Social, environmental, and economic goals are so intertwined that no one is more important or attainable without a focus on the other two. This balance should be the goal standard by which all policies and legislation should strive to achieve. I believe that this goal is best achieved by strictly regulating environmental standards and social justice while allowing the free market competition which strives for efficiency. All three of these aims would have different final interpretations if taken individually than the result when all three are combined. A world based fully on environmental principles would be so biocentric to the point of being socially unjust and economically inefficient, just as a world based fully on social justice would be environmentally unsound and poorly functioning economically. As we already know, a world based completely on maximizing monetary efficiency, like the one we currently live in, is bad for the environment and unfairly secludes certain people due to their socioeconomic status.
In an ideal world I think that the federal and state governments should work at a strictly regulatory level, based on ethical principles. The government should work to ensure that free market companies fully uphold the stringent environmental standards necessary to ensure the sustainability of our limited resources. These standards in combination with practices that support the distribution of wealth within our society would work toward all three goals of environmental, social, and economic health. Like we saw in the talk by Hans Rosling, even wealth distribution is critical to the overall happiness and wellbeing of societies, including our global society. Regulating for strict environmental goals as well as maintaining effective social programs like healthcare and food support while allowing the free market to work for efficiency would balance all of the facets of a sustainable society. With the government serving strictly as an ethical regulatory agency and allowing traditional “capitalistic” business to operate within socially and environmentally healthy constraints I believe that all of these goals can be achieved without any of them becoming the top priority.
I believe that maintaining the standard of living in developed countries is essential for sustainable change to happen. Citizens of developed countries have the greatest capability to be changemakers, but few would take on this task if their quality of life were to be significantly diminished. Fortunately standards of living can be maintained without the excessive consumption so common in current society. “Collaborative consumption” as explained by Rachel Botsman is on the rise everywhere, and especially in socially progressive areas like California. On a recent trip to San Francisco, we rented a car through a service called RelayRides where individuals put their personal cars up for rent just as big car rental companies do. Services like this require a level of trust in strangers that would be unthinkable just a few years ago. I think that the rapidly growing popularity of collaborative consumption services indicate steps in the right direction for developed countries and redistribution of wealth further down the line.
In developing countries reduced consumption is much less important than sustainable use of resources. The lower per capita GDP does not allow for excess like we see in the US, though the goods purchased and resulting waste has much room for improvement. Especially in second world developing countries I believe the biggest issue with growth is exactly what standard of living the population is trying to achieve. If the current Western standard of excess is seen as the end goal, then global sustainable growth is not a possibility. Countries in this stage do not necessarily need to reduce their consumption, but put their resources to use in more sustainable ways.
Though religion is likely the biggest factor in shaping individual’s worldviews and connection with the Earth, I don’t believe that it is essential to this deep connection. Throughout written history people have searched for meaning in their lives, usually finding it in spirituality or religion. In Native American and Pacific religions, this connection to a higher power is intertwined with a deep connection to the Earth which they live off of.
I believe that people’s personal connection with the Earth is shaped by their environment. This connection was inherent when all people lived off of the land, but in present day with so many children isolated in urban settings their connection must be built with their education and upbringing. In a societal setting, education functions as part of the environment, and has the power to change and shape worldviews of both young and old.
With an absence of an earth centered religion and isolation from the beauty of the natural world, I think that education is critical to building connections with the earth and subsequently caring about its future. I firmly believe that this connection is intrinsic, even though it is repressed by our modern culture, with its roots in dualistic ideals and a logic of dominance. In our society, education is the most valuable tool in nurturing care for the environment. Even those who do feel this connection turn it off at times, myself included, but being able to reconnect to ones “animal body” is essential public knowledge if we wish to combat environmental degradation.
Those who agree with the view shared by Berliner and the “If I wanted America to Fail” video have an inherently flawed and short-sighted worldview. Though Berliner’s point that nature’s intrinsic value is different for everyone is correct, it is not a sufficient argument for advocating environmental destruction. Regardless of individual’s perceived value of nature and the environment, advocates of a purely free market do not realize that their ideal societal model is destined to fail. A shift to clean and renewable energy would have a significant upfront cost, and a drastic change in “business as usual”, but this is not necessarily bad.
If the free market prevailed, the economy would indeed benefit in the short term. However, continuing current practices ensures that there will be no resources for future generations- all the oil will have been used up, the soil will be eroded and degraded so much that it cannot support life, and all the minerals will have been stripped out of the earth. So while business may temporarily boom, no more will the “loggers continue to log, and the miners continue to mine.”
Shifting the economy to run on renewable energy has nothing to do with guilting Americans or running on “windpower and wishes.” Supporters of the pure free market model are those who stand to benefit the most from it, while all of America stands to benefit from switching to clean energy. It is not possible to find a middle ground in this issue, as supporters of fossil fuel are primarily oil companies, natural gas companies, and coal mining companies, all of which will definitely take huge hits in company profits without consumers using their products. A free market system will certainly be the basis of a renewable future, though maybe not the future oil companies desire. It is not possible to reconcile the profit objectives of fossil fuel companies and clean energy, but the economy will certainly benefit in the long term from a sustainable future.
I believe that we as humans have far exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity for our species. There is no doubt that we have surpassed the natural ability of the Earth’s resources to sustain us, but advances in technology have expanded the production of viable food far past that. The Green Revolution had a drastic effect on agriculture, especially in developing countries starting in the late 1960s. This movement involved the spread of agriculture technologies including synthetic fertilizers, hybridized seeds, and pesticides to countries struggling with food production. The huge impact these technologies had deemed the movement a panacea and credited it with saving over 1 billion people from starvation.
Though well intentioned, this widespread and rapid adoption of new technology had many unintended consequences. The resulting increased food supply led to population growth in these already potentially overpopulated countries but did not succeed at eliminating or reducing poverty as was promised. In addition, the high yield varieties of crops depend on substantial fertilizer inputs and greater demand for irrigation than previous farming methods, causing pollution and strain on scarce resources.
The implementation of technologies like these is meant to help society by saving people from starving, but in reality just artificially enhances the perception of Earth’s carrying capacity. Increased food production means increased use of fossil fuels and environment degradation, as well as overpopulation. I don’t think that we will be extinct in 100 years, at least not from lack of food, but I do believe that the consequences of climate change, degraded land and water, and the host of other problems caused from putting too much strain on the environment will have increasing and devastating effects on our population.