When will America embrace Sustainability?

Last night I gave a talk at Georgia Tech focused on energy conservation for the group Wasted Watts.  After my spiel, one of the questions was, "When do you see America embracing sustainable principles?".

Those of us who follow the "sustainability movement" see a lot of great progress.  There seems to be plenty of web articles, blog, magazines, newspapers (yes, there are a few of them still in existence), and news stories on TV. If you look for it, talk of Sustainability is everywhere, but I have to constantly keep reminding myself that the people looking for it are still in the minority.

Even in this recession, when sustainable thinking could have the greatest improvement on the future of America, I still feel we are a long way away from reaching the "tipping point" in the American psyche.  The point when we don't have to tell people obvious things like "Turn off your lights when not in use" or "Start thinking for the long term success of your operation".

Unfortunately, I feel we have a long way to go to reach this point.  It still amazes me that there seems to be certain political ideologies that seem to shun Sustainability! I hear talk radio promoting "Drill Baby, Drill", but not "Live Sustainably!".

Why is that?  Why is it so hard to get people to care about important issues that almost nobody can argue with.  You can't argue with the fact that our oil dependence on enemy countries hurts America.  You can't argue the fact that cars and trucks that get poor mileage contribute to smog AND that smog is harmful to our health.  You can't argue the fact that we do waste an amazing amount of water and eventually our growing population will strain the supply to the breaking point.  These things aren't being debated!  These are all facts that are part of sustainable thinking, and yet the majority of America still has not embraced what it means to live sustainably!

My point here is not to tell you that the sustainable message will never catch on.  My goal is to encourage those of us who do care about the air we breathe, the economic success of our country, the food we eat, the health of our water supply, etc., to work harder to promote the concept of living sustainably.

As I mentioned in About Us, this blog is not for the lazy environmentalist. This blog is for those who want to take action in their own households, but also inspire others around them to take action.  I'm not talking about starting riots here, but simple conversations with friends about the issues you care about and issues that will make the country stronger.  Without this effort, we're bound to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  After all, sustainability is about good long-term decision making, and I dont know who would not want to hear that message.

Callers to the conservative talk show host Sean Hannity call in and say, "Sean, you're a great American!"  Well, my goal (and hopefully yours) is to re-define what it means to be a "great American".  I would define  it as:

- adjective

1.) of or pertaining to one who embraces and promotes  sustainable principles for the improvement of the United States of America

enjoyed our post? let others know: 


