Sustainable You

In order to keep oneself going, there are basic needs involving inputs and outputs which determine whether an entity dies or remains viable. In the debate over global climate change and whether anything should be done about it, we discuss and reflect on the effects of various elevations in temperature on our ability to secure the inputs necessary for viability. Or we act like there’s no such thing as climate change at all. But we’ll set that aside and believe for a moment that most people are sufficiently convinced.

Granting this, even if we can summon the political will to begin to limit greenhouse gas emissions to combat runaway climate change, would the resulting society otherwise be viable into the future? Do we believe we can achieve this and then be able to keep things – living standards, consumption levels – much as they are? In other words, would a reduced carbon-centric model be sustainable?

Many of the policy implications of limiting co2 emissions would necessarily alter the way we live. I trust this is a well understood point – and vociferous opposition to Waxman-Markey suggests that it is. The distaste and outrage toward this kind of change does not mean that it is any less likely. You can see the same evidence in the collapsed housing market, the financial services industry in tatters, the job losses in manufacturing, fractured global supply chains. When will this economy begin to recover? The question, taken with its constituent parts, almost answers itself. Or it should.

Even if there were no such things as rising oceans or the greenhouse effect, we could not sustain anywhere near present levels of energy consumption, and without those amounts of cheap energy, our society as presently construed cannot keep up its requisite levels of inputs needed for viability. We could not even keep it were it is.

Now, whether this adjustment is down or up would depend on nothing so much as our relative capacities for creativity and imagination – of course, the very reasons it all seems so unthinkable to so many. It is, literally. In order for there to be an evolution of our ideas about green, there will have to be a throughway beyond even sustainability.

Image: Henrik Hakansson, Fallen Forest, 2006.