Is a consumer economy sustainable?
I don’t think so. I believe that our leaders have missed the point. Recently the tag line for a local summit on sustainability read “creating a sustainable consumer goods economy”. The sponsors were large corporations and schools. These large organizations may be moving in the direction of sustainability, but they also depend on constant consumption.
The summit tagline is a reflection of the mass denial of the severity of the environmental and economic challenges that we face. Or maybe a misunderstanding of the big picture. We need to create changes, systems and holistic views to address the scope of our environmental challenges. These two great challenges of economy and ecology are related. Our political and economic models are based on consumption and continual growth, yet the environment seems to be telling us that continued growth in consumption is not sustainable.
One science model suggests that we passed the point of sustainable growth in resource use around 1987. Since that time, each year we extract more resources from the planet that it can replenish. This is not a good plan. It is similar to deficit spending and borrowing from the future. These are not sustainable solutions.
Thankfully there are many innovative companies working on solutions to pieces of the puzzle like Unreasonable Institute or TED. The Unreasonable Institute’s has a project to put 11 top rated incubator companies together on a yacht to collaborate on solutions. This is a great start and we need a more holistic approaches. We need companies and organizations, working on system wide solutions, who understand that growing population and growing consumption are not models for sustainable living.
Solutions will come from new models of living based upon quality of life for all. These models for living would focus more on enjoying life, protecting the planet and the oneness of life. Services and experiences would take precedence over consumption. In the book Natural Capitalism, the authors explore the idea of companies shifting their business model away from consumption. In their model, companies would build long lasting products and then sell maintenance and product updates to make profit. This would greatly reduce the consumption of natural resources.
Maybe we need a new umbrella organization that unites all countries and people in creating models for sustainable living and quality of life for all people. How about a united federation of countries or citizens united for the planet? Shifting the massive resources devoted to war and defense to more beneficial causes could shift the whole dynamic. Why not fund ecology, health, energy efficiency and other life enhancing projects? We are all in this together.
These are just a few of the good ideas that I’ve seen. Let’s put our hearts and minds together to talk, brainstorm and create better ways of living. United we can find ways to thrive while protecting this beautiful planet.
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