we realize that happiness cannot be found in buying stuff and that it is found in our relationships with each other, we will change our priorities.  A huge myth is that somehow if we keep doing what we’re doing that poverty will disappear.  Well, the devil is in the details and the current system is built upon economic inequity.  And, the prosperity that billions of people have experienced relies on a resource bubble that is unsustainable.  This brings up the next myth that life is getting better: While this may have been true in the past, we’ve reached a critical point in our population growth, use of natural resources and people’s tolerance of social inequity.  A sustainable system does not try to have people live without stuff, but rather recognize what is enough.  People need to come to terms with the reality that it is not important to live like a millionaire nor should that be their goal.

No one can make anyone else happy, but we can certainly make it easier for everyone to achieve by designing and building systems that contribute to the greater goal of happiness.  Ultimately, I believe the movement to sustainable systems will result from a rising awareness of our consumption of resources and its impact on our fellow man and will result in voluntary societal restraint of our consumption of products.  While the Sustainability Puzzle is attempting to address the built elements of our world, I’m trying to tackle both sides of the happiness equation.  I’ll soon be releasing an ebook with the working title of Liking Yourself to address the existential challenges of being happy.  While these writings are probably inadequate to change our world, I’m doing what I can with the limited resources at my disposal.

September 26, 2011 at 9:27 am 6 comments

Manifesting the Golden Rule

While philosophers may debate the purpose of life, I believe one thing all people seek in life is happiness. The traditional route to becoming a happy individual usually leads people to embrace religious or spiritual teachings. However, I also believe that the values and morals we learn from them can only take us so far. Because, let’s be real, the world we have created and live in is full of problems and constantly clashes with our values. As a result, people compartmentalize life as a coping strategy and we are forced to apply different standards to different areas of our life – this is something I really do not like.

We’ve created a world full of systems that is creating unhappiness – systems that we blindly serve rather than serve us. It almost feels like we’ve created a monster that is now controlling our lives. Call me crazy, but it seems to me like we should do something about it. Creating a sustainable civilization is a way to manifest the Golden Rule into our real world because they are both founded on the principal of respecting the individual. Likewise we might be able to say that by really living according to the Golden Rule, by treating others the way you want to be treated, we will by necessity create sustainable systems.

As a civilization, the challenge of the Golden Rule does not lie within the realm of the extraordinary, but in the ordinary. It is not a call to create a lifestyle of millionaires, but rather very simple, reasonable and achievable goals. And, we need not look beyond our own needs, wants and dreams to recognize them. I want to be able to achieve my potential. I want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I want my children and their children to benefit from the planet’s abundance of species and have their share of the planet’s natural resources. If I’m sick I want to have access to health care. I don’t expect everyone to like me, but I want others to respect my personal choices. I don’t want my prosperity or happiness to come at the expense of others. I want to live in dignity and be able to provide for my family.

And, although the concept of sustainability may be new to most people and a challenge to grasp, the Golden Rule is an idea that most people already know. In fact, since it is the lesson of the Old Testament, it seems to me that the combined 3.6 billion Muslims, Jews and Christians should be in support of creating a sustainable world. And, I’m pretty sure Buddhist values also lead to sustainability so it’s actually about 4 billion supporters! The question then remains how to rally the faithful to action.

Ultimately our character as an individual or a civilization will be judged on how we treat others – both known and unknown to us. Yes, the challenge we are presented is a tough one, but what people don’t yet understand is that our physical journey and our spiritual journey are actually one and the same. The amazing thing is that making our civilization sustainable is inevitable AND we get to live our lives in harmony with our values. Why do we resist?

June 17, 2011 at 10:04 am 1 comment

The Big Idea

Ever wonder why there are so many problems in the world?  Why there continues to be homelessness, hunger and illiteracy?  Why do both parents have to work just to make ends meet leaving no time for their children?  Why are 3 billion people still in poverty?  It could be that our solutions to our problems are not comprehensive, but one dimensional.  Well, this little picture might help us understand why we are plagued by problems and how we can deal with them.

For most people sustainability is a very vague word, but It is actually very specific and a very big idea with big implications.  The three circles represent the environmental, social and economic dimensions that make up our world and the range of options available to us.  According to the picture, what is “sustainable” is where the circles overlap.   It reveals some really big ideas that are hard to disagree with.

  • CHOOSE: The picture shows us that many options exist, but truly sustainable choices are fewer in number.  The world we live in today is focused on mostly economic concerns and usually ignores social or environmental interests.  Yes, we’ve created a machine that seems to be working, but is it really?
  • TAKE ACTION:Sustainability will not “just happen”. On our current path, we will become more aware and more “green”, but a civilization based on consumption is ultimately unsustainable. Sustainability requires us to make different choices from the ones we are making and it will be assembled from our thoughtful choices as a global community.
  • ACCEPT INEVITABILITY: The very logic of sustainability can be a tough one to swallow, but I’m just the messenger: As a species, we will eventually choose sustainable solutions because they are the only choices that insure our survival as a civilization over time.  The only reason we will choose unsustainable systems is because of short-sighted interests.
  • WIN/WIN: The great news is that there are solutions that can accommodate all three interests!  Sustainable solutions do not make economics more important than our happiness nor the environment.  It almost seems magical that all three concerns are resolved together!  No interest outweighs or competes with another.
  • HAPPINESS: And, to be sustainable, the solutions will all be ones that we like, otherwise they are unsustainable!

