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New Perspectives on Sustainability

It has been two years since Greta Thunberg’s influential speech to the UN leaders about how they failed our world due to many environmental issues waiting to be dealt with. However, despite initial motivation to solve the pressing problem, hardly any drastic progress has been executed since the speech was given. Notwithstanding fatigue surrounding climate change, I believe the matter should be addressed in an ongoing manner, and we all have a responsibility to do so. After all, strength comes from unity, which is an issue that even politicians cannot solve alone.

In one of the courses I am currently taking, namely: Rethinking Sustainable Societies: New Perspectives, several technical terms such as Anthropocene, Holocene, Capitalocene are discussed. These three terms are often being used interchangeably, referring to the human activities in the environment from the 19th century, since the time of the industrial revolution. Humans have been shaping nature for centuries for personal exploitation; however, this was not apparent due to the low population and far less advanced technology. Nowadays, due to far higher population size, industrialisation, and technological developments, our impact on nature is far more visible and drastic. Modern mass media has also had a significant effect on raising awareness of the ever-increasing problem of climate change. However, the future might not be as dark as described since impressive technological progress has been made towards a green solution. There have been very positive developments such as the increased usage of electric cars, bicycles and public transport, particularly in the Global North.

Although many experts from different academic backgrounds show the current growth-based economic system as the core reason for the environmental issues, I think the best possible action will come from adaptation rather than contradiction. By making this suggestion, I am not ruling out the necessities of tighter environmental regulations for multinationals; I am suggesting that sustainability is also becoming a market on its own. Moreover, thanks to the information flow maintained by the internet, activists and non-governmental groups like Greenpeace, there is much more awareness on the topic. Due to external stakeholders’ more significant attention to sustainability, businesses will have to develop strategies to survive in the new “Green” markets.

Even though, from these perspectives, the solution seems clear cut, the transformation of the markets requires time and effort to create suitable external conditions to “convince” company leaders to act in line with the benefit of the environment. For example, even though petroleum companies may not necessarily consider the impact they make on nature due to the freedom provided by legislation, their external stakeholders such as fishing & farming communities, NGOs and eventually governments will contradict their non-sustainable and unethical business operations. Public unrest and instability damages the popularity of a government. Even though these issues might be compensated by lower-class friendly laws from the gained share of the profit, once nature is irreversibly harmed, it becomes impossible for the nearby natural activities to continue with the business operations. At this point, even though it might not seem that way, the interests of humanity and trans-national corporations are and should be well-aligned. This is because the primary purpose is to serve people rather than profit for its shareholders, as once claimed by Milton Freedman. The planetary boundaries prove Freedman wrong because staying within the boundaries requires collective effort. Moreover, this also demonstrates the traditional understanding that the interests of shareholders and the stakeholders have to be wrong. This contradiction can be fixed with a new Green and sustainable economic system.

Planetary boundaries can explain the reasons why the current growth-based economic system is not sustainable. Proposed in 2009 by a couple of scientists led by Johan Rockström, there are nine boundaries, namely: climate crisis, nitrogen cycle, phosphorus cycle, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, freshwater use, chemical pollution, and deforestation. According to recent studies, the first four of the boundaries have already been crossed. Climate crisis, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles can be explained by factories and vehicles’ high carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions.

Furthermore, aside from transportation that contributes to the high carbon footprint, there are also other sectors. For example, the meat industry that crosses more than one boundary, such as deforestation, creates more cattle herding and soy production areas. Moreover, the locations were later cleared by fire which caused air pollution. Even though this system makes a large amount of meat and nutrition efficiently for the 8 billion people living on our planet, the damage it produces during its production process simply cannot and should not be ignored.

Following, the change in the growth-based economic system should be followed by more regulations on population control. More population brings more resource consumption, which is not sustainable because our planet’s resources are limited. For example, freshwater usage, which is one of the planetary boundaries, compasses only 3 per cent of our planet’s water. Furthermore, only 1.2 per cent of the freshwater is drinkable; the rest is locked up in glaciers, ice caps, permafrost or buried deep in the ground. Based on the scarcity of water, which is the fundamental resource for a human being to survive and oxygen, a higher population and air pollution make survival conditions more difficult for everyone. In addition, possible advancements in space technology can also create an alternative for the people. If suitable needs are made, the colonisation of Mars will divide the World population, which in return is better for our planet to renew itself.

However, all ideas and possible solutions should be analysed deeper to create more sustainable living conditions. For example, suppose the growth-based economy system is set to continue on Mars. In that case, the planet’s resources will also eventually end, and the same set of problems that humanity is experiencing on earth must be dealt with once more. Therefore, the new sustainable system must be executed without making any compromises. Furthermore, it would also be wise to look at human history to find the root of the problem. Before capitalism, there was feudalism in which lords had been making their gain from wars and the effort of serfs working in their lands. There are many commonalities between these two systems, such as class differences and labour exploitation. In addition to these economic inequalities, capitalism also brings other imbalances within, such as social, environmental, cultural and political. Life expectancy differences, gender inequality, and racism can be classified as social inequalities in human society. The development difference between Global North and South creates environmental imbalances such as access to freshwater combined, especially in Africa, and more waste shipped from northern countries to the Asian, African and South American countries. There are also other inequalities, such as higher crime rates in poorer cities, the rise of neo-fascism due to the increased immigration that changes the social demographics and limits the local citizens’ job opportunities.

Briefly, the underlying message of these historical events are similar: a change in the economic system is not sufficient for humanity. There should be a more fundamental change; humans have fought to gain dominance over one another in a state of nature, which is inert to human nature. Fights do not have to be made with swords or guns. The war of our age is performed based on economic means, which continues until one side wins a decisive victory. Evolution should be the most desirable change of human nature, but there is no option but revolution unless we take action now.


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