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Feasible Planet - A Guide to More Sustainable Living

Feasible Planet - A Guide to More Sustainable Living

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Feasible Planet - A Guide to More Sustainable Living

Lunghezza:
490 pagine
5 ore
Pubblicato:
Nov 5, 2017
ISBN:
9780995847057
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree !!!

Are we doing enough?

Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will.

The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues.

Did I hear a groan out there when you read the word 'actions'? Do not worry! Most of the actions that I am referring to will not only help save the planet, but will benefit you right away through saving money, time, better health, and having a happier life in general.

Sustainability goes beyond controlling our consumption and pollution. There are key social, political, and economic areas that need to be addressed as well, and there are several steps that individuals can take to help in these areas. 

For those of you who feel we could do more, this book is for you and is loaded with actionable activities, the reasons for doing them, and explores why we are not doing them already.

Every journey starts with a first step. Hopefully this book will lead to those first sustainable steps and that will change the world.

Pubblicato:
Nov 5, 2017
ISBN:
9780995847057
Formato:
Libro

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Anteprima del libro

Feasible Planet - A Guide to More Sustainable Living - Ken Kroes

Index

1 - Introduction

Take a moment to imagine if we stopped all the activities we do today to protect our environment and society.

If we took away regulations for car exhaust and factory emissions, dumped our wastewater directly into the rivers and oceans without treating it, removed quotas for hunting and fishing, and deleted all laws dealing with exploitation of the haves over the have-nots. What do you think our world would be like in ten, fifty, or one hundred years?

The changes to our planet and lifestyle would not be visible overnight, but within a short time, for sure within our lifetimes, we would see a dramatic change and not for the good.

Thankfully, we do have regulations in place for factories, treating our wastewater, quotas for fishing, and laws against taking advantage over others, but are we doing enough? Are the current regulations, laws, and our behavior in general going to ensure a decent existence on this planet for our kids and future generations? That is the question and like a shiny, well-cut diamond, has many angles and sides to it.

On one side, we have some smart people saying we are not doing enough and the trends seem to back them up. Smog days are becoming more common in major cities, more species are going on the endangered list, growing social unrest, more inequality between the rich and poor, roughly a billion people without adequate food and water, and the list goes on and on. In addition to this, over the next few decades alone, another 1-2 billion people will join us on this planet, putting even more strain on our fragile world and its resources.

On the other side, there are many areas where our changing behaviors and technologies show we can do amazing things when we try. Examples include vastly increased crop yields, fuel-efficient vehicles, streamlined supply chains reaching every part of the globe, and the push for equality for all. Changes that are triggered by the increasing integration of our society and by corporations, with their relentless drive for efficiency while meeting our ever-increasing demands.

To top it off, the next several decades are special, indeed unique in the history of mankind, in that most forecasts predict that our population will start to level off. A time that you, your children, or grandchildren will see. Unlike our ancestors who saw unlimited growth, it appears we will reach an era where our population, and eventually our demand for goods and services, will mature.

My take on this is that nobody knows the answer to the question.

There are too many variables for anyone to say with certainty if we are doing enough to allow things to stabilize within the next century or if we need to do more now, while our population matures, to allow for new technology and social trends to counter the seeming imbalances we currently have.

Some say an individual’s efforts in sustainability are insignificant. That sustainability initiatives need to happen at the government level, by implementing new regulations, laws, and signing treaties with other countries. While the government’s role is important, I feel that the individual role is just as important, if not more so. The individual drives demand for goods and services. The individual decides if they want a strong community and, in the end, the individual elects the government representatives.

So, this brings us to you, me, this book and back to the question. Are we doing enough?

It would seem to me we should take the cautious approach. To assume we are not doing enough now. To work harder to buy as much time as possible to come up with long-term, feasible solutions for living on this planet. I believe the alternative, of assuming we are already doing enough, has simply too high a cost if proven wrong.

This approach also means we need not to agree right now on what the problems are, what may be causing them, or what the long-term solutions should be. We are simply saying we are not certain how things are going to work out or if we are doing enough now.

By living a bit more sustainable now, we are buying a bit more time for businesses to come up with new helpful technology, buying a bit more time for us to sort through the social issues that are coming up with the integration of cultures, and allowing more time for governments to determine the needed regulations and incentives.

Expecting everyone to go completely green is, I feel, unrealistic. Nor is sustainability just about being green. In the general context, sustainability means the ability for something to maintain a certain rate or level. From an environmental context, it means supporting a long-term ecological balance. In other words, not being harmful to the environment or depleting resources.

