Sustainability means balancing economic and social goals with ecological awareness. It minimizes damage to the environment. We must learn sustainable production and consumption.
Obesity serves as a good metaphor for neglecting sustainable consumption. Think of it as an addiction to food.
It results from an extreme dietary imbalance. Too much food and too little exercise.
Society as a whole has its own addictions. In particular, addiction to oil and addiction to stuff cause great environmental pain. We consume too much. We throw too much away. Except, there’s no such place as away.
Addiction to food (obesity)
The World Health Organization reports that more people now die worldwide from being overweight than hunger. Now, even developing countries wrestle with bulging waistlines.
The relationship between food and health is fairly simple. A certain amount of the right kinds of food fosters good health. Too little or too much food is unhealthy. Wrong food is unhealthy.
Extreme overweight makes it hard to be physically active. Not being active worsens the weight problem. The body can’t sustain that weight. It develops such problems as heart trouble and diabetes. Obese people can regain health, but they need intense discipline: eat less and exercise more.
As The Biggest Loser demonstrates, tough trainers can keep contestants working. Toughness, however, can’t motivate anyone. After all, no one has ever lost weight and kept it off just because someone else insists.
In the same way, coercive laws won’t cause sustainable production and consumption. Neither will scolding environmentalists.
Sustainability needs the efforts of individuals and businesses. And they each operate from their own motivation and values. Government has only a supporting role. Responsible consumption is up to all of us.
Addiction to oil
America, as President George W. Bush famously put it, is addicted to oil. Transportation, manufacturing, farming, construction, and heating and cooling our buildings all use a lot of energy. Much of it relies on oil or other fossil fuels.
Plastics are made from oil. Throwing them out after a single use is not sustainable consumption.
Unfortunately, it’s not just an American problem. Emerging economies seek the same lifestyle choices and comforts we enjoy. They use more and more energy all the time. And more and more single-use plastic.
Overuse of fossil fuels has effects comparable to obesity. Instead of heart disease and diabetes, the planet suffers polluted air and water.
Worldwide addiction to oil causes economic and geopolitical problems. The world, and America with it, cannot sustain the way we now use energy.
Sustainable consumption of oil requires energy conservation and developing renewable energy.
Addiction to stuff
America is likewise addicted to stuff.
The whole world used to practice sustainable production and consumption. Then came consumerism. The whole American economy relies on waste.
Planned obsolescence guarantees lots of trash. And remember when the federal government required digital-only TV broadcasting? Forced obsolescence made junk of all the old analog TVs.
Some of us are pack rats whose homes become unlivable. Others of us just move excess stuff to rapidly proliferating storage facilities. Most people get rid of stuff they don’t want any more. But that includes large quantities of packaging material and plastic bags.
Waste disposal creates its own pollution problems.
The world discards millions of tons of waste––every single day. Much of it is hazardous. But it gets into ordinary landfills and dumps anyway.
When a landfill fills up and closes, it’s hard to find a place for another one. And not only because no one wants a new landfill moving close to them. Waste disposal, therefore, becomes increasingly expensive and contentious.
Sustainable consumption requires sustainable production. Likewise, sustainable production requires thinking of trash as a resource.
Sustainability and sustainable consumption
Sustainability is not a concept invented by a few left-wing kooks. It’s a program for responsible living, including responsible consumption. It means using resources now without harming our descendants’ ability to have them.
It does not require sweeping government mandates, although it does require some level of government involvement.
Everyone can make small changes that will have a huge impact with minimal social disruption. And keep learning new ones.
Corporations pay attention to their customers. So vote for sustainable production and consumption with what you choose to buy. Or not buy. We have started to push businesses to find new, sustainable business models. They are starting to build, manufacture, and package products using fewer resources. When the trend reaches a tipping point, we’ll have less stuff to toss.
More and more people are becoming aware of their own environmental impact. As we continue to develop new green habits, environmental problems will become less dangerous.
But we’re not there yet.
We are still a society suffering from a kind of obesity. We’re getting less and less healthy by continuing the behaviors that have caused our condition. With determination and discipline, we can learn increasingly sustainable production and consumption. Will we?