Most of us have heard the phrase “sustainable development” and perhaps a little about initiatives related to sustainable development such as Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter. Many communities are exploring these principles in the hope of heading off (or at least moderating) future catastrophes.
Critics of organized sustainable development describe it as a massive international conspiracy to deprive us of individual and capitalistic rights. Actually, ignoring sustainability could actually deprive us of freedoms. In fact, if we don’t start making better decisions and addressing important sustainability problems now, we certainly will lose many options that we currently take for granted. Either someone will step in to save us from ourselves, or abandon us to the consequences that we bring down upon our own heads. My bet is that several billion people will die in crisis and conflict before we adapt to the effects of our changing climate.
Since we started living in communities, part of the deal has always been that we can’t always do or take just anything we want. In America, our constitution grants generous freedoms and liberties, but civility and justice demand that our rights end in the vicinity of where our neighbors’ rights begin. The authority the American founding fathers wisely gave us to regulate ourselves through government ensures important protections to us all.
Some insist that all natural resources are given by God to man to own, subdue, and have dominion over (Genesis 1:28). Further, they argue that man was given the physical and mental powers to accomplish this dominion. However, this same scripture instructed him to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth – with no mention of limits. This sounds to me like a command to exercise responsible, sustainable stewardship rather than a grant of free license to dig, build, spew, kill and destroy.
Frankly, America has thrived economically for centuries based on the exploitation of its abundant land, rivers, trees and mineral resources. However, Native Americans discovered how little that freedoms and rights mattered when private and business interests decided that, “they weren’t using it, so why not just take it?” Now that national and global resources are becoming scarce, who will be next to suffer from the greed of exploiters, and who will we depend on to stop them?
Do we personally exploit? Automobiles, the open road and cheap gasoline have been taken for granted as definingly American. A gas-guzzling vehicle is a public symbol of status and achievement. Free public roads are also taken for granted. We act as if we deserve the unlimited option to live, work, play, shop, commute, and just drive around at will.
However, continued, unrestrained and unregulated exploitation and consumption are not sustainable. We may think that only people we don’t know and don’t care about are going to suffer. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans are already experiencing the effects of unsustainability. Our children will certainly suffer profoundly.
Only the very rich have the resources to consume, waste and pollute conspicuously without immediate personal consequence. Believe me, they are fighting for every political edge to protect their place of preeminent advantage and control.