The New Green: Economic environment detrimental to green goals
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 22:01
Nearly all of the serious environmental problems facing the world today are a direct result of the Industrial Revolution. Pollution of the water, soil and atmosphere, landfills overflowing with toxic materials, communities fragmented by highways and urban sprawl and the many threats of climate change can ultimately by traced back to businesses and the way they have been allowed to operate over the past 150 years.
These environmental concerns are social problems as well. Often, the poorest people in a community are the ones cheated out of a clean environment and general well-being. Landfills, sewage treatment plants and garbage incinerators are often located in poor urban districts, and poor areas are often left without adequate transportation services, isolating residents from job opportunities and community cultural life. In fact, it is hard to think of any issue that is unaffected by the economy – whether you are personally concerned about curing cancer, the prison system, children’s education or how we get our food, the issues that you care most deeply about are dependent upon wealth and how it changes hands.
In short, our economy currently operates in a way that generates an unacceptable amount of human suffering and environmental damage. The answer for some has been to shirk the economy altogether, to go “off the grid,” and produce to meet all of their own needs through farming and homesteading skills.
This is an admirable feat. However, it is not the answer for all of us. Buying and selling goods and services has been a central part of human life for thousands of years, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Industry does not need to be an evil; it can actually be a very powerful and effective means for creating positive social change. And while the modern economy and its millions of interactions, connections and networks may seem like an overwhelming and firmly established entity, it is going to need to change in order to build a better world. Restructuring the economy so that it is in the interest of businesses to promote human well-being and environmental health is an absolutely essential step for human progress. If it is done, it will lead to a future with much diminished suffering and greater amounts of happiness for everyone, if we do not do it, all of the issues that everyone is most concerned about will almost certainly get worse.
Building a “green economy” is going to take a lot of courage, strategy, and dedication. It will be no small effort to change the way that modern industry operates. Today, the men and women at the top of big business are the most powerful and influential people in the world – more powerful than any government leader. I, for one, believe that we can do it, because we all deserve an economy that promotes our individual and collective well-being. Throughout this semester, the articles featured in this column will focus on real and practical steps that we can take as a society to transition to a green economy.