I have often talked about population on this blog. It is a controversial and difficult subject to tackle, because of the emotions and reactions it immediately stirs.
This article quotes the man who is said to have destroyed the idea that population was a problem, the Father of the Green Revolution. In his Nobel prize acceptance speech he said,
We have bought the world some time, but unless population control and increased food production go hand in hand, we are going to lose this.
Even those who don’t agree about population might agree with the solution.
So what’s Weisman’s solution? Importantly, he is no supporter of coercive population control measures such as China’s infamous one-child policy. Rather, Weisman makes a powerful case that the best way to manage the global population is by empowering women, through both education and access to contraception — so that they can make more informed choices about family size and the kind of lives they want for themselves and their children.
Sometimes our everyday assumptions and practices that go unquestioned are the ones that are keeping us from real sustainability. I appreciated the example of how air-conditioning has influenced the way we build houses and think about dealing with heat and weather.
My dad made a practice of turning over the rocks of American everyday habits to find the underlying cultural expectations, and he was particularly concerned with how many prominent values in American society were at odds with environmental values. For example, as Americans we tend to value cheapness, comfort, and convenience, three values (of 11 that he wrote essays on) that frequently increase rather than decrease our environmental footprint.
For example, in an essay he wrote on air conditioning, he explains how this 20th century technology undermined hundreds of years of cultural conditioning that helped humans stay cool with a smaller environmental footprint.
The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.
We have successfully segregated many disciplines and fields of study from each other. One of the most glaring cases of this is the division between environmentalism and economics. Politicians of various stripes can often be heard claiming that protecting the environment will cost jobs and hurt the economy. Those who argue for environmental regulation also buy into this myth by trying to argue that it will not hurt jobs, but potentially fuel a green technology revolution spurring economic growth. Both sides continue to base their arguments on the unquestioned belief in the necessity of economic growth. E.F. Schumacher explains this well,
“From an economic point of view, the central concept of wisdom is permanence… Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. There can be ‘growth’ towards a limited objective, but there cannot be unlimited, generalised growth…The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom.”
“The cultivation and expansion of needs” is at the very heart of our consumer economy. Advertisers and marketers are paid large sums of money in order to convince us that we “need” the products of the companies they represent. The problem of sustainability can be summed up as the modern confusion of the difference between “needs” and “wants.” Continue reading →