Posts filed under ‘President’s Corner’
Consumer Privilege: It’s Complicated
Human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit while our demands are ever increasing.
The two most complex systems on Earth are the environment and human society. For the entirety of our history we have existed together in harmony. However, our gift of manpower is creating a dynamic shift in the natural equilibrium we have come to enjoy. Humans have evolved to be the species leader of the Earth and we are leading in the wrong direction, to the destruction of a biological-supportive nature. We have been given dominion over nature, and as such, feel separated from our ecosystem. However, in no way can we ever be completely disassociated with nature. Expectations, politics, and selfishness govern our human-created environment that enforce separation with all other living things, and nature itself. Our existence on this planet is dependent on nature – for it’s diverse natural processes that keep our atmosphere intact, and for its abundance of vitamins, minerals, and resources we take for granted.
We must undergo a cultural transformation to understand the balance of consumption. It’s time for us to get away from a continual growth model, as we are constrained by a finite level of resources. Our role as students is to become responsible and well informed activists to show our government that ecology must be intertwined with all legislation. Maybe if we can create the common appeal, and common level of education on the matter of the proposed future if we stay on the same track, then change will happen. Everyone has the power to vote; and I’m not talking about for the President. We have the power to vote on products and services, and our vote is carried out through the purchase of a good for us to enjoy. There must be a common understanding on the need for frugality and the disassociation with corruptible wealth. Everyday we do something different, now, let’s use that power for the good of our friends, family, community, nation, world, and life itself.
Growth is a means to an end. The wrong kind of growth reduces our quality of life, and we must take economics back to a human-environment optimization. The human mind created the concept of the future. We look ahead, recognize where the opportunities are and where the dangers lay, and choose accordingly to survive. No other living organism carries the same intellectual capacity. Constant growth is an unnatural term created by the lack of foresight in humanity. The only model for comparison is the entire universe, which some believe is constantly growing from the original big bang. Even if this is true, do we really have the audacity to think we hold a parallel power to the whole universe in that there are no boundaries to our reach (major God-complex)? If we do, I am unbelievably scared for our future as a species, especially on our home planet.
Here’s two facts for thought for you to enjoy:
- Consumers can recognize hundreds of company logos but most do not know 10 native plant species in their hometown.
- Americans spend more money on lawn maintenance than India receives in tax revenue
P.S. How many native plant species of St. Louis are there, and what are they? Can you name five of them?
- Comprehension (of overall outcome; what it means to you)
- Acceptance (of willingness and desire to change)
- Sacrifice (one’s comfort with old practice for new)
- Diligence (staying on track)
Quality of life is determined by our ability to provide ourselves with more than basic needs. Technology is one major component as it allows us to accomplish more than we can without it. But who defines what is needed beyond the basics? What makes one action or outcome more desirable than another?
Society. We provide for ourselves within a defined infrastructure of rules, norms, and obligations. Social pressure outlines our need for commonality, but also for innovation. We see novel as momentum, and understand momentum within society as a means to achieve long-term goals. We value the future personally and externally for factors very far out of our control. Because of this, we depend on technology to provide us needed assistance.
When you think about the future, are your thoughts nuclear in the sense of a specific outcome or grand in scope and idealism? Our beliefs and education help us mentally paint a picture of our desires, but they can be easily influenced by effective marketing and emotion-triggering advertisements. When those in control of marketing are allowed to use unethical tactics, they provide informal education to systematically have public appeal for something that at its roots is either immoral, bad for the public and society, or harmful to the environment.
Our social need for innovation did not come from a preaching radical living in a downtown alley. I’ll leave it to you to think about how your decisions are made for anything as simple as purchasing a pack of gum, or as complex as deciding what you want to do as a career; however, try and think about general trends in collective thoughts. Think of a time where you and a couple friends are trying to figure out where to have lunch. You have to think about what you are hungry for, how much you want to pay, how far away the place is, what you are trying to do afterwards, if you are willing to go somewhere that the rest of the group likes but you don’t, etc. This simple exercise explains the difficulty that we face on a larger scale. I don’t believe that my decision-making for anything even as simple as figuring out where to go to lunch is definitively rational. Putting satisfaction as high on my factor list for most actions, I let intangibles greatly influence my decisions.
So where am I going with this? The future of our society depends on technology; fact, but, it also depends on our international ability to come together to collectively make the hard decisions. It’s not going to be lunch that we talk about in politics, and the items that are discussed most surely have insurmountable ramifications. I stated in the beginning of this trio of blog posts I’d provide an answer to our problem of sustainability, but will defer to you. I’ve discussed the relationship of technology, decision-making, and sustainability; however have left the question open-ended.
