Photo credit: Supreme Court Pediment by Flickr.com user Kevin Harber

7 Steps Toward a Sustainable Society - #6

Here is the sixth step we should take to reach a sustainable society (click here for step one, step two, step three, step four, and step five). Six: Decide what kind of world we all want. What are the ultimate goals of our lives? Are Americans really happier traveling to work an hour or more each day wrapped in a few tons of steel and breathing smog that threatens their lives? While the U.S. GDP has increased almost five times since 1958, satisfaction, as shown by polls, has not increased at all. The situation in other countries is similar. Must all nations then strive to emulate the American superconsuming life style? Or should all of humanity strive together to seek a more equitable global society, which could replace today's bipolar super-rich—desperately poor population in which the split widens as growth continues. We could initiate a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB) to begin a discussion of what economic, social, and political systems will best fulfill a small-group animal's desires as it struggles to live in gigantic groups. How, for example, do we take advantage of the enormous benefits that market mechanisms provide to societies while constraining their propensity to do gigantic damage when unregulated? Starting and maintaining a global cultural discussion is a step that would help determine the kinds of lifestyles people really want., Armed with that knowledge, we could try to establish as accurately as possible the conditions of population size, consumption patterns, economic arrangements, and technologies required to make such lifestyles sustainable. What do you think? Leave us a comment. Check back next week for the seventh and final 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.