by Eileen Weber
Whether we like it or not, the state of the economy has a direct impact on the environment. When consumers have money to burn, they don’t think about being eco-conscious. But when money is tight, however, suddenly reduce-reuse-recycle sounds like a novel concept.
Last Thursday evening, Robert Costanza, the Gund Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont and director of the University's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, gave a lecture at the Aloysius P. Kelley Center at Fairfield University. His main point was illustrating global recession as an opportunity to create a sustainable and desirable future. There are many environmental and economic benefits that healthy ecosystems can provide our society.
“This is an opportunity to reassess where we are,” said Costanza. “This is not just about the immediate past or the immediate future. We need to take a much longer look at civilization for sustainability. We need to understand the past better in order to make things more sustainable in the future.”
Costanza quoted Charles Darwin, the 19th century English naturalist best known for his theories on natural selection, when he said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
Because the financial sector of the U.S. became bloated and greedy, we have experienced a collapse. Those are the kind of things we can avoid if we concentrate on what needs to change rather relying on the status quo until things explode. “Our goal should be quality rather than increasing quantity,” said Costanza.
He cited a number of works throughout the lecture. He sourced Jared Diamond’s 2005 non-fiction entitled Collapse that focused on how the environment can contribute to a societal collapse. Diamond illustrates12 key environmental issues, most notably the destruction of natural habitats, depletion of natural resources, and artificially induced climate change.
But in particular, he highlighted an article penned by Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times. “What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession?” said Friedman in his March 7th article. “What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more.’ ”
That statement is the crux of the issue. We’ve been depleting our resources without replenishing them. We live on excess and we waste, waste, waste. That cycle cannot continue indefinitely without eventually ending in ruin. So, are we the next dinosaurs soon to be extinct? Or is all this talk about doom and gloom just a Chicken Little syndrome?
Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to look at the current financial climate and not think the worst. I have a very close friend who has been out of work for months. He and his wife are now eating into their savings to pay the mortgage. All too often I hear that same story. We have a right to be that little chicken who thinks the sky is falling.
But as with everything else, there is an ebb and flow. The economy will bounce back eventually. All will be well in the world. The sky will still be blue. The sun will still rise.
The questions is, will we just return to the same old, same old. Or will we learn from our mistakes and not repeat them? Whatever we decide, it will have an impact on our environment.
Image courtesy of csr-news.net.