Positive Thought Two: Celebrate modern lifestyles

It is time that the environmental narrative acknowledged that most people want access to the modern, plasma TV lifestyle many have access to in emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, and China.

Please do not take this metaphor literally. I mean that, on balance, people would prefer a lifestyle with access to modern communications, clean water, a comfortable home, reliable and safe travel, modern medicine, and quality education. The spirit, if not the reality, of what I am calling the “plasma TV lifestyle” is here to stay.  What needs to happen, now and over the next 40 years, is the continued improvement of access for people to the lifestyles they want. Those lifestyles must also be made robust and resilient, both in terms of community and the planet, despite the pressure of population growth.  I choose to believe that in the next 40 years, we can use all our intellectual and commercial abilities and power to deliver a modern lifestyles for the whole of civilisation.

Daily life will, of course, be different.  You need only look back over the past 40 years to see how lifestyles have changed. While the technology will be different, many aspects of family life will remain more or less the same.

Modern lifestyles as symbolised by the plasma TV are enabled by innovation and the logistical abilities of global commerce and public policy.  However, in some countries, war and natural disasters make these lifestyles inaccessible.

In my travels around the world, I’ve visited most continents, and one of the most obvious observations is the huge contrast between lifestyles in, say, Papua New Guinea, to the plasma TV lifestyle I personally enjoy in the UK.  In Papua New Guinea, local  people depend on their forests for food, building materials, and cash. In many aspects, they have a sustainable lifestyle, in that they are few people, and they are not using much of the available ’stuff’  available within a huge forest. They, however, do not see their lives and their forest quite like that. To make their lives easier, they would prefer more access to the modern things we enjoy, like medicine, education, clean water and electricity.

There is a link – some of the commercial sectors that supply the ‘bits’ of our modern lifestyle look to the forests of Papua New Guineas for their raw materials.  The forest village leaders are continually pressured by foreign companies for their logs, land, and now their carbon credits. To protect their own destiny and their own resources, forest village leaders need viable alternatives to the seduction of the foreign loggers in neighbouring villages, and they need to understand the complexities of carbon trading. They need legal advice, they need infrastructure, and they need to be wise to the external world. To be safe from the consuming cash world, they need cash and communication.  They only they way they can protect themselves from commerce is to be become part of it.

Eradicating poverty is, therefore, commercially, politically, and morally desirable, and key to sustainability. The irony is that less poverty equates to more consumption.
I argue, however, that it’s not the plasma TVs  in themselves that are wrong, it’s is how the raw materials are harvested, the conditions in which they are made, and how they are disposed which causes the problem. The plasma TV outcome in not the problem – it’s the clumsy nature of the inputs: it is ‘how we do it’ that is wrong, as opposed to ‘it’ being a bad thing.

The challenge is not our lifestyle, but the supply chains that contribute to it.

We can feel positive and proud of our modern lifestyle. What we need to reflect upon and change is how that lifestyle is provided.

Rethinking Corporate Sustainability – If Only We Ran the Planet Like a Shop! (374.8 KB)