Tommy, I wholeheartedly agree that government should not interfere with individual liberty (in a general sense). In any society, however, some will inevitably have their liberty restricted as others have theirs preserved when conflicting desires are mutually exclusive. So, where the interests and desires of the average citizen conflict with a powerful and influential corporation whose interests are contrary to the people, it IS the role of government ("by the people, for the people, etc...") to counteract those institutions. Your pollution and peanut examples are perfect examples - pollution, Salmonella, and non-sustainability harm other individuals. That does, of course, assume that "the government"="the people". The real danger, of course, occurs when "the government" has a mind of its own (or is influenced by another powerful entity). Unfortunately, historically, powerful corporations and others have taken advantage of their influence on government (ie elected officials) to have government act on their corporate behalf, or on the other hand, not act with a laissez-faire approach. Both situations may progress towards unwanted consequences - for the third party and against us (the people, the environment, etc). In these situations, we the people and the powerful entity are not on a level playing field. Intelligent people do not have to experience disaster in order to know it is not good, and thus, may be expected to act before harm is done. So whose road do we travel down - the ignorant citizenry or the tainted politician's? I suggest, neither. If we believe that sustainability is the right way to go, our influential leaders, both in and out of government, need to get busy and educate, entice, and lead - but not force us(them). Only when a consensus (majority) believes that sustainability is desirable will we truly be on the right road.
I wholeheartedly disagree with the following statement "it is the role of our government to pass legislation that makes them comply - as the will of the people - while balancing sustainability and economic needs" This should not be the role of the government because it violates the liberty of individuals and corporations due to the will of the people. The will of the people is a dangerous thing and should often not be followed (AIG bonus furor is a great example). Government should only intervene in situations where a company or individual's actions harm or reduce the liberty of other individuals. In terms of polutting rivers and knowingly selling Salmonella peanuts this is absolutely the case. In terms of mortgages to people who can't pay them back, absolutely not. In terms of carbon control, absolutely not until someone conclusively proves that Carbon is severely detrimental to the health and liberty of other.
I think you do have a good point, in that the Government has to make decisions based on the long-term interests of the US, and not based on the current mood of Joe Six-Pack. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are completely ignorant to matters of science, environment and economics, and that is what Sustainability is about: taking what we know about science in order to maximize benefits for the future economy and environment. The upper levels of government have to be wary of this fact (the ignorant republic) in their decision making. Hopefully this blog will reach as many people as possible to help educate the public so they can encourage their Congressmen and Senators to make the right, sustainable decisions.
You're absolutely right. Government can't force things down the public's throat, because to be honest, Govt gets a lot of things wrong. In a perfect world, we would have a benign dictator who was a genius and always acted for the benefit of the people and had long term vision. While our system is the second best to that, we have politicians who (unfortunately) operate in their own self preservation most of the time. Government needs to ensure that businesses dont operate immorally ( like polluting rivers, selling peanuts even though they know have Salmonella, knowingly giving mortgages to people who they know will never pay them back, blow up mountains forever to get some coal that is gone in a day, etc.) but government should not be too forceful in their regulation such that it stifles business and forces business down an un-sustainable path (i.e. corn ethanol). Again, Sustainability is about good long term decision making, and sometimes our politicians only care about the next 2 or 4 years (whenever the next election is).
I agree that forced legislation is not going to be well received, will not be economical, and will not necessarily be effective. But, I believe that our leaders have a responsibility to see the bigger picture and lead us down the proper path. Through education (like MapaWatt), incentives (like research grants, tax breaks), and high-profile examples (government buildings, political figures, actors, athletes) many would see that sustainability is the way to go. Where businesses flaunt such concepts to save a dime, it is the role of our government to pass legislation that makes them comply - as the will of the people - while balancing sustainability and economic needs. However, this requires strong leadership from the local to the national level.
That is why we should let the market work its magic here. It may take a little longer than you would like but when the pain becomes real, as it did when gas it $4.00 a gallon, people will change their behavior to be more sustainable. Trying to force things down people's throats through legislation is undoubtedly going to have many unintended consequences, cost more, and is a violation of individual liberty (which is the most sacred thing we have). Your blog is to be applauded for trying to get the information out, but without a tangible incentive people are highly unlikely to change their behavior
Great comment, and unfortunately you are right. I really dont know if we'll reach the tipping point with out some "shock" to our system. That may be long term high gas prices or a gas shortage, some states running out of water, etc... I think all of these poor products coming in from China and all the food that has been shipped with Salmonella has started people thinking that maybe buying from local sources you can trust is a good idea, so it's a good start.
You ask why the majority of America still has not embraced what it means to live sustainably. I think it is because most people do not see that their current life style is not sustainable. When electricity, clean water, and fuel are so readily and cheaply available from seemingly endless spigots, sockets, and pumps, they are taken for granted and viewed as disposable. If we had to pedal an hour a day to generate electricity for our TV, or carry buckets of water a mile from a stream to wash, or cut cords of timber for our fireplace to keep warm, then we would see that these are precious resources worthy of protecting and conserving. When smog, smoke, and soot are blown away by the breeze, the air is seemingly always fresh - except when we are forced to wear surgical masks or remain indoors during a brown-haze smog alert. For some, only when the cost of the resource becomes painful (physically or financially), will they be interested in changing their tune.

Post new comment

Subscribe to Comments for "When will America embrace Sustainability?"