As Kenneth Boulding pointed out back in 1965, ‘in a space ship, there are no sewers’. The challenge of sustainability at the end of the first decade of the third millennium of the Common Era is still the one that his metaphor captured. How do we devise strategies for society that will allow a peaceful, equitable, fulfilled human future: a humane future for a diverse earth?
People are having an unprecedented impact on the planet through the expansion of industrial capacity, and the urbanization and socio-cultural changes that accompany it. Indeed, geologists now propose that this should be regarded as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Surviving it will be quite a challenge. To do so, will require a rapid and effective transition to sustainability.
A transition to sustainability may be necessary, but is it possible? will certainly not be easy. This paper considers what the environmental movement can do to help make it happen: a transition to a world that sustains abundant, diverse and worthwhile life, human and otherwise, and does so humanely.
There are three things we need to do:
First, decarbonize the world economy: we must achieve dramatic reductions in carbon use by increased technical efficiency, and by de-linking energy generation from carbon production, and energy use from economic growth.
Second, commit the environmental movement to a path of justice and global equity: justice and equity are central to any transition to sustainability.
Third, protect the biosphere: the conservation of nature is the fulcrum for wider change towards sustainability.
How do we do this? There is no magic bullet, but solutions include:
Create an economy that can fit on a single planet: we must change the way we think about growth and prosperity, to achieve more with less. We need to use less carbon and other materials, create less waste, create more real wealth and quality of life.
Rejuvenate the global environmental movement: the movement must help link together communities and organizations working out practical solutions to sustainability challenges, and ways to live with more happiness and lower energy and material consumption.
Build an institutional architecture to bring about change: transition to sustainability depends on the collaborative and coherent actions of political and business leaders, governments (from city to nation), and an effective international environmental regime.
Transition to sustainability is vitally important, and very scary. We need to calm our fears and build our capacity to hope.
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