The world seems adrift.  The “haves” are not content and want more meaning out of life, while the “have-nots” continue to struggle in the wake of those who “have”.  We will only find greater meaning in life when we recognize that it comes through serving a purpose beyond ourselves – our fellow man, our common future.  The interesting thing is that if we ask ourselves what we truly value and the type of world we want for our children, it looks very much like what a sustainable world offers us.

May 23, 2011 at 10:59 am 5 comments

Where Sustainability Becomes Philosophy

No one can disagree with sustainable principles – that we be able to sustain ourselves, our families and our communities.  The questions arise when the discussion enters the abstract of scope and time, but coincidentally this is also where the realm of philosophy begins.  It seems to me that it is commonplace today for most people to compartmentalize these life-guiding ideas into one of the neatly packaged religions of Judaism, Islam, Christianity or Hinduism without really questioning the source or meaning of their beliefs – and, that is okay – it is human nature.  The challenge of any of the great prophets has been to make the people of their time recognize societal changes and the religions that arose were that people’s adaptation to that new reality.

Well, we too have entered a new reality for which our current systems and beliefs are no longer adequate.  People don’t object to the principals of sustaining a way of life for them or their children.  And, it is within this narrow circle of interest where “modern civilization” as we know it seems feasible.  But humanity’s new reality lies in the domain of scope and scale.  In terms of scope, I’m talking about economic well-being for the people we don’t see or meet or hear from – i.e. everyone, all humanity.  In terms of time, people relate mostly to their own time scale which is their lifetime and maybe their children’s.  And, again the abstract asks the question: What about their grandchildren, their children’s children and so forth.  The notion of 1000 years is beyond most people’s calculations and grasp.  So, it’s in striving to achieve solutions which can be sustained for all humanity and across the millennia where we can realize this stark reality: the norms of today will not suffice.

While I believe compassion for our fellow man lies in the hearts of us all, it is fear that is guiding our societal decisions.  In English we have an expression “Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know.” And it probably offers some wise advice.  However, in Mexico there is a similar expression with very different implications.  They very often say “Better the devil we know than the angel we don’t know.”  Personally, I find this expression disturbing, but I feel is a better reflection of societal attitudes toward achieving a sustainable future because we do possess the technology and know-how to achieve that future – what we lack is the will.

And, ultimately these abstracts are irrelevant because to know the fears, hopes and dreams of others, we need only look at the fears, hopes and dreams of ourselves.  You do not need to personally know or meet the starving Sudanese child to what he or she or their parent hopes for – the same opportunity to fulfill their potential as you wish for your own children.  I believe people can and will agree to sustainable principals – not as a result of a logical explanation, but from a leap of faith to these principals because they are common to all major religions and are therefore ones which we already know and believe in.

We have arrived at a time of choice created by our own technological success that has allowed our population to swell and has simultaneously been impacting our environment.  A philosophy is ultimately a set of values that guides us in our day to day decisions of life.  If we make our choices based on our fears of what we will lose, I believe we are doomed.  However, if we make those same choices in hope of what we can become, then the “tough” decisions will become easy and humanity will face a bright future.

November 23, 2009 at 10:39 am 1 comment

Bumper Sticker Values and Sustainability

Honor thy parents, our children are our future and one of my personal favorites think globally, act locally may be values that we preach, but is it what we practice? While these bumper sticker gems of philosophy sound great, their disconnect with how we lead our daily lives creates the schism between us achieving our most cherished hopes and the realities we forge through our daily behaviors.

However, such a disconnect is not without reason – there are obstacles that we have created unintentionally that prevent us from living these ideals. Long distance relationships may be commonplace, but are they sustainable? Do they challenge us personally in the same way that the “pinpricks of daily life” do when we have to live in close proximity to these people? Modern realities, however, require two incomes to pay the bills. Modern realities make children leave their families for work opportunities. And, the time demands of these realities bring us to subcontract many of our responsibilities including our children’s education and the care of our aging parents. And, the fast pace of our world contributes to the growing dysfunction among these key relationships.

In order to refocus our attention to what is important its useful to take a philosophical perspective and ponder on that long asked question: what is life about? Ultimately it is about our relationships with friends and family. They say happiness can’t be bought – well, they’re right! This stuff, career prestige, status symbols of house, car and cell phones are for many our society’s means of luring others into our lives when the only real way is to be actively involved in the lives of those we love. And, we do that by sharing our thoughts and feelings and by demonstrating them through our actions. That means giving those we love our most precious resource – our time.

There is often a disconnect between our ideals and the realities of those ideals, so what are the implications of living our values? Well to put it simply, not only would our lives be reorganized, but our world would be transformed. Families would stick together geographically. Extended household would become commonplace as aging parents live with their children. Parents would educate themselves in order to aid in their children’s education. And, basically, we would spend less time working and invest more of it in our homes and communities.

Sustainability is not just an objective process that we will achieve in the environment we inhabit because to truly achieve it “out there” we also have to achieve it in ourselves. By living the values we profess, sustainability will happen without debate of costs and without fear of change. But this is the tallest order of the challenge because few people I know (if any) actually live the values they profess. So I offer you my own best advice to achieve both sustainability and happiness in bumper sticker format! Make your life your testament.

June 4, 2008 at 5:53 am

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