Living in a modern society means that we are required to use goods and services that others provide for us. More than half the population lives in densely populated cities, which are often too large for adjacent farmland and natural resources to supply the food and materials needed for an acceptable quality of life.
This stems from the fact that long ago, we agreed that cities, industry, manufacturing, and organized labor were the future. How did we know what the land could sustain?
We didn’t—until our natural resources started running out.
The rationale of environmentalism is so practical that it’s almost blindingly obvious.
Imagine, for example, our city’s industry is lumber. While we contemplate how to create a sustainable replacement for lumber, let’s study how to grow more trees so we don’t run out in the meantime.
Soon after the rise of cities, supply-side economics met the limits of expansionism head on, and the natural environment suffered tremendously, though not immediately. This is despite the many sustainable practices developed and used in forestry and agriculture.
Even early urban areas had to choose between clean drinking water and diverting natural water sources for sanitation and irrigation. There was often violent competition between two cities in close proximity for access to the same natural resources and raw materials.
Amidst all the consumption of resources, citizens demanded more and better access to goods and services. Trading partnerships sprang up where the local environment couldn’t supply enough raw materials and other industrial commodities to meet supply-side demand.
At the same time, cities developed culture. They outlined what was important and expected in personal and civic conduct, as well as in politics and aesthetics, including the value of the natural landscape and environment—or what the World Bank calls “ecological capital.”
When citizens can’t get what they need and want in one city, they take their money and move to another.
With diminished consumer and tax bases, cities and industries collapse, but society continues where it finds what it values. Cities that were connected to other cities and regions by culture and economics were, therefore, more sustainable (though not necessarily more self-sufficient).
Although they ultimately address truth, ethics, justice, and freedom, most social values aren’t abstracts. Further, the citizenry expects that its ethos—social capital—is reflected in all areas of public and private life, including business and manufacturing, food production, construction, and government and military conduct.
Stable economies will sustain that which their citizens value. Period.
When we use our common sense about sustainability and the environment, we see with blazing clarity that they’re inextricable. Therefore, our economics must be rebuilt on a foundation that both grants that the environment is an invaluable part of our natural and social heritage, and that works to preserve, conserve, and sustain the environment.
Industry and manufacturing have already proven most mobile and responsive when their consumer base demands greener, more environmentally-responsible products. Accordingly, more and more citizens judge production quality based on the answers to questions such as:
•How many recyclable, sustainable alternatives are there to this product?
•How much recycled content can this product safely have and still maintain acceptable quality?
•What natural materials go into this synthetic?
•Are those materials renewable or single-use?
•How many of this company’s products are recyclable or at least greener?
•What pollutants does this product, along with the manufacturing process and production facility, release?
•How much company revenue goes into restoring and preserving the environment, and where’s the proof?
When consumers buy based on their environmental values, which have a fundamental impact on their own health and well-being, they look for cleanly, greenly constructed homes, ethically manufactured clothing, and healthy, safe food, drinks, and medicines.
To bring even more economic force to bear and make our society more sustainable, we can locate and do business in buildings that have greener operations, drive the greenest cars we can find, and use public transportation.
Another option is to simply not drive. Don’t lease. Don’t buy. Help the world become sustainable one step at a time.
This is the hardest part—living up to our values until we find the right sustainable fit. However, it is imperative because the economics of common sense gives the citizenry and their money the power to move society forward to sustainable, renewable resources and practices.