What Drives Sustainability: People or Markets?

What is your view of human nature, behavior, and potential? What are your thoughts on the likelihood of our capacity to slow our progress down the many steep slopes upon which we are sliding: climate change, soil depletion, fresh water scarcity, ocean salinity and acidity, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, increasing income disparity, the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of increasingly few people, the corruption and abuse of power in governments, organizations, organized religion, communities, and even families?

Esteemed professor William Rees did an article on the Network for Business Sustainability. He asked whether people or markets drive sustainability, suggesting it was certainly the former, and pointing out that humans have five qualities that can help us overcome our social, environmental, and economic problems: “high intelligence (e.g. the ability to reason logically), the capacity to plan ahead (e.g. to design policies that will shape a desirable future), the ability to cooperate in the achievement of common goals, the ability to make moral judgements and the capacity for compassion and empathy.”

Having empathized with Dr. Rees’s previously more pessimistic posts on various list-serves and in articles, I found his post a bit surprising in it’s appreciative and positive tone. Yes, I’m not an optimist, or even a possiblist, as Francis Moore Lappe calls herself. I call myself a hopeful pessimist, but I consider myself a realist, and I base my conclusions on a balance of both positive and negative trends and developments. Here’s the comment I posted in response:

“This is an appreciative call for individual action, Bill, and perhaps more hopeful than much of what I’ve read that you have written. It appears you are more optimistic that the micro approach of appealing to our better capacities will have better success than policy, legislation, and regulation, unless I misunderstand you. I’d honestly love to develop more hopefulness and would enjoy hearing your how you have come to this conclusion.

It seems to take a fair amount of individual mindfulness, energy, fortitude, and discipline to reason logically, plan ahead, cooperate in the achievement of common goals, make and be in integrity with our moral judgements, and regularly exhibit compassion and empathy with anyone who doesn’t agree with or please us.

What do you make, dear reader, of this trends, and what are your thought on the possibility/potential of the human race to address these vital global environmental, social, and economic concerns that are facing us?

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