I was hearing a group of designers here in Boston saying that the only way to solve our sustainability problems is to simplify our life and go back to creating less garbage. They went on to suggest that if the government decides to stop collecting garbage, and they end up piling up in our backyard or frontyard, we would then feel the problem and start living a simple life – a radical idea but a silly one that doesn’t work. Why don’t we go back to riding horses and we do that, we will have some serious horseshit problem to deal with.
A simple life has a different meaning and a different value for every person. For some, it means eliminating all but the essential, eschewing chaos for peace, and spending your time doing what’s important to you and not accumulating things. Not a bad idea but you can’t take it to the extreme. We love things and we love to own beautiful things. However, moving to simplicity isn’t always a simple process. It’s a journey, not a destination, and it can often be a journey of two steps forward, and one backward.
If you are feeling a sense of progress with your green habits including driving 20 minutes somewhere to buy organic good versus buying from across the street or only wear recycle cotton is not knowing the amount of water needed to recycle them. Even if you buy organically grown cotton, you have not considered the amount of land needed to grow them and the whole process is very long and very chemically intensive. It is just a false sense of sustainability.
Reading the essay in Orion by Derrick Jensen on the plane, he is aything that any “simple life” movement is just a political act, the radical environmentalist argues that focusing on our personal choices as a solve for eco-destruction is not just misguided, but also useless. He shows how agriculture and industry are responsible for the bulk of water and energy use as well as emission and waste. He is saying it is cool if you want to live simple, but if you think you are making it effective or if it distracts you from the larger environmental issues, that’s not good.
To become true steward of our planet, first stop using the “flawed” notion that humans inevitably harm the environment. We have the power to redesign our societies forward but not going backward. Technology can power us forward? Perhaps. The key question remains, with global population of 9.2b people by 2050, can we produce enough food to feed everyone? Don’t worry about the quality of air and water for now. With industrial production of nitrogen fertilizer and super-crop, there are not enough land as cropland grows by 8% and population 80% in the next three decades.
Every time I drive past downtown New York, Toronto or Chicago, the office buildings are all lit up for whatever reason. I cannot imagine how much energy they consume. There is no one in those offices. Buildings play a major role in the environmentally unfriendly trends projecting energy consumption to increase by 37% and greenhouses gases by 36% over the next 20 years in North America alone. Adding all top 50 cities in the world we begin to see the magnitude of the issue. No one is doing anything. But does it really matter?
We sometimes forget that the world’s number ONE problem is population. There are too just many of us in this world. Overpopulation is the ONLY problem. Our planet cannot handle so many people. Current estimates put the planet’s population at more than 7 billion, if we stay at 4-5 billion, we can easily manage all other problems. Our top 10 challenges are overconsumption, the need for more sustainable practices worldwide, the growing need for energy conservation, the need for humans to see themselves as part of the global ecosystem, overall carbon dioxide emissions, the need to develop ways to produce consumer products from renewable resources, and dwindling fresh water resources.
We need a global solution for population control fast. To make things fair universality is necessary but not sufficient. We must also address why the third world people think they need more children when they are surrounded by underfed and dying children. Having said that, children in the west use 30 times as much of the world’s natural resources as a third world child. Think about it, if 20,000 people unfortunately died in an earthquake, the losses were made up before we saw the news on CNN. There can be more than 100 extra people born while you leave a Facebook message on a friend’s wall. Something radical must be done to get the world to wake up and face this reality.