Question for Discussion:
What are the larger
lessons we can learn about the global environmental
crisis by studying the development of China today?
to Earth Odyssey;"
Hertsgarrd, "Playing the Sorcerer's
Atlas: CIA Factbook
Links to Environmental Effects
and World Population Clocks
We Consume too Much? (1997)
"The world has the wealth and the resources
to provide everyone the opportunity to live a decent life. We consume
too much when market relationships displace the bonds of community,
compassion, culture, and place. We consume too much when consumption
becomes an end in itself and makes us lose affection and reverence for
the natural world. " Mark Sagoff
for Balance: Views of American
Consumption,Materialism, and the Environment
"This research and other recent work by
The Harwood Group indicates that engaging the American public in a productive
dialogue about this set of issues will not be a simple task. People
are upset about the course we are on, but find it difficult to imagine
how that course could be altered. Beset by a whirlwind of change - economic,
technological, cultural, political - people feel increasingly disconnected
and atomized from one another. They have lost their bearings; they
feel cast adrift. Racing around, frazzled, exhausted, people feel they
barely have time to stop and think about their own priorities, much
less discuss them with others. The easiest thing is to turn on the T.V.,
close the blinds, and hope that things are different in the morning.
Schell: China: The Coming Collapse
"In the most concrete
terms, China's ballooning population of 1.3 billion, which every year
12 million to 15 million new mouths to feed and workers to employ, presents
a challenge so daunting that it is difficult even to imagine a solution.
And its natural resources and environment have been so degraded by the
high-speed development necessary to keep people quiescent that nine
of the world's ten most-polluted cities are in China. "
Most Overpopulated Nation
"A large part of the responsibility for solving the human dilemma
rests on the rich countries, and especially on the United States.
We are the archetype of a gigantic, overpopulated, overconsuming rich
nation, one that many illinformed decision makers in poor nations would
like to emulate. Unless we demonstrate by example that we understand
the horrible mistakes made on our way to overdevelopment, and that we
are intent on reversing them, we see little hope for the persistence
The Population Explosion
"The relatively small population of rich people therefore accounts
for roughly two-thirds of global environmental destruction, as measured
by energy use. From this perspective, the most important population
problem is overpopulation in the industrialized nations.
The United States poses the most serious
threat of all to human life support systems. It has a gigantic population,
the third largest on Earth, more than a quarter of a billion people.
Americans are superconsumers, and use inefficient technologies to
feed their appetites. Each, on average, uses 11 kW of energy,
twice as much as the average Japanese, more than three times as much
as the average Spaniard, and over 100 times as much as an average
to Earth Odyssey;"
"No, the biggest environmental problem
is poverty-or, more precisely, the urge of billions of people to escape
a level of poverty inconceivable to Americans. No one can begrudge
the poor a better life, but the environmental consequences of their
ascent) from misery will be profound, particularly since most of the
six billion humans now living on this planet are indeed distressingly
"If poverty is the biggest environmental challenge of our time,
however, wealth is the biggest environmental burden. The consumption
patterns of the nearly one billion people who live in the affluent world
of Europe, North America, and other industrialized countries cause much
more environmental damage—more greenhouse gas emissions, more
forest cutting, more soil, air and water pollution—than do the
strivings of the impoverished human majority. China again illustrates
the point. Measured by population, Chinese outnumber Americans nearly
five to one. Yet the United States dwarfs China’s total environmental
impact because Americans consume fifty-three times as many goods and
services per capita."(vii)
"Americans should therefore care a great deal about whether
China triples or merely doubles its coal use over the next twenty years.
And we should care even more about the behavior of our own nation, the
world’s single largest source of ecological stress." (viii)
"Americans tell pollsters they want environmental protection even
if it means less economic growth, but the happy truth is they need not
choose between the two. The same holds for the rest of the world.
We humans what to save ourselves. The question is: Will we act in time?
