Juliet Schor is Professor of Sociology at Boston College, a member of the MacArthur Foundation Connected Learning Research Network, and co-founder of the Center for a New American Dream. She addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?”
Over the course of the 20th century, capitalism preserved its momentum by molding the ordinary person into a consumer with an unquenchable thirst for more stuff.
The research published today reviews more than 150 studies to produce a stark summary of the state of the natural world.
A landmark study in the journal Nature Communications, “Scientists’ warning on affluence” — by scientists in Australia, Switzerland and the UK — concludes that the most fundamental driver of environmental destruction is the overconsumption of the super-rich.
For over half a century, worldwide growth in affluence has continuously increased resource use and pollutant emissions far more rapidly than these have been reduced through better technology.
In 1969, the late Professor Albert Bartlett famously delivered a lecture, entitled “Arithmetic, Population and Energy”, which begins with the observation that, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” The truth of this is profound and irrefutable…
The circular economy – the newest magical word in the sustainable development vocabulary – promises economic growth without destruction or waste. However, the concept only focuses on a small part of total resource use and does not take into account the laws of thermodynamics.
But we can—we really can imagine and live with fewer “conveniences”—and even like it. At the risk of being an outlier today, I’ll continue to take the long way, the inconvenient way, for you, Julia—and for your generation.
There may be more electric vehicles on the world’s roads, but there are also more internal combustion engines. There be more bicycles, but there are also more planes. It doesn’t matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things.
“We have to reduce consumption and resource use”, is a statement that is gaining some traction. Considering that all that is consumed has to be produced and vice versa it is a logical claim that we also have to reduce production, but that seems to be a lot more provocative.
So…what path to take? The old familiar mainstream, the marginal, or the radically new? Hell, I’m opting for all of the above. I think we need to revitalise the best of the old traditions of right and left, while bringing in the contributions of more marginal political positions from the past – and articulating them all afresh in the completely novel historical circumstances we face.
While it is clear that global trade play a major role as a driver of destruction of biodiversity there is no way “consumers” in the US or other developed economies can be expected to take responsibility for the effect on biodiversity of their consumption.