Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Visioning a better future

Prompt: Write a one page description of your vision of a sustainable and desirable future, i.e. what you believe are the desirable ends towards which society should allocate its resources. Use your imaginations without ignoring the laws of physics and ecology. Post your vision on the discussion board. Read and comment on the other students’ visions. You will be asked to return to this in the module on societal challenges and paradigm shifts.

I think the loss that we are most hurting from is the loss of connection to community and place. Many of us scarcely know our neighbors, let alone those who produce our food and clothing. For half of humanity, connection to the natural environment in which we evolved to exist has been replaced with suffocation by concrete and steel. It has been my experience (and to my limited knowledge, cutting edge research agrees) that contentedness arises from communion with human community and the natural environment. Therefore, since our goal is to increase human wellbeing, any changes we wish to make to the economic system should enhance connection to the places we live and the people with whom we share them.

Food, being our primary requirement, seems like a natural place to start visioning. The way we acquire and consume our food used to be the cornerstone of community interactions. For the vast majority of human history, that meant hunting and gathering in tribes, and, more recently, farming and raising animals in families and communities. Not coincidentally, as we have progressed from hunter-gatherers, to agriculturalists, to modern-microwavers, the quantity of calories we consume has increased while the quality of nutrition contained in those calories has decreased. In fact, human health deteriorates with the rise of agriculture1.

Our modern system of food production and consumption damages human health (see, eg., obesity and diabetes, but also, likely, cardiovascular disease and many cancers2), destroys ecosystems (see, eg., soy production in the former Amazon rainforest or the 9,000mi2 deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico), depletes limited stocks ranging from topsoil to rock phosphorus to oil, and has severed our primal link to the natural world. When a people live in constant contact with the systems that support them, they value those systems. It is only our dissociation from the natural world that has enabled the degradation of it. Conversely, by putting ourselves back in contact with the source of our sustenance, we will naturally become caretakers of those systems. As Derrick Jensen points out, “If your experience is that your water comes from the tap and that your food comes from the grocery store, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them; if your experience is that your water comes from a river and that your food comes from a land base then you will defend those to the death because your life depends on them.”

Current economic policies, such as subsidization of oil production and agriculture, along with powerful cultural forces, such as the drive for increasing consumption fueling longer working hours keep us chained to a system that dissociates us from our sources of happiness and vitality. The good news is that a return to one naturally means a return to the other.



1 comment:

  1. My response was a little more general to this question:

    A sustainable and desirable future to me is one in which the basic needs (e.g. food and shelter) of every human are met while keeping resource use at or below a predetermined sustainable level that considers carrying capacity while providing opportunities for people to satisfy less basic needs (e.g. participation or creativity). Essentially what this would entail is maintaining natural capital in as “pure” state as possible given the second law of thermodynamics that as matter is used it “degrades”. This would involve a paradigm shift away from consumerism and towards a society that minimizes consumption of natural capital while maximizing human capital. Resources in this society would then be allocated first to those without the basic necessities of life, and then towards goals that offer opportunities to improve the quality of life in terms of happiness and for both personal and societal non-material goals.