For whatever reason, environmental advocacy became a politicized, ideological issue. It’s not. The reality is that it’s a human concern. Our wanton consumption of resources (in the industrialized world) is not sustainable, from an economic or environmental perspective. We have failed to live within the limits of nature. The reality is that we live on a finite planet. For the past few hundred years we have been consuming “ancient energy”, that which is stored below the earth’s surface and was produced over millions of years. Unfortunately it’s unrealistic to think that sources of renewable energy could easily and completely replace nonrenewables at our current consumption rates.
Part of the path to sustainability will have to be improved efficiency. A reduction in waste is both economically and environmentally sound. However, this has not been easy. Efficiency of energy and material consumption are necessary to move in the direction of sustainability. As the Kenyan proverb says, “You must treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children.” There is a moral imperative to protect the earth’s natural resources. Given that we in the west live in a capitalist society, how can this be achieved? Social entrepreneurship and compassionate capitalism offer two possibilities. Both of these focus on the social component of sustainability’s three legged stool. As Majora Carter states in her TED talk (see below), environmental degradation begets economic degradation which leads to social degradation. If we are to leave the world a better place for future generations, we need to start with restoring ecological health. Since our economy depends on natural resources, including human capital, we must ensure the health of these are looked after.
Why is it a moral issue then? We have an obligation to those who come after us. This does not prohibit us from living well. It does require us to think beyond ourselves.