For our species to have long-term stability on this planet, the environmental context will work if we extend the definition of ‘environment’ to include the man-made constructs such as cities, rural areas, and the commerce atmosphere. In other words, our sustainability relies on several areas to be stable, not just natural nature. For the scope of this book, I have chosen areas I feel are both critical to stability and where individuals have some practical level of influence over. They are:

Consumption of natural resources

Pollution of our natural environment

Stability of the commerce atmosphere

Roles of corporations and governments

Social stability

I have gone to great lengths to validate all the information contained herein and to represent practical suggestions, some of which may surprise you in being counter to what many environmentalists suggest. Where appropriate, I also point out where I feel we are being hoodwinked with mind-numbing sustainability advertising from our friends in the commerce atmosphere, the corporations.

The most important suggestion in this book, the one that will have the biggest impact, costs nothing to do and will not negatively impact your lifestyle. In fact, most of the suggestions will directly benefit you through saving money, better health, being more successful, and saving time. Choose to do just a few or many of them. Every bit you do will help in giving our children the best chance at a good future, exactly what I believe most of us want as evident by how hard we work at raising them.

We do not inherit this world, we borrow it from our children.

– Ancient Native American Proverb

2 - The Approach

This book is about you and me, individuals, and the actionable things we can do to support sustainability. Before we get started on this quest, I would like to take a few pages to introduce the general concepts that we will be tackling, and which will be referenced throughout our adventure.

Our Favorite Station - Wii-FM

Wii-FM (What’s In It For Me) is a fun acronym for a not so fun topic—entitlement. We all have some level of entitlement, but it seems that our Wii-FM signals are getting stronger. These signals are, I believe, one of the primary reasons for many of the issues we have today in trying to reach sustainability on this planet.

It is not too hard to find examples of this; I see them in myself and those around me. The big houses, new cars, not knowing or caring about neighbors, divorce, and spiraling debt to buy things we want now, all show an attitude that the needs of ourselves are becoming more important than the needs of others. We are becoming less grateful for what we have. We feel like we deserve more. We feel like we are entitled to things without having to put in the effort to earn them.

Another example of our Wii-FM signal at work is our application of the Golden Rule of treating others as we wish to be treated. It is part of all major religions and I believe even most people without religious affiliations believe in it as well. We take pride in this. It enforces our sense of integrity.

But are we really applying this golden rule all the time or just when it is convenient for us? What if someone borrowed a bunch of money and then expected you to pay it back? What if they put a hundred pounds of carbon in your air or polluted your water and then expected you to deal with it? This is exactly what is happening right now. We are borrowing, consuming, and polluting away at a non-sustainable rate and are expecting our kids, grandchildren, and people in countries far away to deal with it.

The good news is that entitlement is largely a learned behavior and as such, we can do something about it.

Dissociation

Most of you probably know of the smog issues in major cities in China and India. Air so polluted that people often wear masks, keep their children inside, and have visibility less than a few miles. With conditions so bad, you may wonder why they do not do more about it. An interesting question when you consider that we are responsible for some of that smog when we buy things like a new cell phone or computer. This is what dissociation is all about. Where you are unaware or do not consider the impact of your decisions since there is no immediate impact on you either based on time or distance.

Over the last two centuries, as people and production have dispersed across the globe, we have become more detached from nature and dissociated with what is involved in the creation and disposal of goods we purchase. This dissociation works to hide from us the consequences of our actions in several ways. Look at the consequences of buying a simple, cheap polyester t-shirt from the nearby big box store.

Creation of the polyester fibers and the subsequent fabric is done in factories far away from you. The fibers are made from non-renewable petroleum along with many other chemicals for coloring and adding properties like stain resistance.

Several of these chemicals, including known carcinogens, are released into the air, soil, and water during the manufacturing process. A portion of the chemicals that are still in the shirt when purchased may leach into your skin, possibly causing you future health problems. Some chemicals will also be removed during washing and go into the water supply.

The fabric industry is notorious for running low-wage sweatshops in third world countries. The workers have no viable alternative and cannot easily move, so are essentially slaves. Though companies could pay them a living wage, a nasty thing called profit, which impacts share price, gets in the way.

The t-shirt is then sold through a big box store, sending some profit to stockholders, and making the rich, a little richer.

With each wash of the t-shirt, micro beads of plastic are released, many of them too small to be picked up in water treatment centers, and enter our water supply and kill, or are consumed by, aquatic life.

When the t-shirt is worn out, it will probably end up taking space in a landfill. Polyester does not decompose but will break apart, contaminating the soil decades from now.

Most of these steps have little or no direct impact on you, the purchaser, at least for quite a while. The dissociation from how products are made and the out of sight consequences of its life cycle leads us to feel as if we are doing little or no harm by buying products. However, if we add together all the purchases made in the industrialized world, they are having an alarming impact.