Ten years ago, experts began warning that humanity had to have environmental
solutions by 2000 to avoid eventual catastrophe.Today, most environmental
trends are instead still heading in the wrong direction, and some are
accelerating. This makes it hard to be optimistic." (ix-x)
the Sorcerer's Apprentice"
"Despite having lived with China’s pollution for decades,
Zhenbing was not exactly a militant environmentalist. Born into a
very poor rural family thirty years before, he, like most Chinese! had
met, was quite willing to put up with filthy air and dirty water if
it meant better pay, more jobs, a chance to get ahead."(4)
"Even the government’s pronouncements, which invariably over
accentuated the positive, admitted that environmental degradation would
get worse before it got better. After all, China’s newfound
wealth had only whetted people’s appetites for more. The Chinese
people wanted to ( join the global middle class, with all that entailed—cars,
air conditioners) closets full of clothes, jet travel." (6)
"With the Cold War over, Reeves was optimistic that humanity could
avoid nuclear self-destruction. He was less sanguine, however, about
the threat posed by global warming, excessive population growth, and
other more gradual forms of environmental overload. “This problem
will be much more difficult to solve,” Reeves said, “because
it is so much more complex. You can’t just have two men sit down
at a table and agree to stop being stupid.”
"A further complication: although it is hard for humans to feel
much urgency about problems far in the future, many of these problems
have short fuses. The long lag time between cause and effect means
that ozone depletion, climate change, and population growth could acquire
so much momentum that they cannot be halted, much less reversed, quickly."
"Like the captain of an ocean liner who has to turn the helm
miles ahead of where he actually intends the vessel to change course,
humans will have to alter their environmental behavior years in advance
of seeing much positive effect....Yet the more time that passes without
taking action against hazards like global warming and population growth,
the harder it will be to change course. Indeed, when I left on my
global trip in 1991, some prominent environmental figures were warning
that humanity was nearing a point of no return—that within ten
years the momentum behind major environmental problems could become
too powerful ever to reverse."
'In short, how much of a danger did environmental hazards pose to the
future well-being of the human species, and how was humanity faring
in its struggle against these hazards? Would human civilization still
exist one hundred years from now? Or would our species have been wiped
out, partially or completely, by ecological disasters of its own making?
Of course, none of the ecological hazards in question threatened
to end all life on earth—just human life. Newspaper headlines
notwithstanding, it is not a question of “saving the planet.”
It might take thousands or even millions of years for the earth to recover
from such man-made catastrophes as runaway global warming or full-scale
nuclear war, but that is barely the blink of an eye in geological time.
Economy.net: What does a
Sustainable Society Look Like?
WWW Virtual Library: Sustainable Development
Sustainable Development Gateway
Sustainability and Simplicity
and Economy for a Sustainable Environment
in the United States
Common Cause Urges
Senate To Act To
End Corporate Welfare Programs
Watch Home Page
Atlas: CIA Factbook
Technological vs. Ecological Sustainablity
Technological Sustainability: Use science and technology and market
solutions to create sustainable development without fundamentally
transforming modern industrial civilization (p. 25)
Ecological Sustainability: the task of finding
alternatives to the practices that got us in trouble in the first
place; it is necessary to rethink agriculture, shelter, energy use,
urban design, transportation, economics, community patterns, resource
use, forestry, the importance of wilderness, and our central values.
Sustainable development is a cultural process in which needs and their
satisfaction arise from a vernacular culture.
of Technological Sustainability:
1. To control and dominate nature in order
to create wealth and abundance for human beings.
2. Human beings maximize their economic self
interest and minimize their losses. Humans are economic maximizers
that are incapable of the discipline implied by limiting consumption
and resource use.
3. Economic growth is essential. Need economic
growth to end poverty and protect the environment and achieve sustainable
4. Sustainability involves policymakers, scientists,
corporate executives, banks, and international agencies finding and
using the right policy levels to adjust prices to reflect true scarcity
and real costs, and developing greater efficiency in the use of energy
5. Sustainability is a top-down process that
does not require an active, ecologically competent citizenry and the
effort to create such a citizenry through education is a diversion
of scarce funds.
of Ecological Sustainability:
1. Humans are limited, fallible creatures.
"No amount of education can overcome the innate limits of human
intelligence and responsibility. We are not smart enough or conscious
enough or alert enough to work responsibly on a gigantic scale.
