Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The simple choices we face

One of the things you learn from working with innovation for the sustainable planet is to ask the right question from the outset. What is it we are trying to achieve? Well, no-one wants to work too much and everyone wants at least a simple standard of living. But what are our choices? The simple matrix below may help illustrate the issue. On one dimension the natural resources available to us should be available to future generations. If we have oil and coal now, we should plant not to deplete them all, but to arrange it so we can benefit from them without leaving future generations without them or a substitute for them.

The other dimension is achieving a standard of living for all. So there are the choices: Best case is where we achieve a standard without sacrificing natural resources. If we achieve a standard to the detriment of natural resources we put future generations at risk. This option is the quick fix solution of the untamed market economy. The third option is preserving resources and not achieving a living standard. This option subjugates standards to ecology, probably in some kind of dictatorship. Finally, the worse case option gives us depleted resources and still no standard of living.

Surprisingly perhaps, the current state of affairs in the world is firmly in the worse option. Despite rain forests being turned into agricultural land, phosphor being mined in several places and huge amounts of fossil fuel being put into agriculture, we still have hunger. And we still have poverty even in the richest countries. Both environmental degradation AND blatant failure to provide a standard of living are prevalent.

Changing the direction of humanity will take time. We need to start now.

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