There has never been an ecology or society, in the history of our planet, quite like the western ‘developed’ societies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We live in an extremely sophisticated, highly complex society, entirely driven by the consumption of staggering amounts of non-renewable resources.
Energy isn’t the only important resource or aspect of sustainability, but most global energy consumption remains fundamentally non-renewable and from depleting sources.
Our response to this problem is usually to lecture developing countries on their irresponsible attitude to their environment and the planet. It is hard to conceive of a more stark hypocrisy.
Energy consumption, the consumption of other resources and the production of fantastic quantities of ‘waste’ are our problems. We – that is the developed countries of the west - are the main culprits and we need to find the solutions. We need to find ways in which we – and the other 9 billion people who will inhabit the world in 40 years or so – can have good lives and a reasonable standard of living for the forseeable future. Carrying on as we are now is not a long term option. If everyone in the world could use energy at the rate of the average American, current proven world oil reserves would last rather less than 5 years.
We absolutely need to find ways of ‘decoupling’ energy consumption from economic growth. Recent developments in the banking sector would suggest that we need to decouple economic wellbeing from economic growth as well. It is an obvious fact rarely acknowledged by those in power that if real, compounded growth is a necessary condition for a healthy society then we are, at some stage in the future, doomed.
We need to find ways of making all our systems more sustainable, at individual, community, region and global levels, if we are to create ecologies which have the carrying capacity to support a world population even at its present level.
It may sound over-dramatic, but solving systemic problems relating to the houses and communities we live in is of massive, crucial importance for the future of the planet.