When we talk of sustainability we cannot but refer to the Western liberal economic model of the consumer society driven by an individualism and egotism. Here waste and obsolescence is encouraged to encourage further consumption and were the new is valued and the old discarded. This model was always wrong in the moral sense but was workable when it only impacted on the Northern Hemisphere’s western powers. Today China and India, between them two thirds of the world peoples, have adopted it. Globalisation is driven by this western model. But is it sustainable? The cartoon is from The Times Newspaper.
It has been and always was fuelled by the growth of credit but for the credit system not to fail there has to be a growth in the real economy to pay back or service the debt. The problem is that the real economy runs on the availability of the factors of production beyond that of money. It requires labour technology, and off course we have plenty of both, but these two factors need land and water and petrochemicals and other minerals and raw materials like wood. Not to mention food crops and livestock. The problem is our planet earth is finite and so are the resources it provides.
Sustainability also brings into question more than economics but also life styles at the personal level and even more fundamental who we are and what we are in relation to the natural world around us. As we expand our cities and become increasingly urbanised and cut off from nature we lose an important dimension of who and what we are. Essentially we are creatures that makes us a part of nature not apart from nature. When species are destroyed we lose something of ourselves we are poorer for every form of life that is destroyed by our activity. There is also the question of the food chain and what happens as to horticulture and arable farming when insects like bees start dying out due to pesticides and general levels of pollution and loss of habitat.
Waste also creates increased pollution and this as we all must be aware now is leading increasingly to the reality of dramatic climate change. Air pollution and depleted ozone layer are two factors that result from this. Also, what to do with the other waste products of this western economic model as the Pacific Ocean Trash Vortext testifies . The trash vortex is an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, along with other slow degrading garbage, swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared.
Harsher weather systems, flooding, droughts more extreme weather everywhere. There is a political reaction of course and a groundswell of concern but this is not leading to governmental action and big business seems more concerned to continue as if climate change.
Why? Because Capitalism sees climate change as a business opportunity not a threat
Increased use of artificial intelligence, mechanisation and computerisation and the use of bio technologies are the alleged saviours of the world. Capitalism ever since the debates between Ricardo and Malthus over population and the finite resource of land have relied on technology to overcome and permit the continuation of their programmes of economic growth. The bio-genetic engineering of crops threatens to create a dependent peasantry out of the autonomous farmer and a monopolisation of the food chain and the final commodification of life itself. Science has overtaken science fiction and our very humanity is at risk. In the midst of the recent financial services crisis we have observed that today the State does not regulate capitalism today it collaborates with capitalism. As a result inequality grows and poverty due to speculation is rising.
In the Global village of 1000
60 own 50% of all the wealth in the village
600 live in shanty town level accommodation
500 are Hungry
300 are under or unemployed
In the poorest part of the village life expectancy is 36
In the richest parts of the village the gap between rich and poor is the highest for 30 years
Ratio of top earner to bottom 1960 40 : 1
in average American corporation 2007 344 : 1
For my discussion on a popular counter strategy please see my paper in the International Journal of Co-operative Management Vol.6 Vol.1.1 “Co-operatives Year 2-12. No time for celebration but maybe a last time to mobilise the movement to action on the globalisation” pp76 to 80.
We need to find an alternative economic model and we need to do so now to save species and to protect the future of our children. Below are some websites that offer some solutions.
World Development Movement
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent
The Soil Societies of America and UK
The Woodland Trust
Friends of the Earth
World Wildlife Foundation