Author Archives: plschaar

Response to Homo Economicus

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After studying sustainability for the past two years the word consumer now tends to leave a nasty taste in my mouth. As stated in the prompt, our society does believer that the bigger the better and of course, biggest is best. Unfortunately, as we learned in The Tragedy of the Commons, it is seemingly impossible to maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people. These two concepts link only if we believe that “good” equates to “more”, as it does now, instead of “enough” as it should. With the consumer giant that is western civilization, our ratio of percent consumed v. percent of world population is absurd. According to the Worldwatch Institute

“The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.”

Chew on that for a second (or don’t). I found this on a page titled “The State of Consumption Today”on the Worldwatch website and found it’s logic to follow exactly where I was headed with my blog response, check it out if you have a minute. My basic thoughts are this, how can we ask a developing country whose population is struggling to meet it’s basic needs and to step up into the “consumer class” to stop consuming so we can stay at our disproportionate level of consumption. We can’t. You wouldn’t tell your neighbor to stop planting plants because you need to use her water for all of yours (what an awesome example, I know.)

So we can’t tell the developing nation to stop, what can we do? We can decrease our levels of consumption, and I think it’s going to take a combination of both collaborative consumption AND green consumption. Beyond that, it’s a simple understanding that more and good are not synonymous, and our well being can, and must, be viewed as independent of our level of consumption. There is a basic need for each human that must be met, and beyond that, many studies, such as the ones Robert Glatter talks about in his Forbes article, show that even a double in income will not satiate our consumer appetites like we think they will. We should be focused on how to understand what really generates well being and how to pass that knowledge on to developing nations. It’s in our best interests to identify our mistakes, and hope the rest of the world can learn from them.

**Disclaimer: Mickey D’s still has delicious, deadly fries. #Guilty. 

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Response to Prompt 3: Connecting

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  -John Muir

The first question raised in this blog prompt asked about the existence of a deep connection between humans and nature. Do I think this connection exists? Absolutely. In the most fundamental sense we are nature; a wonderfully complex species designed with the capacity for compassion, choice, reason.. the list goes on. In our beginnings, as nomads and gathers, and even in early agriculture, this connection and reliance on nature was essential. This connection with nature was, at one point, our source of life, and without it, we would have not survived. So in that sense, yes, we are deeply, inextricably linked to nature. However, as Aldo Leopold so gracefully put it, we are currently in a society that acts largely as conquerer of the land-community, as apposed to a plain member and citizen. It is this mentality that has stripped us from recognizing the importance of our deep ties to the natural world. I believe that we have obtained the ability to block out our connection with nature and pretend it doesn’t exist, because we have advanced to a point where this direct connection is not needed in order to survive; for many, it’s a luxury. I guess I jumped from the first question to the last, which was do we turn this connection off, and that we do.

What is more troubling than our apparent disconnect with the natural world, it our internal disconnect with our own body’s mechanisms. So many people, myself included, are unaware of how their bodies are so reactionary to what we expose them to. Food, weather, sounds, all of our senses are continually active and yet we seem to live on autopilot.  I grew up like most do, munching on cheese puffs (which I’m not knocking, they’re delicious) and lunchables and a plethora of other heavily processed foods. It wasn’t until moving to college that I began shifting my diet towards unprocessed foods. Upon doing this I was able to pay attention to how my body, and my mind, reacted, really for the first time in my life. This is a simple example but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s truly amazing how blind we are to the signals our body relays. If we can’t understand what is going on inside ourselves, how are we supposed to further this connection to the natural world? Religion?

Unfortunately, while I believe that applying a religious lens to environmental issues can serve as a powerful tool for creating an environmental ethic, I do not believe it serves as the basis for our connection to nature, at least not in the western world.  That’s not to say the two do not cross paths many times, as we see in buddhism and native american religious practices. I believe because we, as a species, lack a universal religion, then we can not attribute religion as the sole factor which ties us to nature. Seriously though, what do I know?

Response to Round 5, Prompt 4: Climate Deniers and the Case Against Environmentalism

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 When I first read this prompt, I had to ask myself “is there really that big of a gap between the two parties regarding climate change?”, well, yes, there is. This, however, is not the only view dividing the left from the right. According to Pew Research Center, the difference between the views of Republicans and Democrats regarding American Values has grown from 10 points in 1987, to 18 points in 2012. Most of this change has occurred since 2002, where the mean difference was 11, only one point higher than in 1987. This partisan gap extends not only to specific parties, but also shows similar trends for independents who lean in either direction. The fact is, the schism is growing. This pattern holds true when we look at how each party feels when asked should we place more or less priority on environmental protection.  Interestingly enough, the change in the divide has been largely due to the Republican shift towards placing less priority on the environment. When we look specifically at data concerning global warming, we see the numbers represent an even larger divide [democrats who believe there is substantial evidence supporting global warming (87%) v.  republicans (44%)]. Answering why this divide exists is a whole different story.

I haven’t found a solid answer as to why the two sides are so divided, but for the most part I think it is a sort of domino effect.   Each side is being forced to take a definite stand on single-party issues such as gay rights, abortion, and of course, climate change. As political elites on either end of the spectrum take a specific side concerning the validity of global warming, it seems like members of their corresponding parties seem to adopt those views as their own. Perhaps this is why while majority (69%) of American’s believe that climate change is occurring, this number has been decreasing in recent years (as the political divide has grown).  Maybe we can also link this political divide to the recent priority given to our economic standing resulting from the Great Recession. Specifically, the decrease we have seen in Republicans view on environmental protection versus their support for stimulating our “free-market” economy.

Regarding the fear that increased environmental regulations will decrease job availability and hinder economic development, well that just seems a bit dramatic. Sure, environmental regulations can, and will, constrain the market to some degree. While a lack of environmental regulations may be beneficial for the economy in the short term, it may lead us to serious issues in the future. I think many of us here would agree, that at some point, the market is going to have to account for the cost of depleting resource and increased pollution. Why not begin incorporating such policy now?  Job loss due to such regulations seems beside the point considering the growth in the renewable energy business as well as the popularity of other “green” ventures has the potential to create a number of jobs, if we were to fully embrace it.

Environment and economy do not have to be separate entities, and they shouldn’t be. Changing a worldview is a difficult task, and to do so requires time, education and action. I am sure the abolishment of slavery was seen by some as an economic loss, trading free labor for free men. Now, of course, the concept of slavery is appalling and unethical. It is my hope that our view on environmental ethics will take a route similar to those we have seen regarding our ethics on human equality. Maybe one day, we will look back with confusion as to how such environmental degradation was ever justified.