As an umbrella term, sustainability encompasses the interrelationships of tangibles, intangibles, and the grey area between them. Do you think we are using this trend to our advantage, are we capitalizing on sustainability; what is the end goal? In a capitalist society the goal is continual growth, equity, improvement, and innovation. What about in a sustainable society? Is growth continuity realistic, or do we need to define a new path to take to ensure a brighter future?
In last week’s corner I discussed the negative ramifications of technology in society – at least, a few. A technocentric society is cyclically dependent on the use and advancement of technology. We use a computer, innovation creates more desirable components, and we buy a new one.
Our desire to keep up with the cutting edge creates industry momentum, but also an individual mindset of dependency. As technology advances solve more problems and challenges in our daily lives, we get hungry for more of its ability to satisfy our needs. Because of this almost sensual desire for novelty and innovation we expect that every problem we face can be solved through just that; new technology.
Say you don’t want to vacuum - you’re in luck with autonomous vacuum cleaners. And want to connect with anyone and everyone in the world – internet based social networking platforms. But what’s the different of a want and a need? Do we really need dozens of options for teabag holders, hundreds of options for cars, or thousands of options for the common pen?
If you think yes then game on.
The American Heritage Dictionary considers one who is dependent as “relying on or requiring the aid of another for support”. Now, every living organism depends on the Earth to survive, and usually other organisms for nutrition. However, when a mammal or insect manipulates their ecosystems for shelter, it does so in a way that is not harmful to the ecosystem.
Through evolution animals have adapted to fit in to a specific environment, and natural selection ensures no overrun of resources by an individual species. Our Earth is regulated by the single fact that when too much of one resource is used more than can be replenished in the same time period, the troublemaker gets put in detention. This act of nature explicitly tells us that nature cannot be controlled.
Side note: for brevity in these blog posts, I stay clear from the arguable details and encourage discussion from my roughed-out ideas. This blog is not to be used as credible evidence to state a case for educational research.
So again, technology can solve our trivial daily problems; it can help us live longer, live better, but also detracts from our need for each other and our instinct to live freely in nature. Environmentalists say caging animals is wrong when at the same time most Americans spend their days indoors cooped in an office or room on a computer or television – in essence, I see no difference outside of choice.
We, as rational human beings, have the ability to choose what we do, what we buy, and how we act. So how can we use this choice in our quest for a stable environment, one that will still be here as we know it for the future generation, and one where we will be excited to live in? What’s in it for us?
1) We have the choice to minimize our dependence on technology
2) Technology cannot solve every problem
3) Humans cannot control nature, but we can mitigate our negative impact
Look forward to the conclusion of this mini-series next week!
Food for thought: Is it better to live for today or for tomorrow? Which ideology is more impactful; which is more satisfying? Which is more rational and which provides the means for success in the future? Which rights are wrongs, and which creates wrongs for us to right? Which is more ethical and which is more meaningful? Where do you stand?
Patience. Our generation is the first, ever, to have everything at our fingertips. From Facebook to pictures of cats, online ordering of any good or service, and gaming, as long as a computer is in front of us we make due. The life of our generation is one that is dependent on the computing power of the tools our parents created. What if we lacked computers – how would we cope? I think we would revert back to the means that our parents had, and would have had our daily lives slow down tremendously. We could acclimate to the circumstances and not complain about the lack of intangible substances we view as necessities today. Our lifestyles as we know them depend on technology. Until our time, dependency was a term to describe the relationship of sons and daughters to mothers and fathers, and to fulfill our basic needs. We were dependent on those who could provide shelter, water, food, and care. Now, we take the last necessity to a quasi-liberal south with a dependency on technology. And since modern technology puts everything at our fingertips, we feel that immediate response to our needs is now a necessity. So I ask again, what if this was taken away?
Well – I know I’d cry. I would cry for awhile, sober up a bit, and look around. And hey, look guys, there is a lot to see.
