Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sustainability is not about small actions – it is about human nature

Imagine you work as a reporter for a newspaper. due to your extreme environmental concern you decide that if you didn’t write your articles every day, then the paper they are printed on would be saved. As a compromise, you make sure to halve the length of each article. Further, if just one reporter from each newspaper around the world would take such actions, you imagine that many thousands of tonnes of paper would be saved.

Such a scenario describes the thinking of most conservationists, but it is fundamentally flawed. For starters, the newspaper must fill each page with something, so it may very well choose to fill the space with advertising or some other extended articles. Also, the publisher will seek to expand circulation, which itself requires more paper. Your actions have achieved nothing.

This is symbolic of the world we live. Small actions get absorbed by the economic machine, resulting in at best a substitution of resources and environmental problems. Even very large commitments will be absorbed by other global players.

The machine is not the ‘economic system’ the banking system or any other human construct. It is humanity. We are animals with inbuilt desire to reproduce. We seek out ranking above others to increase our reproductive chances, and we seek innovative ways of increasing the productivity of our labour time. To make any real environmental improvement means changing humanity. Or we simply wait till our rapid species explosion is brought into balance by our environment, and start all over again. It is not pretty, but that is sustainable. Repeated waves of human population expansion, fuelled by genetic desire for reproduction and rank.

Some have argued that we can create cultural forces that override these genetic desires, such that seeking rank and productive innovation are frowned upon. This may be the case. The luddites live in a similar fashion. But it takes only one ‘bad egg’ to come to power to stimulate these desires once again.

This is my thought of the day


  1. Climate change is it's own solution...???

    Something wants me to prove you wrong... but I don't know if that's possible.

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