2. Requires active, informed, competent citizens,
who will know in detail where they live and how they live.
3. Sustainability will not come from homogenized
top-down approaches but from the careful adaptation of people to particular
places. Sustainability is based on knowledge, livelihood, and living
created by cultures living in particular places.
4. Nature is not just a set of limits to human
action but a model for the design of housing, cities, neighborhoods,
farms, technologies, and regional economies. (p.33)
5. There are real limits to the scale, size,
and centralization of a human community and society. Large scale,
complexity and chaos, and human error makes living in large, industrial
cities and nations inherently dangerous and risk-filled.
How do we combine these two types of sustainable
development: technological and ecological sustainability?
The larger question facing human civilization
"Can we harness and control technology
for the long-term benefit of humanity?"
Orr's Larger definition of sustainability:
The goal of a Sustainable Society based on
the model of natural systems is not necessarily antithetical to technology.
The question then becomes what kind of technology, at what scale,
and for what purpose. We need to use technology to preserve and restore
the environment and protect and support the people and cultures who
live in specific places . (39)
David Orr would challenge Paul Hawken's definition
of sustainability. While Hawken focuses on a top-down, technological,
and economic strategy, Orr focuses on a bottom-up, cultural, and educational
strategy for creating sustainable development. Unlike Hawken, Orr
believes that we must make fundamental changes in our culture and
society if we are to create a sustainable society. Orr argues that
many of the basic cultural assumption of modern industrial civilization
are flawed and must be critically examined. If we don't change our
flawed cultural assumptions, no amount of technology, economic, or
government reform will work to create sustainability. Orr contrasts
the flaws of our modern industrial cultures by comparing the basic
assumptions of technological and ecological sustainability.
Orr would tend to see Paul Hawken as an advocate
of technological sustainability. Supporters of technological sustainability
would tend to take the 1987 Brundtland Commission's definition of
"Development is sustainable if it meets
the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs."
Advocates of technological sustainability
argue that only increased global economic growth can protect and restore
the environment, end poverty and other social problems, and create
a sustainable society. Orr argues that this is just more of the same
economic growth and industrial domination and control of the environment
that is already threatening the Earth. Finally, Orr concludes that
top-down, government and corporate elite-led sustainable development
will not work. Only cultural change from the bottom-up that grows
out of people fundamentally questioning the basic assumptions of our
modern industrial culture will lead to the creation of a sustainable
Unlike advocates of technological sustainability,
Orr believes that sustainable development really requires an ecological
sustainability approach. Instead of seeing nature and society as a
machine which we can dominate and control, Orr argues that we should
see them as living, interdependent organism. If we try to educate
people and societies to imitate and model natural systems, then we
can begin to create real sustainability. Because of humanity's limited
knowledge, limited control, and limited responsibility, we must limit
our efforts to control and remake nature. Instead, we need to redesign
our cultures and use of technology to conserve "people, communities,
energy, resources, and wildlife." By reducing the scale, size,
and complexity of our cities, communities, and technology, we can
create more sustainable cultures. Through education and the creation
of an active, ecologically competent citizenry, we can help people
learn to live well and adapt to particular places drawing from the
knowledge and wisdom of their local cultures.
Orr now compares the fundamental assumptions
of our modern industrial culture with what he calls a postmodern culture
by comparing the international systems of nationstates with the biospheric
systems that sustains and supports life on Earth. Here, Orr draws
on what is known as the "Gaia hypothesis," which states
that the Earth is a living biological system that is supported and
sustained by the interaction and support of the the vast blanket of
biological organisms on Earth. In other words, through the actions
and interactions of global plants and animals in vast, interconnected
ecosystems throughout the world, the Earth's atmosphere, temperature,
climate, and ability to support life is balanced and stabilized by
the Earth's green carpet of life. If we continue to destroy these
ecosystems and damage this green carpet of life, what James Lovelock
calls Gaia, then we will weaken and limit the ability of the Earth
to support our modern industrial civilization. But Orr argues that
the present system of global competing nations is doing just that--destroying
the complex, interdependent fabric of life that supports our civilization.
