“A good life for all within the planet’s means”
This article from ScienceDaily discusses a recent study conducted at the University of Leeds. The study found that, as of now, no country in the world is able to meet the needs of its citizens at a level of resource use that is sustainable. Dr. Daniel O’Neill, the lead expert at the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds, states that everything people do on a day-to-day basis consumes the earth’s resources in one way or another. The study built on information collected by the Stockholm Resilience Center, which recognized nine environmental processes that regulate the planet. These included climate change, change in land use and fresh water use. “Planetary boundaries,” were also created by the Center, which, if exceeded consistently, could dramatically and irreparably alter the natural world. O’Neill also stated that the study, using seven planetary boundaries and eleven social objectives, found that, although they are currently failing to do so, all the world’s countries could meet the “basic needs” of its people without consuming resources at an unmaintainable rate. However, O’Neill’s study also investigated the attainment of social goals that “go beyond basic subsistence,” and found that self-improvement and accomplishment required two to six times more resource consumption than is sustainable. One of O’Neill’s co-authors, Dr. Andrew Fanning, also indicated that the attainment of social goals, such as those set by the United Nations, may even undermine attempts to protect and conserve the natural environment. These undermining goals include those which aspire to increase economic growth and improve levels of human well-being. Highlighting the concept of undermining, co-author Dr. William Lamb points out that first-world countries like the US meet the basic needs of its citizens and provide opportunities for the accomplishment of social goals, but in doing so, consume massive amounts of resources. On the other hand, developing nations such as Sri Lanka utilize resources at a sustainable rate, but fail to meet the criteria for human well-being. The article concludes with a quote from another co-author, Dr. Julia Steinberger, who says that for all people to have their basic needs met without exceeding the earth’s resource limitations, that both our physical infrastructure and the way in which we consume the planet’s provisioning services must be changed at a fundamental level. I think that the approach this study took is the best choice if we as a species are really going to change our perception of our place in nature. In “Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox,” Raudsepp-Hearne et al. discuss environmental issues and their relationship to human well-being, but overall the focus of the article is still the importance of improving well-being globally. On the other hand, the University of Leeds study investigates both issues simultaneously. O’Neill and his colleagues discuss the same paradox highlighted by Raudsepp-Hearne et al. but go more in depth when examining the undermining effects of achieving social goals on goals of environmental protection and conservation. Unfortunately though, neither article proposes solutions to this paradox, they only emphasize the need for a complete overhaul of our consumerist society to establish a system that meets human needs and allows for the attainment of social goals without degrading and depleting the earth.