Mountain of greed vs environmental balance

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Ask yourself two important questions: Is the quality of my life better than the life of my grandparents? Will the life of my grandchildren be better than mine? Although the first one can be answered without hesitation, the second one may cause puzzlement. Both were directed towards the audience of the World Resources Forum by Prof. Mohan Munasinghe and both were to deal with the human’s inborn greed: for development and for natural resources.

The main disease from which our generation is suffering from is the greed: borrowing from the future changes the world for worse. Short-term approach is risky for humanity: it causes environmental harm combined with resources shortage and contributes to climate change. Just to mention a few examples: by 2100 the temperature will rise by 3 degrees and the sea level will be 40 cm higher. The use of natural resources have risen by eight times. The distribution of consumption is unfair, giving 83% of goods for the rich. Over-consumption is crowning out prospects for the poor. Total cost of the last economic crisis in Europe is estimated at 13 trillion dollars whereas only a few millions of dollars worldwide are devoted to fight with poverty and climate change. Trigging instead of greening the economy may change the financial bubble into the bubble of poverty…

WRF 2011

Although the present seems dark, there is a light of hope for the future. Millennium Consumption Goals proposed by Prof. Mohan Munasinghe offer a chance to make development more sustainable, preserve the planet, fight with poverty and establish prosperity. According to Sri Lankan scientist the way to sustainable development is similar to climbing a mountain. Firstly, we can reach the top only step by step. The first step  is to be done by the poor by limiting the use of basic natural resources. The next step should be done by the rich by limiting the level of Co2 emission, pollution and waste. Secondly, we have to focus on the bottom-up perspective, transfer ideas from local to global level. When individuals understand that it is better to consume more sustainably instead of simply consuming more, the humanity will reach the top level of development.

To sum up, your homework for today is to think of the future and resign from the selfish greed!

7 thoughts on “Mountain of greed vs environmental balance

  1. Great article! Catches the essence of Mohan’s presentation very well. Greed … is overconsumption always people being greedy … or can the ordinary consumer overconsume without really deliberately choosing? The rigt resource efficient product just not available? Or locked up in his or her education and values?

    • Thank you very much for your comment! It is great to hear that I was able to pass the main message of the speech. Overconsumption seems to be the dark side of civilization developed to the highest level ever. Following the words of Prof. Munasinghe the solution to the problem may be looking up to the virtues from the past: simply being a part of the natural environment. Reinventing the wheel is not always an impious act.

  2. I really appreciate the questions you raised in your post. Still, I kind of stumble over the first few sentences and would like to make a link to sufficiency. Is it really that clear that the quality of our lifes is better than the ones of our grandparents? Or even more important, what is the underlying assumption? What defines “having a good life”? Is having more per se better? So far, I have missed this questions at the conference. What do we really need for a good, decent life? Can’t having and using less not even mean having a better quality of life?

    Of course, a good infrastructure et cetera are important. But it is interesting that for example some studies show, that spending money for experiences/adventures makes us more happy than buying consumer goods (for example http://www.psychologie.uzh.ch/fachrichtungen/angpsy/erleben/berichte/mehr-berichte-2/geld.html).

    • Thank you very much for your comment! I am really grateful for your taking part in the discussion I wanted to start. I will do my best to clarify what I meant asking the two questions mentioned. I must agree with you saying that it may be difficult to judge whether the quality of our life is better than the life of our grandparents. Yet, comparing the past with the present is still less problematic than comparing the present and the future. The underlying assumption I made asking the two questions was as follows: better life simply means living in better conditions. I am sure that the conditions I am offered living in XXI century were out of reach for my grandparents thanks to economic and social development. In comparison, I am not sure what conditions will be offered to my grandchildren, because of degradation of natural environment. I can only make hypothesis. Nevertheless, that is just an introduction to defining what “having a good life” means. In my opinion that question may have an endless number of answers. What is more, all the answers may be correct because asking yourself “what do I need to have a good life” is similar to asking “what makes me happy”. If I were to answer the question I would say that having and using less will make my life better. But I would never be willing to give up certain aspects of my life that I owe to the social and economic development. In my opinion it is possible to use the achievements of humanity in a sustainable way. Thank you for asking the question: is having more per se better? I have already asked similar question in my previous blog post: http://projourno.org/can-consumption-be-sustainable-if-more-is-better. If you are not satisfied with my personal explanations, please do not hesitate to continue the discussion.

  3. I agree about spending money on experiences not consumer good (though it goes against my inner-stingy with money genes/nature), but as for if our lives are better than our grandparents, the journalist Matt Ridley has a very decided view on this in his book Rational Optimist: http://www.rationaloptimist.com/books, which argues we are definitely progressing.

    For health, education, oppotunities, etc, we are doing much better!

  4. Thank you very much for you comment. We are really happy to hear that you enjoy reading the posts. Student Reporters do their best to make the blog informative and interesting. I promise not to let you down with our next posts concerning sustainability topics! Follow our blog to find more impressions about the World Resources Forum in Davos that has already ended after three days of unforgettable speeches, sessions and workshops.

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