Let's look at some of the major examples Orr
uses to argue that are present global system of competing nationstates
is undermining the larger biospheric system that supports them. Because
of global competition nationstates must constantly increase their
economic and military power in order to defend and expand their wealth.
For example, the United States spent 8.4 trillion dollars on its military
and defending its national security. And global military spending
since 1960 has been over 16 trillion dollars. But as a result of increased
competition between nationstates in the twentieth century over two
hundred million people of died due to war, the greatest number in
any century in all of human history. This military spending costs
these nations a lot; instead of investing in protecting their environment,
ending poverty, and creating a healthier society, they are forced
to build weapons that provide no real long-term benefit for their
citizens. Finally, as a result of this massive military spending,
there are enough nuclear weapons in the world now to destroy all of
human life and undermine the global environment. Can threatening to
blow up the world really provide security and protect the environment?
Orr concludes that "humane values, culture, and ecosystems are
sacrificed for the sake of maintaining and preserving power within
a pitiless international system."
Orr briefly surveys the rate of modern industrial
civilization's destruction of global ecosystems. He argues that "energy
use has risen by a factor of eight, disrupting geochemical cycles
of carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur...Since 1700 the decline of forested
area is larger than Europe...Methane in the atmosphere has doubled.
Heavy metals and toxics now exist everywhere in measurable quantities.
Humans are causing a biological holocaust that is destroying life
ten thousand times more rapidly than the natural rate of extinction."
And, in addition to all this, we are currently witnessing the rapid
increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by our global
use of fossil fuels. And, of course, we are also experiencing the
growth of a global ozone hole that is threatening global ecosystems.
Orr observes that we have a set of vital signs for the global economy
in terms of financial and stockmarket reports, but we don't have a
set of "vital signs for the planet." By placing the health
of our global economy and competing nationstates over the health of
the global environment, Orr concludes we are threatening to destroy
our future; without a healthy global environment, the global system
of nationstates cannot continue to exist.
Orr's larger conclusion is that our current
global industrial society is not sustainable, and is rapidly destroying
the environmental foundation that supports it. We must transform our
present global industrial civilization and make its values and institutions
more compatible with the global biosphere that supports human life.
If we don't question the basic cultural and political assumptions
of our modern industrial culture, then we will continue to destroy
the global environment and threaten our future. For Orr, the challenge
is how to rethink our basic cultural assumptions about our place in
the global environment, how much resources and energy we use, how
much material consumption is necessary, how we pollute and waste environmental
resources, and the importance of caution and humility in the presence
in order to ensure the future. In order to rethink our basic cultural
assumptions, we must educate and convince the peoples of the world
that sustainability is vital for ensuring a healthy and secure human
future and global environment. This is the larger problem of Orr's
book: How do we create Ecological literacy and educate for sustainability?
Today I want to look at what Berry means by peaceableness.
He argues our dependence on resources from other countries forces us
to be prepared to defend those resources from competing countries and
from the people in the countries who supply us these resources. Because
we must defend these resources to maintain our standard of living and
our present levels of consumption, the United States must constantly
prepare for war. As a result of our preparations for war, and our periodic
military defense of "our resources," the United States is
trapped in a "cycle of violence." Our efforts to defend our
resources and defeat those who would challenge our right to use them
leads to wars. And wars lead to victory and defeat. By defeating our
competitors and enemies, we are creating and reinforcing a cycle of
violence. Wars lead to more wars, defeat leads to revenge, and victories
force us to prepare for future wars and future attacks from vengeful
Berry argues that we can break
this cycle of violence, this cycle of victory and defeat, by practicing
peaceableness. In order to end war and to ensure peace, Berry concludes
that "we will have to waste less, spend less, use less, want
less, need less." If we don't reduce and even end our growing
dependence on resources from all over the world to support our standard
of living, we will be forced to prepare and fight wars to defend our
way of life. Only by reducing our consumption and consuming only what
our own country and regions can produce can we reduce the threat of
In the final analysis, Berry
argues, our global industrial economy and our increasing dependence
on global resources to support the First World's standard of living
is the larger cause of war and military conflict in the world. Consumers
are, in fact, responsible for this war and bloodshed by continuing
to demand foreign oil, foreign minerals, foreign food, and foreign
materials. If we reduce our consumption, and come to depend only on
our own local resources, then we can end the threat of war and reduce
our massive spending on arms and global defense of American interests.
