In preparing to deliver the closing lecture to Hofstra University's Model United Nations Conference, I realized that I knew seven sustainability secrets that could save the world that I wanted to share with attendees. I came up with these secrets after reading almost every national sustainability plan ever written over the last few years. Each of the seven secrets emerged after getting a global picture of the state of our planetary sustainability.
1. We have plenty of resources. In the sustainability field we tend to focus on the lack of things -- food, energy, metals, etc. However, the lack is often caused by overconsumption, use of old technologies or poor distribution. For example, there are many renewable energy sources -- and we are using more and more of them all the time. Many countries, regions and cities are moving away from investment in dirty energy and focusing more and more effort on promoting green energy technologies. We also have plenty of food -- if we modify our diets. Certainly there are many in the world that go hungry and many regions of the world where there are food shortages. Predictions that we will will run out of food in the coming decades emerged because many developing countries are moving from mainly vegetarian diets to mainly meat-based diets. If we reverse this trend and increase the number of people eating plant based diets, we will have plenty of food for the world's growing population. We also have plenty of other resources if we use them wisely and if we do not buy into consumerism. Don't get me wrong. We have serious resource problems if we continue to use some of them at the present rate. However, if we are wise, we can thrive into the future.
2. Overconsumption is a disease. Societies that consume far more than their share have an illness of overconsumption. This is a sickness with symptoms that range from pollution to destruction of species. Unfortunately, in our globalized world the illness is contagious and can impact others. The way to heal a disease is by finding an appropriate treatment. Societies that overconsume need to go on a simplicity diet and find ways to lessen their impact on the planet. While it is important to focus financial resources on finding cures to diseases like Malaria and HIV, we also need to find ways to address problems of overconsumption and associated social and environmental problems.
3. War is the real enemy to sustainability. There are many countries of the world that have sustainability plans that cannot enact them because there is a perpetual conflict within their borders. Governments cannot consider working on sustainability issues when they have tanks rolling through parks. Only when we have peace can we all work toward a more sustainable future.
4. Human rights abuses lead to bad moral decisions on sustainability and the environment. One of the basic tenets of human morality is fair treatment of individuals. Around the world there are very bad examples of human rights abuses including incarceration of political prisoners, human trafficking and lack of a free judiciary. If governments do not have the basic ethics for the treatment of individuals they are unlikely to have an ethical framework for the treatment of the environment. Environmentalists must be human rights champions. The loss of life -- human, animal, plant and animal -- diminishes our ability for survival. Ecologists understand that resilient ecosystems are diverse places and that the extinction of one species limits the ability of the others to survive. The same is true in the human world. We need to embrace diversity in order for our own species to survive in a highly globalized world.
5. Educating girls is the key to prosperity and population reduction. One of the greatest indicators of national prosperity and population reduction is the education of girls. Educated women help to create prosperous and healthy societies. Educated women also choose to have fewer children -- thereby reducing population numbers.
6. Governments are ill-prepared to address sustainability issues. Most government administrative structures predate our current emphasis on sustainability. In the United States, for example, most of our state, national and local transportation dollars are spent on car infrastructure -- exactly the wrong place to invest in sustainability. At the same time, more nimble private enterprises like Wal-Mart and Unilever are infusing sustainability into day to day management. Reframing organizational decision making around issues of sustainability is key to managing public and private resources.
7. Per capita income is not a good sustainability indicator when used alone. For generations we evaluated development by economic indicators like per capita income. This is a flawed approach that leads to the idea that consumerist societies are a goal of development. We also know that happiness cannot be measured by income at the national level. Do we all need to spend our lives on a rat race of achieving more wealth without thinking about national or local sustainability? Can we find happiness and greater sustainability by slowing down and using less? Many countries that are lower on numerical per capita income or gross domestic product standards are quite happy and do very well with other development and sustainability indicators. A balanced approach to measuring sustainability includes not only economic and environment indicators, but also culturally appropriate social measures.
Around the world we have many problems confronting us on the sustainability front. But if we understand these seven secrets and use them to influence our decision making, we are well on our way to ensuring a more sustainable future.