Some Thoughts

I just got back from Prague this morninbg, where I had an amazing weekend, but I’ll post on that later on in the week once I upload all my pictures to my computer and delete all the horribly blurry ones.

Today’s post is about the Environmental Management for Sustainable Development seminar (a mouthful I know, based on my schedule the British seem to favour lengthy titles) I attended this afternoon, which became quite rousing towards the end. In my seminars for this class each student has to pick one topic to present on at some point during the course, offering summary and critical analysis as well as further research over and above the required readings.  Today’s seminar started off modestly slow, similar to our class’ first seminar last week where the teacher assistant had to lead the discussion.  But once the guy today opened up the floor to questions and discussion things got heated!  He had presented on how reducing working hours is necessary for sustainable practices, citing how after the recession unemployment rose but consumption, mortality, and car accidents significantly declined.   However, one guy in the class was vehemently opposed to this idea, insisting that there was no connection between unemployment and sustainability, and that reduced work hours would just lead to another recession.   A lot of people got really into it, and tried to defend the presenter’s ideas while the other guy kept arguing his points.  There was a lot of emotion and frustration in the room as people defended their positions.  It really got me thinking about the cause of the recession and about sustainability in general.

One of the opposing guy ‘s (let’s call him John, I don’t actually even know his name) arguments was that the collapse of the economy was because of debt, because people didn’t have enough money to pay back the banks, and that by reducing working hours and thus reducing income, the world would just fall into a greater recession again.  But that point got me thinking, and made me realize the recession wasn’t really about a lack of money.  It was, but the root of it was to do with the consumer culture we have in North America, and most of the world.  Yes, the unregulated banking industry in the States, unscrupulous practices, and consumer debt played big roles but at the very heart of the problem was consumerism. People wanted to buy McMansions, and were being sold mortgages that they couldn’t afford by brokers who wanted their bonuses so they could go and purchase all of the goods and luxuries that they didn’t need.  If we didn’t have such a consumerist culture, there wouldn’t have been so much pressure to have more stuff, but of course this culture is difficult if not impossible to change.  It’s not even pressure, it’s because we’re so entrenched in this culture that our mindsets are to consume, to buy, to have, we don’t need to be told by the media anymore what we want, we’ll probably want it anyways.

The way back from class had me mulling about sustainable practices, and if they’re at all possible.  Recycling is such a superficial form of sustainability, while it does do its part, I feel like it’s just lip service for most people and organizations.  It’ll take a lot more than just buying post consumer content paper products and using reusable bags to make a difference.  There needs to be a global change, of course most importantly in the developed world, to change this consumer culture so that having many material things is not a measure of success and happiness.  By aiming for constant economic growth we’re doing nothing to save the earth; it’s only through recession I think that we’ll see much change in the environment because less money is in the hands of consumers, and there will be less goods on the market, and thus less goods are needed to be consumed.  Many cite corporate greed (or “those corporate bastards” as “John” called them in class today), but I think personal greed established by our consumerist culture is more to blame for the state of the environment: people vote with their wallets and if they will go out and purchase the never ending stream of goods being put on the market, organizations will continue to deplete the earth’s resources to provide them to keep people happy.

I think there are many people who realize this, but also realize that the institutions of our society need to make definitive changes because individuals are reluctant to give up their lifestyles and make changes for themselves. There have been several protests throughout the US lately, especially on Wall St. to protest the practices of banks and corporations.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say with this post, but I’m really happy that I’m taking this course because sustainability is a very interesting and hot topic, and will certainly only become more important as we continue to use the finite resources we have on this earth.

On a brighter note, happy Thanksgiving!  I don’t think they celebrate it here in the UK, so I’m very much missing my mom’s annual Thanksgiving feast right now.  Enjoy this time of year if you’re lucky enough to be at home surrounded by friends and family!