Thinking Sustainability

“We tout our good intentions and move on to another problem in another developing society.”
Inherent and nuclear to any concept of sustainability would seem to be the understanding of populations; the comprehension of how various populations of flora and fauna affect each other and the natural world that sustains them.
Populations must be balanced with their environments in order to optimize the longterm welfare for all forms of life. Each region or ecosystem must be viewed in terms of its own sustainability and its interrelatedness to the sustainability of other areas. Unfortunately, with all of our banter about immigration, foreign aid, and economic development this rarely occurs.

First consider immigration. When have we ever considered what policies would best contribute to the long term health and welfare of local communities? Do we ever discuss optimal trends in population densities, or the impacts of population increases on supplies of natural resources and fresh water, or urban sprawl and the inevitable destruction of natural habitats that accompanies it? Do we try to develop a vision of what we want our country to look like several generations down the road? The population levels that are sustainable? The types of people who would most likely work most synergistically together to best sustain and improve our quality of life? No, the politicians prefer to limit the discussion to perceived needs for cheap labor that benefit businesses willing to support campaigns and how to placate immigrant communities in order to pander to their increasing political clout.

Now change the focus and think aid to developing societies. Populations in many developing countries have by default relied on famines, disease, and internecine warfare for eons to control their numbers at levels roughly in balance with their surroundings.

But seeing these limiting factors as problems to be addressed, we enter - often with the best intentions - and narrowly address one or more of these without considering the consequences, only to be surprised years later when we see human populations exploding, the quality of life plummeting, and natural habitats being ravaged by every conceivable means. How often have we introduced medical technology, or the technology to increase food supplies, without considering how these interventions affect population balances? We simply do our “aid” thing and leave believing we have done well. Yet should it not be obvious that societies, long believing that it was necessary to have large numbers of children in order to assure that just a few survive, would continue these patterns unless provided with the means and education to do otherwise?

Unfortunately, it is much easier to throw money at narrowly defined technological fixes and then leave feeling good about our actions before the results of our specious altruism hit the proverbial fan. We tout our good intentions and move on to another problem in another developing society. The holistic thinking leading to sustainability is not even on the table.

Admittedly, family planning or population control measures are a tough sell in any society — particularly those that feel they have been exploited and controlled by the much wealthier. But if we do not consider the ramifications of population growth, both for our own society and for those we claim we want to help, any hopes of improving quality of life in a sustainable way are risible. We might even want to begin to rethink our incessantly and pervasive calls for obsessive and compulsive consumerism. I know our economy supposedly relies on the mantras of more is never enough and bigger is always better in order to thrive. But with all the studies showing blind consumerism has little or nothing to do with any real measures of happiness or contentment, is it not time to begin to think about how we live, and how we want our children to live, and what images we are projecting to the world at large? Maybe instead of just using the word “sustainability” we should try to understand what it really should mean.

Ed Midddleswart 2008
Mensa International Journal - IJ Extra Supplement
June, 2008 Issue Number 515

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