Human nature – the biggest challenge of the 21st century?

Professor Belz explained on the lecture some of the challenges that we will be facing in the somewhat near future, including climate change and the decreases in the amounts of several natural resources such as oil and clean water. The more I’ve studied sustainability and the issues related to it, the more I’ve started to wonder whether it is even possible for humankind to learn to live sustainably before it is too late? After all, most of us living in developed countries are used to an easy life in which consumption plays a central role. And when considering those living in developing countries, they are only just learning what a wonderful thing consuming is.

In Finland we use three times more resources than we should in terms of ensuring sustainability. It  is difficult even to think of what all I should give up so that I would be living sustainably, so that my actions would require only one Earth, or even less. Maybe I should watch less TV or buy only organic food? Or give up on travelling? But then again why should I do that, if no one else gives up on anything? Whether I do these things or not, it still won’t guarantee that my grandkids will have the chance to travel in the future. I believe that this kind of thinking is quite common when it comes to reflecting on sustainability issues.

I consider myself more aware of these issues than an average person and I believe that if something big is not done and soon, it is likely that the result will be a disaster. Yet, if I have the choice to drive to work on a cold winter morning instead of walking to the bus stop, I’ll still take the car – even if I know it would be better for both me and the environment not to. Our old habits die hard and we are too used to convenience. Or at least I am.

I’m not saying that nothing has changed to the better during the recent decades and I believe that both people in general as well as companies have become more conscious of the topic and that their actions as well as developments in technology can have a remarkable, positive impact on overall sustainability. However, I’m afraid the pace at which this change is happening just isn’t fast enough. Something else has to change as well and I think that that something is us and our values. Whether we are able to change quickly enough will remain to be seen.

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2 comments
  1. angelinakt said:

    Great points about old habits and convenience-oriented attitude – both of these receive a lot of attention in marketing and sustainable consumption literature streams. Marketing in particular has developed the tools for breaking habits and creating new ones. It is interesting to think about whether sustainability marketing is capable of bringing sustainably-positive changes into everyday lives with the help of conventional marketing tools.

    • Human nature indeed – Your post reminds me of one article, “Narratives of ‘green’ consumers – the antihero, the environmental hero and the anarchist” of Autio et al (2009), which I read few times ago. They gave a very interesting perspective in their study of young people, who were constructing their identities as consumers. They investigated through an analysis of contemporary narratives of green consumption. They posed questions such as what constitutes pro-environmental consumer behavior and they also looked answer for the limitations and possibilities of green consumption.

      Authors formed three different subject positions through narratives which were “Hero”, “Antihero” and “Anarchist”. The Hero embraces the dominant green discourse, while the Antihero rejects simplified assumptions and prescriptions of the dominant discourse with irony and fatalism. Anarchist stays in marginal and goes beyond the prevailing role of a responsible consumer. I think that especially the personality of the “Antihero”, who had all the information of sustainable consumption, and who was familiar with the discourse of the pro-environmental issues, but still chooses not to recycle and said “yes to H&M” and over-consumption, is very typical modern person in our consumption culture. As authors underlined, it is a personal choice whether to be green consumer or not, and which in turn is the most difficult part as you also mentioned in your post. Even if you are aware, you still acts differently and it is just life!

      But good new from China´s new leader! In his speech, he promised to support with his actions China´s economic growth, BUT not at the price of the nature, which hopefully means decrease in emissions and growth in sustainable way at the very near future.

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