Authors Note: I first wrote the bones of this article in the year 2000 when I wrote extensively about the first rule of sustainability being Peace. Late last summer I began writing more about externalities, and the need to link economic externalities to both environment and social justice issues. I hope to do more of the later in the coming months.
Sustainability involves the relationships between three core concerns- culture, economics, and society. Learning sustainability is about learning the complex interdependency between and amongst the three . Most people that understand sustainability know that the real bottom line is the environment.
Unfortunately many people that advocate sustainability, do not understand or care about that. Most of our sustainability platforms rest exclusively in economics, and pay a trickle down attention to culture and environment.
Across the board, economic growth and GDP is based on a consumer paradigm that promotes profit above all other factors. It treats culture and environment as exploitable commodities and markets rather than the immutable sustainability partners that they are. Sustainable growth, in this context, is an oxymoron.
Most of our economic progress today is based on this trickling down from the Oligarchs and 1%, who want you to believe, that access to wealth for the many comes from the acquisition of wealth by the few. The problem with this equation is that today, as I am sure that you have heard, more than 99% of the worlds wealth is controlled by les than 1% of the worlds people, and that divide is continuing to expand today and everyday.
According to the latest reports from the Federal Reserve, business profit margins have hit an all time high while wages have hit an all time low. Is this economic decline? What is trickling down on you and me and small local business is from the big “guys” that are eviscerating our capacity to have a sustainable future. Consequences of that trickle include a growing cascade of some pretty big picture items including climate change, expansive poverty and growing social unrest.
Here are some fundamentals of achieving “sustainability.”
PEACE ON EARTH!
Without peace there can be no sustainability. There is a lot of profit in war-making. Fundamental economic hegemony drives political and cultural disagreements, and war has driven economic “progress” for centuries. Contemporary global disaster capitalism, enabled by the shock of war and imposed austerity fraud are economic policies decided by the hidden hands of the free market and born in war. These deliberate strategies have brought us destroyed and displaced peoples, cultures, environmental obliteration, and climate change, which is the ultimate failure of the free market. Without peace there can be no sustainability. Period.
Measuring Growth with Dystopian Externality
Economic theory and practice is a political construct, not science.
Contemporary economic practices place the costs of environment and social contexts as “externalities” outside the bottom line that is overwhelmingly prejudiced on determining profit and growth.
In that way, the environment is measured as a commodity in that ecosystems such as forests are valued as measured by board feet rather than the ecological value of a complete ecosystem.
A forest, a mountaintop, a river, lake, ocean, wetland is a complete ecosystem. Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says, “Nature achieves sustainability through complexity.” Biodiversity champions life, and this is what makes planet earth unique.
The externality factor distorts our economic fundamentals and promotes destruction of biodiversity, -the underpinning of life and makes Earth unique. We know through science and ecological economic measurements that a wetland is quantifiably more valuable than a parking lot, and a forest is more valuable than an industrial farm. Yet we use our planet as a sewer and economic measurements externalize pollution. We support short-term profit and growth while transferring the real costs of sustainability off to society.
Ecosystems, through biodiversity, naturally clean waters, provide fertile soils, and stabilize the atmosphere. Poisoning the ecosystem through exploitation causes human health collapse and skyrocketing costs. An unstable atmosphere leads to disasters. The quantifiable loss of these services transcends global GDP by 1000% and more. That is measurable. Why is it an externality?
David Suzuki calls conventional economics with externalities a form of “brain damage”.
If we understand this, we can do much to reverse the myth of sustainability, but will we?
Local economy, local green infrastructure, including adapting biodiversity support in urban development, conservation of energy rather than expanding consumption, waging peace, and land use reform which includes finding ways to incentivize protecting biodiversity and wildlands are strategies that we hardly think about, never mind engage in.
We need leadership. Instead, everyone is enraptured by shiny objects in a false pursuit of happiness represented by buying more stuff that we don’t need.
This includes me. This sustainability stuff depresses me and so I go shopping at Walmart to relive the pain. I bought four new pairs of cheap socks last week to replace the ones that wore out that I bought the week before. Go figure!
If we are to advance beyond a myth of sustainability, we need to identify and defeat the destructive fables around economic growth that colonize and conquer at the expense of social and environmental sanity.
As I tell my newly homeless friends in Staten Island and Jersey-
Without new strategies, “sustainability” is simply another economic deceit that will trickle down on us until the rains of the collapse of civilization wash us all away into the unstoppable deluge of time. It wont be the first time that earth has made major adjustments.
On a slightly happier note-
In this season of Peace on Earth, think about it. Without peace there can be no sustainability. Find ways to act. You can make a difference. Don’t forget to gift shop local. It may help you to emotionally work though our problems. New Years is soon. And buy local, because local owners care about their community and caring about our community is, as one of our constant media messengers tells us “HUGE”.