In its report “State of the World 2013,” Worldwatch Institute asks: “Is Sustainability Still Possible?”
Given the current situation, it seems achieving sustainability is a very, very difficult task.
“If all humans consumed as much food and resources as people in the United States do, the Earth could sustain only about a quarter of the current population.
“Humanity as a whole is becoming more wasteful, as people across the globe define themselves and their successes by what they own and what they consume,” the Washington, D.C.-based research organization said.
In the constant evolution of cultures, Erik Assadourian, senior fellow at Worldwatch and co-director of the 2013 report, said: “perhaps one of the biggest cultural transformations was the advent of consumerism.”
Assadourian, highlighting the changes that advertising and marketing brought to society, also noted: “When first-generation factory workers received raises, they chose to work fewer hours, not buy more stuff, but over time, people got used to new products, some of which did indeed improve life quality, and many of which were marketed as such by clever entrepreneurs and a new advertising industry. Eventually, we could hardly imagine life without an abundance of products.”
The hard-sell and expensive multimedia advertising not only tempted but even pressured people to buy things.
Consumers were made to believe they could not live without them.
But as many consumers, including myself, found out, many of the things they bought were not needed, were more trouble than they were worth and did not really make the chore easier as claimed.
Despite the bleak situation, “State of the World” authors believe things can still change. “Just as humans became consumers, so can we revamp our behaviors to prevent further damage to the planet,” they said.
Among other things, Assadourian suggested policy changes, such as shifting taxes on unsustainable practices like carbon emissions, plastic bags and junk food, as well as shifts in infrastructure, such as facilitating car-free lifestyles by building bike lanes and shared bike systems.
He said organizations such as churches, schools and businesses, could promote sustainable living in their communities. Media and entertainment could promote change “by subtly modeling sustainable living with films, stories and social marketing.”
The authors stressed that individual action alone would not result in long-term changes. They pointed out, for instance, that “the amount of damage done by people and households is only a small fraction of the total waste produced by industries every year.”
Annie Leonard, contributing author of “State of the World,” said, “Describing today’s environmental problems and solutions as individual issues has a disempowering effect. Even if we really do decrease our driving, stop littering and refuse plastic bags, the broader impacts are still negligible. Society-wide, we need to implement new technologies, cultural norms, infrastructure, policies and laws.”
She called for widespread public action “to make sustainable living a way of life, rather than a trend.” Leonard said everything needed to make a big change in the years ahead was already available.
“We have model policies and laws. We have innovative green technologies to help with the transition. We have an informed and concerned public; millions and millions of people know there is a problem and want a better future. The only thing we are missing is widespread citizen action on the issues we already care about,” she said.
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