But is dependency on technology such a bad thing? Computers allow an efficient mechanism for global communication, commerce, and knowledge sharing. Technology as we know it provides a means to accomplish any task, achieve any goal, and create the future. It is in itself the answer of all problems. Continuing on with this thought however, where does this dependency lead us to? I’ll tell you – it leads us on a path of further dependency. Every human starts out dependent on the natural familial unit, but most will grow to become independent of the care from parents. We become independent to survive, care for ourselves and our families, and continue the natural cycle. However, our dependency on technology does not follow this natural cycle. The more advanced our electrical circuits become, the more we need them. The more stuff we create, the more stuff we want. The higher the computer power and relevancy of Google searches, the less we need to know. Why memorize the first 100 digits of pi when you can find the first 100000000 by asking Google, or Siri for that matter. We advance technology to solve our problems, but what happens when computers have the ability to do everything for us?
We are creating a world which will ultimately make us irrelevant and outdated. If sustainability is truly about providing for the needs of the future without compromising our present needs, how can we let this happen? How is it so easy for us to talk about sustainability while we are creating the tools for our future irrelevancy? I’d sure like to know.
But, OK. if technology is not the answer to solving our environmental and social problems what is?
Look forward to next week’s President’s Corner to find out. In the mean time, please share any comments you might have for me to address in part 2 of this Corner Series.
It’s been awhile since we’ve held a regular meeting. Sorry about that guys, but this week we are meeting so please join us at the regular place and time. It’s been an unbeleivable two weeks of events from the Net Impact Conference to this weekend’s Sustainable Cities Conference. Two fully packed weeks. I hope that everyone was able to make it to at least one session at the conference. Before I left for the weekend I was able to make it to hear the keynote speaker, Bill McKibben. His talk really inspired me on my personal journey with renewables, and how we must take immediate measures to elleviate the need of fossil fuels in our society. Bill is a journalist and educator by trade and his true impact has been the ability to spread the message of getting away from fossil fuels. His lecture was by far the best I’ve heard concerning the issue – very rational with his objectives and strategy to achieve them. I cannot wait to help him out, and at the same time help the environment, through the advocacy of building a clean energy infrastructure.
The Penny War: We have one more week to raise funds to support those affected by Hurricane Sandy. For those who have no clue what I’m talking about – in Flag Hallway (in Simon Hall) you will see a table with six empty large water containers. The school has placed every student group on a team, some alone and some in collaboration with multiple groups, pushing us in a competitive manner to raise funds. The competition is a little quirky, but basically we are trying to have the least amount of money in our own jug. The rules are on the table, but so you don’t have to scratch your head too hard, here’s the layout. Please donate at least a few dollars and put it in any jug except ours (Team 3). Feel free to put a ton of pennies in our jug too, but no other coins or dollars. Last day to donate is this Friday, November 9.
Sometimes the sustainable choice is not always intuitive. This is because our intuition does not take into account every factor of the situation. Sometimes even, intuition gets in the way of sustainability. Every day we make choices – about going to class versus sleeping in, eating a Philly cheese steak or a Greek salad, throwing away a can in the garbage instead of the recycle, cheating on an assignment or following the honor code. In the time it takes to decide whether or not to take action, do something, or accomplish what we set out to do, we can’t examine the possibilities of each outcome of the activity. The time it takes to determine whether an action is “sustainable”, which in most cases can be seen as the best for the environment and others, is endless. Without the facts we are forced to make assumptions; but, without the facts, we don’t know if what we are doing is in fact the “best” action. Because of this, we are at a standstill.
When do you decide whether or not to trust your intuition? Well, this is tough. As long as our emotions plays into each decision we make, we know the facts are not our sole motivator. Without the facts, is sustainability a secret code word for THINK BEFORE YOU DO – or, do we eliminate the notion that facts are needed?
I think it’s a little of each. Every day there is a new opportunity to change your routine; every day some ice melts somewhere; every day brings forward something new. What can be scary is that, we don’t know everything and we don’t have all of the answers. Our impact is determined on the metrics we use to define it. This will never change, but what can change is our ability to put more thought into our actions. Proactively considering what you do may delay activities by a few seconds, but it gives you the time necessary to understand if what you are doing is right – based on your conception of right and wrong. So, where am I going with this?
We all have points in our life where our intuition turns upside down – we doubt our previous ideals and consider different courses of action. In terms of sustainability, this should not scare you. By taking the time to consider if there is a better way to do something, you are contributing to the thought-power behind the movement to create a vibrant community that lives in conjunction with the resources around us. Do we have hard facts to sway each decision – rarely, if ever – but what we do have is the power of change. Sustainability is about how we adapt to incorporate others – from people to resources – to provide for a better future. Every time you think about an action, and change it if you find a better way, you are providing for the future. You are contributing to the health and well-being of others, and you my friend, have a Net Impact.