July 22nd, 2024

Untitled: We can learn from past the way generations lived

By Medicine Hat News on July 27, 2017.

This is part three of a three-part series on climate change. Part one appeared in Tuesday’s News and part two appeared in Wednesday’s News.

If our lifestyles are the problem the solution is decidedly low-tech. We just need to consume less. We don’t need to worry about developing complicated new technology, just live simpler lives. (Carbon emissions would naturally drop.) Of course, it’s not that simple.

First off there is no magic formula for what a sustainable lifestyle looks like. One principle is clear. The more people on Earth, the higher their lifestyle, the more resources it will take to sustain it. But it’s too vague to be helpful.

Leftist environmentalists and pro-development conservatives both would agree that at some point there can be too much development. It’s just that they disagree on where that line is.

Where is that line? Radical environmentalists would have us stop every new development immediately. Those advocating such actions should consider what that means. It means cementing a status quo where many Canadians and much of the world are left without a path to a more secure life. Development, whether large scale energy projects, or smaller local ones, means work for people. For those environmentalists who own a home and car, have a family and have been lucky enough to go to college (all very resource intensive things) — it is hypocritical that now that you have achieved a certain level of lifestyle to deny it to others.

But the position of pro-development conservatives is also problematic. It’s understandable why they push for more and more. More development means more money. More money means a more secure future for ourselves, our families, our country and way of life. But it’s not just more money that secures our future. It’s saving that money. Canada is one of the richest countries in the world. It is fair to ask what have we done with our wealth? Every level of government (federal, provincial and municipal) is running deficits and has large debts. Personal household debt is at record levels. The danger is when our economy slows down or interest rates go up everyone is scrambling. Our lives currently depend on endless economic growth. That can’t be sustainable.

Finally, there is also disagreement on a fundamental principle. Should every human be entitled to a similar standard of living? Technically the Earth could provide a Western standard of living to every human on Earth. Of course that would come with environmental costs. If the costs for this resource rich lifestyle is too great for the Earth to bear shouldn’t we morally reduce our lifestyle? Maybe. The idea that we all have a right to a similar lifestyle may sound just, but it also sounds dangerously like socialism. Who says we all need to live similarly? Canadians have more than most other humans. So what? Except this leads to a kind of materialistic arms race.

Capitalism defeated socialism because people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality. Capitalism succeeded because it perfectly harnessed our drive to better our lives. But does this mean that humans have a right to consume more and more simply because we can? The last century has illustrated the power of humanity. Think of our incredible progress. But the last century of development has also shown us that there is no limit to our desires. That drive is our strength, but it may also be our undoing.

How do we reconcile the need for simpler lives with this innate drive for more and more? How do we use capitalism to create a sustainable future? I don’t know.

A recent National Post article by Jake Edmiston exposed the flaws in how we think of sustainability. We are taught that small actions can save the planet. If only we hung our laundry up. If only we recycled, upgraded our light bulbs, bought organic produce, fair trade coffee and goods produced with green energy we’d be fine. These actions do help, but are dwarfed by the impact of having one fewer child or taking one fewer transatlantic flight. In other words small actions will have small effects. Serious impact requires serious change.

We must ask ourselves what does a life worth living look like? If it is a life with a detached house, car, two kids, a vacation involving air travel, a boat, an RV, smartphones, tablets,TVs and the usual comforts of modern life we might be in trouble. We don’t think of this lifestyle as extravagant. A pretty normal middle class life. But even the simplest Canadian life is pretty resource rich.

Can we imagine a worthwhile life while living simpler lives? Our parents did it. So did our grandparents. We can learn from them.

@KrisSamraj is a writer. He’s going to favour us with some words from time to time.

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