For Berry, war and the economic and social costs of war make it imperative
that we reduce our dependence on the global economy. He concludes:
"We must see that a nation
cannot hope to live at peace without a domestic economy that is sound,
diversified, decentralized, democratic, locally adapted, ecologically
responsible, and reasonably self-sufficient."
By continuing to depend on global
resources and the global economy, we increase the cycle of violence.
Indeed, consumerism as a way of life requires war and preparations
The tragedy and irony of this
cycle of violence and war is that competing nations get so drawn into
defeating and defending themselves from their enemies they don't see
how each of their bloody victories leads to more war and bloodshed.
In the end, war doesn't lead to peace, but to more bloody and ruinous
war. The more victories we win, the more battle we need to be prepared
to fight; and the more we defeat our enemies, the more we have to
fear their wrath and vengeance. To better understand this cycle of
violence and the futility of war let's look at a case-study of the
United States' war with Iraq in the Gulf War.
To understand American involvement
in the Gulf War, we need to go back the United States efforts to overthrow
the democratic leader of Iran in 1953. From the early 1900s, British
and American interests had been exploiting and controlling the Middle
East's oil resources. After World War II, France and Britain were
pressured by the United States to grant their colonies in the Middle
East their independence. But granting their colonies independence
did not mean that European and American interests were willing to
give up their control of the Middle East's oil resources. European
and American companies continued to dominate and exploit these oil
resources. In 1953, when the democratic leaders of Iran, Mossadegh,
tried to nationalize the British-American oil companies control over
their oil, the British and United States government saw this as a
threat to "our oil resources." We did not believe that the
people of Iran had the right to control and profit from their own
oil wells! Refusing to accept Iran's challenge to our control over
their oil, the United States and the CIA overthrew the democratic
government of Iran and installed the Shah of Iran, a brutal dictator
and puppet of the United States. From 1953 to 1979, the United States
supported the Shah of Iran and continued to control and dominate the
oil wealth of Iran.
Now you might ask what this has
to do with Iraq. We didn't fight the Gulf War with Iran. Iran is in
fact an enemy of Iraq. So what does Iran have to do with the American
war against Iraq? All of this tangled history demonstrates Berry's
larger argument about the cycle of violence and the futility of war.
In 1979, the people of Iran were
so angry at the Shah of Iran and his brutal exploitation of Iran with
United States aid that they threw him out of power. A former top CIA
official commented that we didn't understand the culture of Iran and
weren't prepared for the sudden collapse of the Iranian government
under the Shah. After overthrowing the Shah of Iran, the Iranian people
installed a fundamentalist government run by Islamic religious leader.
The new ruler of Iran was the Ayatollah Khoimeni, who called the United
States "the great Satan" and called on his people to begin
a Jihad--a Holy War--against the American enemy. Expressing their
outrage and American complicity with the Shah, Iranian students with
the support of their fundamentalist government stormed the American
embassy and took and held American officials as hostages for more
than 400 days. The same top CIA official said that the Iranian hostage
crisis demonstrated how vulnerable to terrorism the United States
After Ronald Reagan was elected
President in 1980, the Iranians released their American hostages in
return for the United States allowing the Israelis to sell and supply
Iran with American military equipment. In the early 1980s, Iraq invaded
Iran and began a long, bloody war that lasted until the late 1980s.
While the Israelis, with American support, were arming Iran throughout
their war with Iraq, the United States was arming Iraq, hoping to
punish Iran and bloody it for taking American hostages and threatening
American lives through their global terrorism campaign. So throughout
the 1980s, the United States was arming and supporting Sadam Hussein,
the brutal dictator of Iraq, hoping to get back at Iran. But, in the
mean time, Iranian militants captured and held Americans as hostages
in Lebanon. President Reagan, hoping to win the release of the hostages,
tried to exchange missiles and military supplies with Iran in exchange
for the hostages. Instead of releasing all the hostages, the Iranian
terrorists actually took more hostages and then demanded even more
military supplies from the United States in return for the hostages.
