Mythical Myths about Sustainability

Many of these Top 10 Myths about Sustainability are mythical in the sense that they are just elementary misconceptions that don’t qualify as myths because they are not widely held by intelligent adults, but “Myth 6: Sustainability means lowering our standard of living” is an exception because it is, I think, widely believed by intelligent adults.

It is not a myth though because it is part of a true fact – namely that sustainability means either reducing either some aspects of our standard of living or our population.

The author denies this, saying: “Not at all true. It does mean that we have to do more with less, but as Hawken argues, ‘Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set, the breakthroughs are extraordinary. They will allow us to achieve greatly superior rates of resource productivity, which in turn allow us to be prosperous, fed, clad, secure.’ Moreover, he and others maintain that the innovation at the heart of sustainable living will be a powerful economic engine. ‘Addressing climate change,’ he says, ‘is the biggest job creation program there is.’ “

Now everything after the initial denial may well be true, but if what “I” value most about “my” standard of living is the availability of essentially limitless almost free energy, then that standard will have to be lowered and it is presumptuous to claim that whatever is offered in compensation is actually of equal value. That determination is up to “me” and “me” alone.

Later on in the list we have the equivocal admission of a mythical myth in “Myth 9: Sustainability is ultimately a population problem.
This is not a myth, but it represents a false solution.”

The author continues with “Every environmental problem is ultimately a population problem. If the world’s population were only 100 million people, we would be hard-pressed to generate enough waste to overwhelm nature’s cleanup systems. We could dump all our trash in a landfill in some remote area, and nobody would notice.
Population experts agree that the best way to limit population is to educate women and raise the standard of living generally in developing countries. But that strategy cannot possibly happen quickly enough to put a dent in the population on any useful timescale. The U.N. projects that the planet will have to sustain another 2.6 billion people by 2050. But even at the current population level of 6.5 billion, we’re using up resources at an unsustainable rate. There is no way to reduce the population significantly without trampling egregiously on individual rights (as China has done with its one-child policy), encouraging mass suicide or worse. None of those proposals seems preferable to focusing directly on less wasteful use of resources.”

The most obvious problem with this is the fact that no-one has yet proposed a clearly feasible and sustainable means of providing even all of the world’s current 6.5 billion with that higher standard of living that may lead to reduced fecundity. So perhaps “trampling egregiously on individual rights (as China has done with its one-child policy)” may be the lesser evil – especially since the “individual right” of unlimited reproduction may well be denied by many as no more a right than that of unlimited consumption.

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