In a perfect ecosystem everything gives and takes equally, and the cycle of life is sustained perpetually. Our current lifestyle is not environmentally sustainable. We consume more and more of the earth’s resources and give very little, if any, in return. The Brundtland Commission defines lifestyle sustainability as being development that “seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future. ” Many factors are contributing to how humankind uses the earth’s resources and how humankind views the goal of sustainability.
Public opinion, government intervention, and manufacturers seem to have the largest influence in determining how the earth’s resources are used. In order to create a sustainable society, all of these factors must work in conjunction with one another in the utilization of technology and resources to insure that the same resources will be available to future generations. The Issue Mankind has always sought to control its environment. While most species must deal with the world as it is, man has the ability and the desire to change and adapt the environment to suit its needs.
If it’s too hot, then a way must be found to be cool. If there isn’t enough shelter, it must be built. If there isn’t enough food, it is produced. If there are other creatures that are regarded as pests, they are eliminated. Many of the efforts to control these environmental factors are made at the expense of destroying the biosphere upon which mankind depends. Every person on earth puts a strain on the biosphere and the earth’s population is increasing exponentially. Scientists predict that by the year 2050 mankind will top 10 Billion people.
Vital Resources are stressed by the dual demands of increasing population and increasing consumption per person. Around the world we see groundwater supplies being depleted, agricultural soils being degraded, oceans being over-fished, oil reserves being drawn down, and forests being cut faster than they can re-grow,” (Nebel and Wright, 2000, p. 6). The largest percentage of the world’s population lives in developing countries. These developing countries oftentimes have not established environmental controls in their manufacturing and farming techniques.
For example, the use of DDT, long since banned for use in the United States, still sees widespread use in many developing Nations. The use of DDT is dangerous not only to insects, but also to the entire food chain, of which man is unavoidably a part. This is not to say that developed countries are not polluting. In fact, many times it is the developed countries that are exploiting the environment intentionally for personal or commercial gain. The U. S. , for example, is the world’s number one producer of garbage and industrial waste.
The 6% of the world’s population living in the U. S. uses an estimated 25 to 50% of the world’s nonrenewable resources and produces about 15 to 40% of the world’s waste. (Sustainable America, 1996:143) Despite the fact that most countries do have constraints and limits set for pollution, they are still a long way from being environmentally friendly. Pollution comes in many forms: air, water, and land. Air and water resources can and should be considered global resources.
The misuse of these is not localized due to the fluid nature of air and water which are constantly circulating and affecting not only the producer of the pollution, but also its global neighbors. While creating these pollutants, many times there is also a negative impact on sustainability in that there is a consumption of non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels. The current trend of urban sprawl is causing the earth’s resources to be used at an unsustainable rate while also contributing to pollution.
Urban sprawl is “the rapid expansion of metropolitan areas through building housing developments and shopping centers farther and farther from urban centers and lacing them together with more and more major highways. Widespread development that has occurred without any overall land-use plan. “ (Nebel and Wright, 2000, p. 648). Given that urbanization causes a loss of habitat, air pollution, land pollution, water pollution and a drain on non-renewable resources it is one of the largest threats to sustainability.
If the trend is not reversed, the cycle that occurred with the gas shortage in the United States in the mid-1970’s will re-occur worldwide. The world’s resources will not meet with ever-increasing demand imposed by disbursed and growing population. This will lead to a situation more severe than a gas shortage; there could be a global repeat of Easter Island. Why It Is Important The goal of lifestyle sustainability is to reduce the use of resources to a level where they can regenerate faster than they are consumed, and to conserve the biodiversity of those resources.
Future generations will depend on the earth to provide for their basic needs and desires, just as current generations do. If the current trend of environmental destruction continues, future generations will find themselves unable to provide for basic needs and many forms of life could become extinct. Biodiversity is important for many reasons. Approximately 1. 75 million species of plants, animals, and microbes have been examined, named, and classified, but scientists estimate that between 4 million and 112 million species have not been systematically explored.
Mankind has found many ways to use these catalogued and categorized species for medicinal purposes. However, if biodiversity is not maintained, not only could cures for many diseases go undiscovered, there could be the loss of the availability of resources to support currently existing medicines. The environment and the world’s resources are not only important to mankind in the respect that they provide the means by which man is able to survive, but they are also important to the workings of the global society.
Gilberto C. Gallopin and Paul Raskin explored 6 scenarios that could represent the future of society when natural resources been exhausted. Gilberto C. Gallopin is director of the Systems for Sustainable Development Program at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Paul Raskin is Director of the Boston, Massachusetts, center of the Stockholm Environment Institute and president of the Tellus Institute in Boston. Gallopin and Raskin explore a wide range of long-term scenarios that could unfold from the forces that will drive the world social and economic systems in the 21st century.
The two most vivid scenarios depict a world in which there becomes a widening separation between the fabulously rich and the terribly poor due to a severe decline in global economic stability. The instability is caused by a lack of resources and an inability for manufacturers to market their products due to production costs. The rich begin to stockpile resources while mandating that less fortunate conserve and live in relative poverty. Fewer and fewer jobs are created, leaving many unemployed, including the well educated.