Despite the fact that Iran was our sworn enemy, and holding American
hostages, the United States began to sell and supply Iran with missiles.
Thus, by the late 1980s, the United States was arming both the Iranians
and the Iraqis, watching both sides inflict inflict tremendous loss
of life and suffering. When the American people found out that we
were arming Iran even though they were still holding our hostages
and committed global acts of terrorism against Americans, they were
outraged. How could we arm and support a nation that threatened our
own people and our resources--the oil in the Middle East?
By the late 1980s, Iraq and Iran
agreed to end their bloody war. Both Iran and Iraq were heavily damaged
by the war. Even after the dictator of Iraq had dropped poison gas
on his own people, the United States and Europe continued to arm and
support him, hoping to continue to punish Iran. In 1990, believing
that the United States was his ally, Iraq invaded Kuwait and tried
to conquer it. Kuwait was in fact once a part of Iraq before European
colonialism. Instead of accepting Sadam Hussein's brutal conquering
of Kuwait, the United States now declared Iraq an outlaw nation and
demanded that it withdraw from Kuwait. President Bush justified the
American war with Iraq, arguing that Sadam Hussein was just like Hitler.
The United States fought a brief bloody war with Iraq, killing hundreds
of thousands of Iraqis and forcing Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Americans
leaders claimed we were fighting to protect democracy in Kuwait, but
Kuwait wasn't a democracy by a monarchy. Once again, the United States
was supporting an authoritarian government that did not have the support
of its people.
After defeating Iraq in 1991,
the United States now faced two bitter enemies in the Middle East,
Iran and Iraq. Fearing these enemies, the United States began to massively
arm Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf nations. Just as we had
earlier armed Iran, then Iraq, now we were arming Saudi Arabia. In
1996, Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia blew up an American
barracks and killed dozens of Americans; they were angry about American
domination and control of Saudi Arabia. Could the United States be
making the same mistake with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations
as we did with first Iran and then Iraq?
The larger tragedy here is that
as a result of American efforts to control the oil and wealth of the
Middle East, Islamic and Arab terrorists have declared war against
the United States. And, of course, both Iran and Iraq are sheltering
and supporting these terrorists. But American officials and the CIA
cannot understand why these terrorists have declared a "holy
war" against the United States. The more we try to punish these
Arab nations and punish and destroy these terrorists, the more angry
and bitter they become toward the United States.
Clearly, the United States had
created and reinforced a tragic cycle of violence in the Middle East.
The harder we try to control the oil resources of the Middle East,
the more angry the Arab peoples and nations become, and the more the
United States is faced with war and terrorism. And despite all of
its tragic mistakes, the United States is still trying to control
the oil resources of the Middle East. We are unwilling to give up
our control of these resources because our way of life depends on
it. In return for cheap oil and gas, the American people have to pay
billions of dollars to support the United States' efforts to militarily
dominate the Middle East. Our efforts to dominate their oil resources
and societies had led the Arabs, especially the Islamic fundamentalists,
to hate and despise the United States. And this hatred and bitterness
soon leads to terrorism against Americans.
In the end, Americans' dependence
on cheap oil has forced the United States to spend ever larger amounts
of money, prepare and fight countless wars and military conflicts,
and face endless threats of terrorism and vengeance and retribution.
For Berry, the Gulf War and this tragic cycle of violence created
by our dependence on cheap oil demonstrates the dangers and costs
of our dependence on the global economy and global resources. If we
didn't need this cheap oil, we wouldn't have to defend "our resources"
from their rightful owners, the people of the Middle East. As long
as we depend on cheap resources, which we exploit and control by dominating
other countries, we must prepare for war and violence. This is one
of the larger and greater costs of the global economy. Only by creating
sustainable local economies that depend on only local and regional
resources can we break this cycle of violence and reduce the threat
of global war. If we don't reduce our dependence on global resources,
the increasing global competition for scare and limited resources
will only lead to costlier and bloodier wars.