Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sustainability #1: Sustainability, The Invisible Hand and Why We Should Inherit The Earth

My Sustainability Posts spring from my forum posts in the free Sustainability Course, offered by the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, which I am participating in. 

Recently, I discussed sustainability with my husband and he asked me why I was so concerned about it. I said we have finite resources and I'm concerned about the legacy we leave for our children. For example, I said, are countries prepared for the day we run out of fossil fuel? It's not an immediate concern but we can't live in a fantasy that we should leave it up to fate.

And this is where he launched into the invisible hand. I looked it up and it's an economic theory that the market, unchecked, will adjust itself and will preclude any kind of real catastrophe from happening. I retorted that we need to be aware of our impact on the environment, nevertheless. I don't really believe in leaving things to chance.

My husband has a different view. He believes that things will work themselves out. For example, when the world runs out of fossil fuel, he believes human beings will naturally and gradually adjust. "Then we'll use bicycles and work closer to our homes. Society won't collapse. Things will work out. We don't have to worry."

I was reminded of this discussion when I was watching my Week 1 Sustainability lectures (Free Sustainability Course on offered by the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign). Malthusian and Ne-Malthusian predictions have been proven wrong. But I beg to differ. The rise in global population can be pinpointed to different countries (from the "developed" to the "developing" nations). The impact of one country can also be shifted to another. Regulation will happen or is already happening. When more people are educated about the impact they have on their environment, a shift is possible.

So, where I differ, perhaps is in the source of the shift. Things will work out with human awareness and not inspite of it. Of course, worry is a state of mind. If no action is taken, it is useless. So I like to think that we should worry just enough to get us to inquire and do something about it. Sustainability is largely a human concern and only exists in human language. If humans were to disappear tomorrow, I believe the earth would go on and even recover more rapidly. So, we really need to ask ourselves why we deserve to inherit this earth.

Original post here

The illustration of Adam Smith (above), to whom the invisible hand theory is attributed, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.

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