Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 18, 2001
The roots of our unsustainable lifestyle
We have been told time and time again that our North American lifestyle is unsustainable. We would need three or more planets to provide us with the goods we want if the rest of the world consumed like us. We are already running out of space to dump our waste.
Given this startling evidence, supported by the world's most eminent scientists, do we see any signs of turning things around? Or do we recklessly carry on as if there was no tomorrow?
We are polluting the air, water and soil, and are changing the climate that determines what food we can grow. Agribusiness, monoculture, mechanization, irrigation, herbicide and pesticide use were all once touted as a means towards more efficient food production.
While food processors and producers of chemicals and heavy machinery make the profits, farmers are unable to make a living. Millions of rural workers are driven off the land and congregate in big city slums around the world.
Biodiversity, essential to sustainability, is being sacrificed and plant and animal species, including domesticated varieties are endangered or have become extinct. Our drive towards efficiency has in fact shrunk our ability to sustain the lifestyle we are striving for.
Closely associated with the quality of life is the use of energy. Canada is the top energy user per capita in the world. The U.S. comes second. The U.S. is the world's top polluter. With four per cent of the world's population, it produces 25 per cent of its greenhouse gases. Canada ranks third.
While China has reduced its carbon emissions by 15 per cent since 1995, the U.S. increased its emissions by six per cent over the same period.
It is no longer disputed that the polar regions are heating up, that glaciers are receding at a steady rate, that fish stocks are diminishing and coral reefs are bleaching because of warmer waters and that one per cent of the earth's topsoil is drained into the oceans along with a deadly mixture of farm chemicals.
Yet, in spite of these alarming statistics, President George W. Bush announced in March that he is backing away from the Kyoto agreement.
"Our economy has slowed down," he said "and we also have an energy crisis, the idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense."
Shortly thereafter Vice President Dick Cheney stunned the world by announcing coal was back in as a viable energy source.
There are other disturbing disconnects as we dance our way towards consumer utopia. First is the obscene disparity that has been created in the last few decades. Of the three billion potential workers on earth, one third are unemployed.
This is a worldwide phenomenon, but in India alone, 43 per cent live on less than a dollar a day. Around the world people are starving or dying from preventable diseases.
Pharmaceutical companies can make more money peddling Viagra in the First World than developing drugs to fight dengue fever or sleeping sickness in the Third. The spread of AIDS in Africa, Asia and Latin America is not only a human tragedy, but a serious impediment to human development.
At the other end of the spectrum, Paul O'Neil, CEO of Alcoa, earned $56 million last year. In Switzerland, CEO salaries are 10 times that of their employees. In the U.S. the ratio is 475 to 1.
CEO salaries increase in relation to the number of people they lay off. Eighty per cent of all the world's human and material resources are controlled by 10 per cent of the world's people. The only thing sustainable in this scenario is increased injustice.
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