Sustainability: What is required to stop global warming and other negative consequences of industrialization?
The need for businesses and governments to be sustainable enterprises is one of the most talked-about subjects in the media today. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): "Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations" ("What is sustainability," EPA, 2012). For most of us, we pat ourselves on the back for our sustainable efforts when we engage in relatively simple, low-stress actions such as recycling and buying green products. This demands little 'cost' of us, other than time. However, advocates of the Deep Ecology movement and other radical environmental groups believe that only if we radically change our view of what progress means as a species can we create a truly sustainable way of living. These changes would mean uncomfortable shifts in the way we live, and may limit our freedoms in ways many might consider unacceptable. The current evidence regarding the damage global warming is doing to our planet suggests that the paradigm offered by conventional environmentalism does not go far enough.
"In 1973, Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess introduced the phrase 'deep ecology' to environmental literature" (Drengson 2012). Naess developed his concept of 'deep ecology' as a contrast with mainstream environmentalism, which he called 'shallow ecology' (Drengson 2012). "The word 'deep' in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values when arguing in environmental conflicts...The short-term, shallow approach stops before the ultimate level of fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes (e.g. recycling, increased automotive efficiency, export-driven monocultural organic agriculture) based on the same consumption-oriented values and methods of the industrial economy. The long-range deep approach involves redesigning our whole systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems" (Drengson 2012). Recycling a can of Coca-Cola, given that Coca-Cola is a company which still has a tremendous carbon footprint in terms of the fossil fuels it uses to produce and transport its product, and disrupts traditional ways of consuming food, does little to truly improve the environment. It makes the consumer feel good, little else.
Some of Naess' most radical notions involve slowing down progress, rather than speeding it up, to facilitate the conservation of resources. One of the platforms of the Deep Ecology movement today states that the movement is founded upon "appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great" (Naess & Sessions 2012). This means that some developing nations will have to forego the comforts of industrialization and developed world nations must have to give up some of their most basic comforts. We may need to travel less, not simply use hybrid cars. We may need to eat less meat, not simply switch to organic produce.
What is perhaps most radical about movements such as Deep Ecology is that these forms of environmentalism do not place improving and sustaining human life at their center, but rather the life of the planet. It deemphasizes the much-touted capitalist solution, which stresses that market pressures and industry-generated technological reforms can improve the planet: "excitement over increasingly green business practices is likewise misplaced; companies will do what they need to do to increase their profits and when the cost is modest to improve their images" (Saunders & Turekian 2007). But companies will not put their bottom lines at risk and displease consumers. Consumers, left to their own devices, place cost and personal comforts above 'greenness' when evaluating purchases. When gas prices go up, sales of hybrids may increase, but demand for SUVs is still strong. "In 2008, when gas prices first reached $4 a gallon, Americans could not trade in their hulking trucks and SUVs fast enough...today, in spite of high gas prices and low fuel economy ratings, big SUVs are no longer the pariahs of the used-car lot. Dealers and analysts say demand for the vehicles is steady and inventories are low, causing their values to stabilize or even increase" ("Used full-sized SUVs in demand again," The New York Times, 2012).
Even if people do not support the full, radical agenda of Deep Ecology, to make meaningful changes in how we live will demand sacrifices. Even simple steps like sharing cars, driving smaller cars, taking fewer trips, taking public transportation has met with resistance, as has the idea of eating less meat. "New emissions limits in the United States and other major emitters such as Europe's key economies and Japan may slow the processes driving these events. But the mounting scientific evidence, coupled along with economic and political realities, increasingly suggests that humanity's opportunity to prevent, stop, or reverse the long-term impacts of climate change has slipped away" because measures have been too cautions, too little, and too late (Saunders & Turekian 2007). If change is to occur, such relatively minor changes will not stem the tide swiftly enough.
"While greenhouse gas intensity (emissions per unit of gross domestic product) of both developed and developing economies has decreased significantly over the past decade as a result of greater efficiency measures, overall greenhouse gas emissions have nevertheless continued to rise. That's because as economies grow, they consume more energy and produce more carbon dioxide. And, obviously, each country wants its own economy to grow" (Saunders & Turekian 2007). The most popular vehicles in China are SUVs, in a nation where few individuals used to drive cars, period. And China has "already surpassed America in emissions to become the worlds leader and, with sustained high growth rates...if China grows at 8% for the next nine years, its economy will double in size and its greenhouse gas emissions can be expected roughly to double as well" (Saunders & Turekian 2007). "Last year, Chinese consumers bought 2.1 million SUVs, or around half of the 4.1 million SUVs bought in the U.S. during the same period... owning an SUV in China is as much a status symbol as it is in the U.S., and it is this reasoning that has younger buyers flocking to the SUV segment" ("Demand for SUVs on the rise in China," Truck Trend, 2012).
The way the world eats will have to change for meaningful progress to take place, regarding the reduction of global warming. As the world becomes increasingly prosperous and westernized in its eating habits, its consumption of meat continues to increase. "As consumer demand for meat increases more land is needed. Hundreds of miles of the South American rainforest is burned and cut annually and converted to crop and grazing land. The New York Times reported that 1,250 miles of Brazilian rain forest were lost for feed and livestock production in just 5 months" (Willick 2012). Cattle release methane into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming, as does the emissions from the fuel used to transport meat to consumers. Raising commercial livestock also contributes to water pollution. Commercial livestock husbandry contributes to other negative environmental consequences, such as the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, thanks to the use of antibiotics in animal feed to hasten the time to slaughter (Willick 2012). However, consumers remain resistant to lowering their meat consumption, and the meat from animals raised in more traditional, sustainable methods remains a niche part of the food market because of its greater expense.
While it is true that China has begun to invest in green technology, "only a stunning technological breakthrough will allow for reductions in emissions that are sufficiently deep to stop climate change...stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million twice pre-industrial levels, a level at which most believe there is already a higher probability of major climate disruptions would require stopping the global growth in emissions by 2020 and reducing emissions by 2.5% per year after that. The longer it takes to stop the growth in emissions, the deeper the eventual cuts need to be" (Saunders & Turekian 2007). Only substantial political pressures to reform current energy policies can reverse the trend -- individual actions are not enough. Yet, particularly in the wake of the worldwide economic recession, the desire to stimulate the worlds' economies through production is at the forefront of leaders' agendas, not the long-term preservation of the environment. Consumption is good for generating jobs in the short run, even though hyper-consumptions is what fosters global warming and other negative consequences for the humans of the future.
Global warming is an international problem, and requires cooperation and a great deal of political capital to address the issue. There has been foot-dragging by the U.S. In particular to even enact modest measures to reduce emissions, and the developing world is…