Smaller governments begin to collapse and disbursed and disconnected city-states begin to form. The advancement of technology is halted and the manufacture of current technology is greatly diminished. The rich become more and more fearful of the younger generations of peasants. The younger generations begin to feel that they are inept to control their own financial destiny and see the gap only widening between their standard of living and that of the privileged. Eventually, societal structures deteriorate and leave behind a disbanded human race.
While this scenario reads like a science fiction novel, these consequences could become a reality if mankind is unable to properly conserve the earth’s resources. Conservation programs need to be implemented and society’s approach to the environment must become proactive in reducing the strain that modern civilization has on the biosphere. Parties Involved “If current levels of consumption and production continue, efficiency in the use of all resources would have to increase by more than 50% in the next four to five decades just to keep pace with the population growth.
Technology is already making vast progress towards the goal of a more efficient society, though the general population and manufacturers have not readily accepted the implementation of such technologies. The current U. S. economy “is less than 10 percent as energy-efficient as the laws of physics permit,” (Sustainable America, 1996:143) Many of these technologies have yet to be implemented in modern manufacturing. Much of this is due to the lack of strong support from governments around the world.
We must use as much environmentally friendly technology as we can in our world. Unfortunately, over the course of this century, the U. S. government intervened in the economy to promote ecologically inefficient and destructive economic practices. While giving a pittance to the development of solar and wind power, the government sank about $100 billion of subsidies into nuclear power between 1950 and 1990. Similarly, the government lavished funds upon the Highway Trust Fund and created the interstate highway system while allowing public transit of all types to decay.
To this day, over 80% of federal transportation spending supports automobile-related infrastructure, leaving less than 20% for mass transit. Such spending patterns, along with additional subsidies like tax write-offs for home mortgages, help generate suburban sprawl (and thereby exacerbate the ecological damage caused by cars). At the same time, regulators often tackle problems at the “end of the pipe” instead of seeking to change the productive processes themselves. (Williamson, T. , 1999)
Recommendations and Solutions “Not even the present world population of 5. illion people-let alone the 10 billion expected by 2050-can hope to achieve North America’s material standard of living without destroying the ecosphere and precipitating their own collapse. The only alternative, if we continue to insist on economic growth as our major instrument of social policy, is to develop technologies that can provide the same levels of service with six to 12 times less energy and material” (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996:90-91). We now live in a world where the desire for possessions and services drives the global economy.
It is unlikely that the materialistic goals of modern society will change in a manner drastic enough to change the way in which mankind interfaces with the world. In order to maintain the convenience-rich lifestyle, to which much of the modern world has become accustomed, our reliance on efficient technology must take precedence over the temporary increase in the cost of production. As theorized by the EPA in their 1996 study of pollution and pollution control, not only may pollution control not be a significant burden to the economy, but in the long run, it could actually improve the economy.
The finding is overwhelming. The benefits far exceed the costs of the Clean Air Act in the first 20 years,”(Morgenstern, R. , 1996). The Clean Air Act to which Mr. Morgenstern referred was the basis of the 1996 EPA study. In 1970 the Clean Air Act was implemented and many environmental controls were imposed on manufacturing plants. In only 20 years, from 1970 to 1990, $436 billion was spent in conforming to the new regulations; however, the net benefit of the Act was $6. 8 trillion. (Nebel and Wright, 2000, p. 9).
The net savings take into account the “avoided costs” of improved human health, less damage by acid rain, less environmental clean-up, and conservation of fossil fuels. The U. S. Government has been unwilling to put constraints on manufacturing and vehicular pollutants, while hiding behind the excuse that it could stifle the economy. While there may be some temporary stress put on consumers and manufacturers by more stringent pollution restrictions, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the consequences.
It has been proven that there are real savings to be seen by implementing more efficient manufacturing processes and the creation of jobs in the field of resource conservation. The technology is available and some regulations are already in the law books, but government and public support must be present to enforce these laws and implement the technology. For example, the State of California’s Air Restriction Board passed legislation stating that all major manufacturers wishing to sell cars in California would need to sell a “significant” number of Zero Emissions Vehicles in order to make a market in the state.
Though this may appear to be strict mandate, its enforcement has been less than noteworthy. Even its wording, “significant”, leads to lackadaisical interpretation and is difficult to enforce. The technology has been developed and is available to create commuter vehicles that produce very few harmful emissions and have a very minimal impact on non-renewable resources. The average American home is only about half as efficient as current technology could make it.
Large appliances, such as the refrigerator, freezer, air conditioner, and furnace could be made to use less than 35% of the power as compared to their current power drainage. Insulating techniques can conserve an additional 5 to 10% in heating and cooling costs. Again, the technology is available, but both society and government must be committed to its implementation and development. Conclusion The current levels of consumption currently being maintained by mankind do not allow for a continued sustainability of society and the environment.
If mankind does not change the way in which it relies on resources, the earth will eventually become uninhabitable. However, mankind has the opportunity and the foresight to change its behavior to prevent this. A sustainable future is very possible, even without a great decrease in the amenities that the current global society enjoys and man’s existence on Earth could be sustained perpetually. The deciding factor in man’s ability to coexist within the earth’s biosphere will be in how a global society’s priorities can be changed to put the environment ahead of its collective pocketbook.