Are we, as a global society, are on a sustainable path?
No, we are not on a sustainable path, for many reasons principle of which is our inability to overcome parochial cultural differences and make choices based on global common good, international cooperation, sharing of wealth and resources, and planning ahead for the long term. Short-term national, regional and individual interests, i.e. human systems, are trumping a common understanding of these human system’s impact on the whole earth natural system.
A case in point, the current United States. The government is paralyzed by ideological struggles pertaining to individual versus collective ideals. Many if not all the solutions presented in this class are resisted hook, line and sinker by the US Republican cohort. What results is near complete inaction on serious matters like climate change, alternative energy, farm policy, universal health care and in fact, everything seems to be a fight between individualism and pubic good/common sense. Jared Diamond mentioned this in his TED talk, outdated values, the individualism that was part of the American Manifest Destiny heroic myth; it served at one time but is now maladaptive.
The US, currently most powerful, cannot lead when our house is riven by intractable internal conflict.
The top billionaires and their government agents work hard to disenfranchise the poor and generally do everything possible to maximize their own short-term profits to the detriment of the public in general. Profit for the few has never been a public benefit for the many. Just like Jared Diamond said in his TED talk: elite short-term interests are in conflict with long-term public health.
I am pessimistic that as a global society we will be able to act within the time frame necessary to make a serious, lasting difference. Why? There is a fundamental power and control conflict between short and long term interests, with all the power in the wrong hands. For example, in California there is a serious drought, the worst in 1400 years. The state has passed a sustainable groundwater management act but it will not have any teeth for many years. South Central Valley farmers are planting high-water-use, high-value almond tree cash crops now so as to get while the getting is good. The state’s habitual growth-based water policy and its vested interest boosters are now up against a clear need for conservation and systemic scaling back to carrying capacity levels. I’m pessimistic that politicians everywhere will have the spine to stand up against the short-term, business-as-usual money.
Nevertheless, I am working hard to make as much of a difference as I can on my local and regional policy levels by pushing for sustainability and systems literacy thinking. As George Clinton said, change your mind and your ass will follow. I’m working on my city administrators, city council, county supervisor(s), am on a city commission, newspaper editorial board etc. and intend to use the most effective tool I have, my words, to try and make as much of a difference as possible.
At global, national, and state levels, I can’t get any traction. Only at the very local level, through cultivating relations, with those in power, with those of all political stripes, can I apply my global awareness and hope to educate, hopefully open up minds, and make a difference.
As I read the tea leaves, I see a lot of trouble coming but I don’t intend to become cynical or nihilistic. I’m an idealist. I’ll do the best I can to focus on bringing my region into taking account for our peculiar sustainability negatives, two of which are: severe social inequity and high greenhouse gas, fossil fuel energy footprint.
The main impediments are two-fold, one is complacency, to get folks in denial and not caring to wake up and act, and two, purity infighting among groups who have essentially the same sustainability goals and views.
With the stakes so high, I find a moral incentive to act, I’m called to care and to work to make choices that are healthy for the future of the environment and society. At home those choices are low energy and water use, and low consumption of goods for entertainment. In the public sphere my choice is to advocate for the triple bottom line sustainability policy frame, with full cost accounting and systems literacy as necessary ingredients.
The world may not be on a sustainable path, but for me, giving up and not caring is not an option.