The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joey Faulkner Headshot

We Can Never Be Truly Sustainable Because We Can't Change How We Think

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

In my leisure time, I like to imagine important meetings through time. Not when people happened to meet each other like Ant and Dec around the Byker Grove water cooler, more like when several people have been sat down on a table with an agenda, maybe a powerpoint presentation and a desire to be anywhere else but there. When I said important meetings, I didnt really mean it, the meeting I thought of this morning was when the first person thought of using 'Doesn't cost the Earth' as a marketing slogan.

I imagine it as about five people discussing how they can increase their wealth by pretending they don't care about it and care instead about knocking - or at least claiming to knock - 5% off their 'environmental evil' score, then what way they can best scream about their wonderful pseudo-altruism via every medium possible. Suddenly one of them, hungover as hell from the 'evil conglomerate mixer' held the night before, wakes up to the smell of committee and says "wait guys, we sell cheap stuff and we're pretending to give a damn about the environment, so I guess you can say our products 'don't cost the Earth'!". After the initial excited screams, everything past that is a blur. Generic Evil Corp organises a company bonding trip to strangle polar bears with the now defunct tonnes of old plastic bags while putting the new 0.1% thinner and deceptively transparent plastic bags in stores, emblazoned "FOOD THAT DOESN'T COST THE EARTH".

It's a really good phrase, but quite misses the point of it all. The Earth doesn't care even a little bit what we do to it. I'm not going to try and touch on this for long because George Carlin killed the 'killing the planet' game long before I got a chance to have a go on it and so even trying to walk in those footsteps is useless, there's a full long fantastic quote here, but I'll just pick out the juiciest paragraph.

"The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles ... hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages ... And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn't going anywhere. WE are!"

The reality of the 'get well soon, Earth!' campaign is a perverse self-importance. It tries, like all of us really do, to hide the deep ingrained desires of a human being or moreover any creature that has managed to survive this long. The ultimate aim of what we do as humans is to survive, and then maybe pass on something of ours to another generation so they can keep it going, be that DNA or our opinions or any effect on the world that has our name secretly stamped on it. That trait alone is why our species has managed to keep going for so long. So any campaign for the environment should have the motto at its heart "Living that doesn't cost the slight chance of me or my life's work being lost in the ether". Inherent in this then is exactly why the 'OK everyone, lets just calm down with what we're doing' breed of environmentalism is not going to work, because at our most basic level any choice we make in life is going to come down to a value judgement: 'is this single act going to improve the chances of me living forever?'. For all of the decisions that could really save the world the answer is a resounding no: living purely by this view we should choose money, time or even a vague increase in comfort over the Earth,short of destroying it, and this is the issue.

Our society is not sustainable because our instincts as humans is not sustainable. We, like other animals, desire to survive and live on beyond death but, unlike other animals, we've got good enough at it that no-one can stop us. Where that leaves the future is anyone's guess, but we ought to hope it'll work out. In fact we could really use a god to tell us what to do or change our initial 'it is I who must be remembered!!' attitude, but since that isn't likely to happen we'll have to just wait for nuclear fusion to kill off global warming and be fine until the next crisis comes along to start the argument again. Whatever happens I hope this article is carved into history and survives until the heat-death of the universe.