There is also dissociation based on time. The best example is our growing CO2 emissions that are seemingly not impacting us too much right now, but may have a great impact to the planet in the upcoming decades.

Like entitlement, the individual can do something about dissociation by understanding what makes up the product you are buying, where it comes from, and how it will be disposed of after you are finished with it.

Dissociation is not just limited to the physical things we buy. There is also a growing detachment within our family units, community, and society in general. Take for example social media. Through it, people say things about others, and to others, that they would never say in a face-to-face conversation. Families used to take care of the elderly, yet today we have retirement homes. Today, it is newsworthy if a community pitches in to help someone, yet this used to be taken for granted. These examples of dissociation do not result in any kind of physical impact on the planet, but do impact our mental well-being and weakens our social fabric.

One last point on dissociation. As we flock to live in urban centers, we get less exposure to natural nature. This reduced exposure also reduces our empathy towards our planet.

Consumption

We are consuming a tremendous amount right now. The need for resources to meet the demands of the growing population is putting a strain on things, and to top it off, we have entered the era of hyper-consumption. In fact, we buy so much stuff that many of us need to rent space just to store it all!

Some resources that we are ferociously consuming are in limited supply. For example, fresh water. Did you know that several large rivers, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Nile are so extensively used by industry, farming, and cities that at times they do not even make it to the ocean? That land has sunk as much as thirty feet in parts of California due to extensive pumping from the underground aquifers? The same aquifers that, due to depletion, are drawing in more salt water from the oceans, making them difficult for future generations to use. Roughly one third of the world relies on underground water for irrigation and drinking. In most cases they are drawing water faster than it naturally replenishes, with projections of some critical aquifers being exhausted within the next few decades (¹).

Fresh water is just one example of a renewable resource in short supply. There are several non-renewable resources in the same situation. Examples include molybdenum (used to make high grade steel), phosphorus (critical component of fertilizers), and copper, with estimates of supplies becoming quite scarce sometime in the next century or so (²) (³). Other examples of resources in limited supply are strategic metals such as germanium and thallium.

When we consume, we not only use up resources and create pollution, we also impact the other living things on this planet. We do this by eating their food, encroaching on their habitat, or simply by consuming them directly. Our planet is made up of an intricate and delicately balanced diversity of life. This biodiversity is key to our long-term well-being and our current rate of consumption is negatively impacting it.

Climate Change

What has caught the media’s attention right now is climate change and the big push to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that we are putting into the air we breathe. Yes, the value has been higher (10’s of millions of years ago), but it has not been this high since mankind has been around. The scarier part is the rate of increase. Nature is very adaptable, but can she adapt this quickly? There can be little doubt that we are impacting this increase, and the outcome of this experiment on the only planet we have is unknown.

A carbon footprint is the amount of CO2 that it takes to create, use, and finally dispose of something. There are several references to carbon footprints in the chapters to come. To give you some perspective on quantities, the average person in the United States causes emission of about 16 metric tonnes (17.5 tons) of CO2e each year with the breakdown shown in the pie chart below (⁴). When we combine all our usage, it works out to a total of just over 6.5 billion metric tonnes (7.1 billion tons)  of CO2e generated in 2015 in the United States alone (⁵).

Below is a comparison of the average CO2e generation per person of selected countries. This shows that there are countries with similar weather and standards of living to North America that are generating much less CO2 than the United States and Canada. This is something that everyone has complete control over and there are many suggestions on how we can reduce this in the upcoming chapters.

Other Pollution

Each year we are dumping about 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean (⁸). By the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, that there are fish (⁹).

The water, air, and soil on this planet are being contaminated at a pace that exceeds the capacity for nature to deal with. This contamination impacts every living thing and even if all humans disappeared tomorrow, the impact of what we have already done will last for centuries.

In the air, we add carbon monoxide (CO), methane, sulfur dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and nitrogen oxides. For our water, beyond plastic and mercury, there is acidification, excess chemicals from our fields, and untreated or under treated wastewater from cities and factories. Our soil is not spared either with domestic and industrial wastes that are not properly disposed of, excessive use of farming chemicals, and mining activities.

For sustainable living, we need to pollute less. While governments impose stricter regulations and corporations come up with new technologies to help this, much of the burden comes down to you and me. We need to be smarter about how we dispose of things, know the impacts of things we buy, and consume less.

Commerce Atmosphere

Pollution and consumption relate to the sustainability of the natural world, but we also must deal with the man-made constructs such as the corporations that live in the commerce atmosphere. The air in their atmosphere is made up of currency and without it, the corporations would not exist. We would not do so well either. Without currency, trade for goods and services would be very difficult, especially at our level of population and technology. So, like keeping our air and water clean, we need to ensure that our currency is sustainable and that it will support a sustainable society.

