Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by user Kiwi Flickr

7 Steps Toward a Sustainable Society - #3

Here is the third step we should take to reach a sustainable society (click here for step one and step two). Three: Transform the consumption of education. Education is what economists call a "non-rival good" - something that can be consumed without reducing the amount available to others-and as such it is an ideal consumption good for a sustainable society. More quality education could help us solve the human predicament - the combined crises of overpopulation, wasteful consumption, deteriorating life-support systems, declining resources, multiplying weapons of mass destruction, and widening inequity within and between nations. Education reform is also crucial. In the future, both the need for sustainability and the multi-dimensional environmental, social, political, and economic requirements to achieve it must be central elements of education around the world. Unless a much larger fraction of the human population becomes aware of the predicament we all face and its possible solutions, sustainability is unlikely to be reached. There exists today what I like to call a "culture gap." When I lived with the Inuit (Eskimos) more than a half century ago every Inuit individual possessed the vast majority of the non-genetic information (culture) available to the Inuit community. Women knew how seal hunting was done; men knew the use of a woman's knife. Perhaps a shaman had a few secret chants, but in general everyone was "fully educated." In our global society that has changed completely. Even the most educated people do not possess even one millionth of the non-genetic information housed in human brains, libraries, computer disks, arts, and artifacts. Given the parts, I could not begin to assemble the computer on which I am writing this. How many readers of this blog could explain quantum physics or ecosystem science, or recite the poems of Shakespeare? There is a huge gap between what society knows collectively, and what people know individually. We obviously cannot close the culture gap across the board, but we could narrow it selectively. In short, we must strive to narrow the culture gap in the most crucial areas related to reaching sustainability.. What do you think? Leave us a comment. Check back next week for the fourth step we should take toward a sustainable society. ———- Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. He is the author of hundreds of scientific papers, and numerous books including The Population Bomb and Betrayal of Science and Reason (Island Press, 1997). His latest book is The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, which he co-authored with his wife Anne.