Humanity Has to Adopt More Sustainable LifestylesEssay

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¶ … humanity has to adopt more sustainable lifestyles in the presence of an exponentially growing population and the ecological degradation that this population is responsible for through their activities. If the developed world continues consuming goods are its current pace, and the developing world continues developing, then it is only a matter of time before environmental thresholders are reached and we move beyond the carrying capacity of the planet -- if that point has not already been reached. The problem relative to how humans interact with their environment is about as complex as it gets. However, much of this problem relates to design; not only how we design buildings and products but also how we design society in general. Many of the books reviewed have interesting perspectives on this problem that include everything from how we deal with waste, incorporate the digital world into our lives, our habits relative to our routine consumption, the economics that guide our business activities, to the way we use our devices and gizmos. This analysis will attempt to identify and provide a foundation for the factors relative to sustainability that people are trying to address from many different perspectives.

Economic Growth

For many centuries now people have associated more consumption and economic activity with a better quality of life. Previously, that was the case. Appliances like the washing machine and the microwave have freed people from having to do many daily chores. The automobile and transportation network has provided people to move around the globe relatively painlessly. The number of innovations that make our daily lives easier is difficult to even imagine because it is undoubtedly countless. These innovations have led us to believe that our gross domestic product (GDP) is equivalent to a measure of well-being for society. However, as Tim Jackson points out in his book, Prosperity without Growth, this is no longer a suitable metric for prosperity (Jackson, 2009). We have reached a point in our consumption in which consuming additional goods does not increase well-being, and in some cases consumption of more stuff can even have a detrimental effect.

There are other problems related to using the current economic metrics which are related to the fact that many externalities are not included in the system. A definition of externality is as follows:

Externalities are indirect effects of consumption or production activity, that is, effects on agents other than the originator of such activity which do not work through the price system. In a private competitive economy, equilibria will not be in general Pareto optimal since they will reflect only private (direct) effects and not social (direct plus indirect) effects of economic activity (Laffont, 2008).

Many people believe that the free market leads to a situation in which an optimal state of exchange is reached. However, there are many costs that are not included in the model. For example, when a coal burning power plant sells electricity to the public, it does not pay for the costs of the pollution that it generates nor does the consumer pay their share of the costs -- the costs of pollution are not considered in any part of the equation. Other examples of negative externalities are easily illustrated by various forms of pollution; sight, sound, water, and air pollution.

An example of water pollution can be easily illustrated by the BP's deep sea well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 which will have implications for the region indefinitely (Flaherty, 2011). Though the Gulf disaster will have many problems for the aquatic species, the contamination of drinking water is another form of water pollution that can directly affect humans. BP eventually had to pay for role in this disaster. However, ironically, this adds to the total GDP because it is economic activity. Furthermore, many other economic transfers that most people would consider negative, are also counted. For example, excessive unneeded legal fees, the costs of a triple by-pass surgery, and car crashes are activities that increase the GDP output in societies. GDP is obviously and outdated metric that is not equivalent to human well-being, however implementing a set of new metrics will require a paradigm shift that overcomes the current resistance to change.

Climate Change

Climate change is a phenomenon that threatens many of the species and natural systems on the planet including humans. As such, this trend represents the most problematic consideration from any design perspective. Many species are already on the brink of extinction and further damage to the environment could result in an even greater loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity can be considered another asset economically although its protection represents another externality in the system. Climate change is affecting the weather systems due to a global average warming trend and the damage to ecological systems could be beyond repair at some point in the future. Some seem to think that some tipping points have already been crossed.

The world population is already over seven billion people and constantly climbing at an exponential rate. Therefore, there has been much speculation about the number of people or the "carrying capacity," that our planet can support (Roberts, 2011). The population and the changing weather patterns have created a situation in which those on the planet who are the least responsible for climate change in the developing world are also predicted to be the most vulnerable due to the changing conditions. Hunger is already an issue for billions of people and climate change will further exacerbate this situation with the withering of fertile farming land due to drought in many regions. The population will at some point exceed the regenerative capacity of the planet's natural systems which will no longer be able to support the basic needs of all the people on Earth. This situation will ultimately cause conflict on a scale never before seen.

Climate change is at least partly due to human activities or anthropogenic factors, although the extent to which seems slightly debatable. Since industrial times, there has been exponential increases in greenhouse gas emissions since the pre-industrial era and this has led to a carbon dioxide concentration of roughly 401.52 parts per million in the atmosphere (CO2 Now, 2015). The current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is alarming because some researchers believe that the Earth can only support a CO2 level of 350 parts per million (Hensen, et al., 2008). The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated in its previous report that it believes that at 450 parts per million there is roughly a fifty two percent chance that catastrophic climate change will not occur (IPCC, 2007).

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development and sustainability have been buzz words that have received considerable amounts of attention. From the design perspective, designers are expected to incorporate sustainability into designs for nearly everything. This focus has resulted as people have begun to realize that the ways that natural resources are being used are modeled on an assumption infinite growth that is clearly not possible. The IPCC and other organizations that focus on climate change have spelled out the consequences for continuing on the "business as usual" path. However, there is not a clear picture of what sustainable development actually entails.

The sustainable development model incorporates various environmental, social, and economic objectives that try to optimize the use of natural resources in the society. However, it is a vague concept that has been tackled from many different perspectives. It includes the idea of making the most efficient use of the resources to the end of fostering human well-being; including the people already alive as well as provisions for future generations. The basic premise is that the current generation should maintain the natural system and minimize resource use so that all future generations can meet their needs indefinitely. In order to achieve a level sustainability, has to maintain the ecological natural systems as well as only consume raw materials at a rate that is below the regenerative replenish these resources so that they can exist in perpetuity.

Conclusion and Reflection

This research was undertaken to try to gain a deeper understanding of why designing many authors on the book list are making arguments that all incorporate some aspect of sustainability. We all know that it is good to include sustainability in design, but some of us many not know exactly why. The most pressing issue relative to design seems to be climate change and the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is the issue that can cause major threats to the future existence of the species. Thus climate change not only affects those alive today but also countless generations to follow. Thus it seems reasonable to give this the priority given the potential cumulative effect on future human well-being.

However, at the same time, it is difficult to overlook social issues. Economic inequality has become a major concern and the number of people who exist on less than a dollar a day numbers in the billions. As a result, poverty and hunger… [END OF PREVIEW]

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