I was talking last time about the need to find common ground in the valley that separates some on either side of the sustainability debate. It starts with an understanding of the word sustainable. We’ve given it a powerful context around the environment and our natural resources. With that context in mind, I think it’s time we stretched its context again — things like industry, and democracy, and modern civilization.
Of that list, democracy is the one that gets the most raised eyebrows. But it’s true; sustainable use of our natural resources is inherently more democratic. Why? Because things that regenerate, like pulp made from plants, are there, year after year, for every generation. The more we turn to renewable resources, the more we ensure the same opportunities are available for everyone. That means we can all make more of our own choices as individuals. Those are choices we make both as producers and as consumers.
So how about industry and modern civilization. Yep, those too. There’s an old joke: a man is bragging that he’s figured out how to turn champagne into motor oil. He’s quite proud until someone asks, “Isn’t champagne more expensive than motor oil?” Industry can easily be guilty of the same thing. What happens when we use our last gram of these natural resources? Many argue that we’ll find another way. I agree. The time to find it is now. Find it now, when finding it makes you smart, not desperate.
For those of you devoting your energy to environmental concerns, first, your efforts are commendable. When we drink clean water, from systems monitored to be free from disease and contamination, we can be grateful for the work of concerned citizens beginning long ago. They demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate, that environmental concerns aren’t just about the unsightliness of gum wrappers and fast food bags on the side of the road. They are about keeping people alive and healthy.
On the other hand, we won’t get anywhere without the help of the institutions at the center of our society—not just government, but producers and consumers as well. We need to demonstrate the continuing power of markets to make good decisions—to move civilization forward, as they have for thousands of years.
The good news is this: It is all going to work. We are going to solve these problems. In fact, we are concerned about these problems because, as a society, we can afford to be. We have a proverbial roof over our heads, and our bellies are full. Now we just need to maintain it. That means keeping in mind that sustainability isn’t us versus them. It isn’t us versus anything. It’s the next step in the growth of industry, civilization, and everything we are all working so hard to sustain. That sounds to me like A Refreshing Alternative.