Many economists will argue that it already is and perhaps, in theory, it is if our economies continue to grow, but throw in some human emotions such as greed and fear, and the current trends seem to say otherwise.

Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.

Kenneth E. Boulding

All major currencies today are debt based, fiat currencies with over 95% created by private banks through lending. The track record of fiat currencies is not good with the average life being about 40 years (10). The oldest is England’s pound sterling and it is still around after just over 300 years, but a pound then is not the same as a pound now. Inflation, one of the key ingredients of debt based currencies, eats away at what fiat currency is worth in the real world. What cost one US dollar one hundred years ago, would cost roughly 25 dollars today. The sterling has done worse since you would need about 80 pounds sterling today to cover what a single pound sterling would buy one hundred years ago.

This leaves us with the ‘best case’ being depreciating value and the ‘worst case’ being total collapse, like hundreds of currencies have done over the last few centuries. This may not sound good, but it gets worse, since the private banks have a great deal of influence over how our money is created.

Neither you nor I, as individuals, will be able to change the current system, but this book will suggest several ways to lower your dependence on currency and to protect you and your community from some issues with its current setup.

Corporations and Governments

While we, as individuals, can help on the road to sustainability, we need the help of corporations and governments as well. Corporations to drive efficiencies and new technology while governments work on developing regulations, laws, and treaties with other countries.

Corporations and Governments are driven by profits and popularity, probably not the best motivators for sustainability. Efficiencies in the commerce atmosphere are not necessarily the best thing for our physical world and the passing of laws and regulations, pushed by special interest lobby groups, to gain votes for the next election, does not sound like a good long-term way to run our countries.

Through our own choices, social media, and elections, we can have an impact, but only if we are well-informed and herein lies the rub. We are exposed to a plethora of misleading, partial, and flat out wrong information on critical topics that impact sustainability. Climate change, carbon taxes, organic foods, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), and trade agreements are a few good examples where, with little effort, you can find contradicting information, all appearing to be backed up with facts, but missing key information.

Within this subject area is also the topic of overreach. Set up to help us, somewhere along the way we have granted corporations personhood, giving them the ability to override things that us air breathers want.

Though it may not seem like it at times, you and I can influence the way both organizations behave. There are examples of this throughout this book and the topic is discussed in more detail in Chapter 11, Governments and Corporations.

Social Stability

Other people on the planet are important to you and it would not be much fun if you were on this planet by yourself. Community, family, social circles, religions, and country affiliations are needed to make life interesting, give us purpose, and to support us through both good times and bad.

Though it is hard to measure and does not happen quickly, there are multiple signs that show that these relationships are faltering. Nearly half of American children are born to a mother who is not married. Religious affiliations are slowly dropping, especially in Europe. There is an increasing trend to bullying both in person and through social media. These are just some examples of actions that are wearing on our social fabric.

Up to a few hundred years ago, people who lived in a community, in general, held the same beliefs, values, and followed the same moral codes. With the advancement of technology, increasing population, migration of people, strengthening Wii-FM, and globalization, we are now forced to interact with people who may not hold the same viewpoints as our own.

To accommodate these new and changing social interactions, we need to evaluate and perhaps change our behavior to find a new path to increase our social capital and lead to sustainable social integration.

Another topic that I feel is critical for a stable society is to eliminate what I call ‘modern day slavery’. When mentioning the word slavery, I believe most people think of the enslavement of Africans in the seventieth and eighteenth centuries or perhaps human trafficking, child slavery, or the forced marriages that still occur. While these are all forms of slavery, there is another type. One that is a bit subtler, but has the same horrific impact on tens of millions of people today.

In developing countries, the cost of labor is much cheaper, somewhere between five and ten times lower. The cost of living; however, is not proportionally lower and hence the standard of living for workers is lower. The free trade model to have industrialized nations buy goods from countries with this lower cost of labor and production costs is supported by most economists.

They will argue that by shifting manufacturing to India, for example, everyone benefits. India gets much-needed jobs that will raise the standard of living and things are cheaper for the countries that import from India. A real win-win, they say. I, however, do not see it this way. I see the corporations making a pile of money at the expense of both the workers in the developing countries and the consumers of these products.

Do you know?

Part of our journey towards sustainability revolves around our water and electricity usage. Water because it is a scarce resource and is needed for life, and electricity because generating it usually involves the creation of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. While it is important for everyone to conserve as much of these two resources as possible, the efforts of some of you are more important than others.

For example, if your power is generated by a coal-based generation plant, your use has a higher sustainability impact than if it is generated by a hydro dam. In a similar fashion, if your water comes from an underground

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