Posts filed under ‘Population’

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.

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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

What is Our Problem?

Dr. David Suzuki explains…

February 23, 2012 at 10:22 am 5 comments

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

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.

February 20, 2012 at 8:35 am 31 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

The Responsible Society

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 the benefits of being an adult, but we still try to escape taking responsibility for our choices.

As a society, I think we have yet to mature to the point of accepting our full responsibilities. The huge variance in incomes demonstrates that we still do not believe every person and job in a system is essential to the mechanics of society. Our economics is like the unexplored frontier where everyone is on their own. But, in a day of global communication, transportation and trade, with a population racing toward 7 billion, we ignore the obvious interdependence and reliance of one people’s prosperity and wealth upon another’s labor. Indeed, we are all in this together and our individual prosperity stands on the shoulders of many others. In a responsible society we will be treating our brothers as we would have them treat us. We’re not there yet.

Getting people to wrap their heads around sustainability is an uphill battle, so framing the argument in terms of responsibility is more tangible, but still neither sexy nor motivating enough for most to take action. So, in search of motivation I ask the following: Is a responsible society also a moral society? The debate of what is moral behavior can become dizzying and lost in the relativism of perspectives. However, if you believe as I do that being responsible is a subset of moral behavior, then by society focusing on meeting its responsibilities we will move a long way toward becoming a moral society.

The good news is that a responsible society also turns out to be a sustainable one. So, while people may not understand what sustainability is, most people value and can strive for being responsible. But now I’m wondering does that also imply our society will not be a moral one until it is sustainable? Hmmm. Curious, very curious…

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March 31, 2008 at 11:28 am 5 comments

Welcome!

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
http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Consumption.asp

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

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