The True Cost of Sustainability
Saleem H. Ali, author of Treasures
of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future, asks this simple
question in his preface: “Would the world be a better place if human societies
were somehow able to curb their desires for material goods?” and proceeds to
offer his own perspective.
He argues that lowering
consumption will probably not have a prominent effect in conservation of
resources, but rather a new approach is needed. The text is divided into three
sections: first, the origins, varieties and development of wealth; second,
dependency and ecological damage as a consequence of this wealth; and finally,
a solution that reconciles the need for consumption with a conservation effort.
What about the applicability
of conservation here in the United
States? Most people would say that their
participation in various “green living” and “sustainability” movements are
motivated by good intentions. But with a changing global society, are these
good intentions good enough? Are they effecting the kind of good we want?
Robert Paarlberg’s piece “Attention
Whole Foods Shoppers,” which appeared in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy, would argue no. With the
subtitle, “Stop obsessing about arugula. Your ‘sustainable’ mantra — organic, local,
and slow — is no recipe for saving the world’s hungry millions,” he also questions whether or not the current
sustainability system is working. And though Paarlberg centers more on food
consumption, whereas Ali focuses more on natural resources, both Paarlberg and
Ali raise the same main issue – how do we balance the current needs of humans
with the future needs of the earth?