One of the consistent themes of many environmentalists is that we must reduce consumption and live more modest lives in tune with nature, if we are to promote a sustainable economic future. I do not believe that a frugal sustainability is either feasible or necessary. It's not feasible because with over seven billion people on the planet and a growing majority of them living in cities, it is too late to get back to the land and live as one with nature. There's too many of us, and not enough "nature" to go around. Sitting alone in the dark and eating bread and water doesn't sound too desirable either. I am not arguing that our goal should be excessive consumption and wanton waste, but that it's too late to turn back the clock and live without technology.
Instead, we need to use technology and human ingenuity to develop a new form of urban sustainability. This new form of urban sustainability will enable us to live spiritually and intellectually rich, meaningful and interesting lives, in cities that have learned to reduce their ecological and carbon impacts. The economic value of our consumption will grow as the material base of it will be reduced and be made more renewable and less toxic. This will require a shift in patterns of consumption and methods of producing goods and services, but it will not require a reduction in production and consumption.
It is reasonable to see this vision as an unrealistic delusion. It may be a dream, but the idea that people will willingly reduce their consumption of electronic toys, food, travel, entertainment and everything else is an even deeper delusion. Moreover, the process of losing what people now have, or preventing developing nations from growing, would be politically destabilizing. In this age of terror and the rapid "advance" of the technology of destruction, mass economic deprivation could be extraordinarily dangerous.
In my view, our only chance is a technological fix. Fortunately, that is something we spent most of the 19th and 20th centuries learning how to do. The economic opportunities and threats of the last two centuries were nearly all the result of technological advances, along with technological solutions to problems created by other technologies.
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc