Question: What put (and continues to put) tons of harmful chemicals in the air, water & soil, produced materials and products that are detrimental to the future of all forms of life, created huge amounts of waste, and destroyed biodiversity around the world? Sounds like the doings of an evil corporation, but this accurately describes the overlooked characteristics of the industrial revolution. Of course I am not saying that the industrial revolution was a bad thing; it brought us to the modern civilization we are today, in all of its glory, success and productivity. The damaging attributes are just byproducts of the industrial system. Better yet, byproducts of inefficient design. But what if we had placed our values on the natural world, instead of the endgame of profit and productivity at any cost? Would we still be discussing the problems posed by climate change and the looming destruction of global warming in the next century? There is no clear answer to these questions, but one thing is clear: this has to do with our values as humans.
So what is it that humans value collectively? The industrial revolution gave people the means to provide for their families, which could be considered an inherent value to all humans. Happiness, health, and family could also be considered pretty central human values. After all they are part of our civil liberties. But happiness comes in many forms. For some, it comes in the form of money; for others power; helping a person in need or spending time with friends and family are other examples that differentiate humans from one another in their values. And ones values will undoubtedly determine the course one may choose throughout their life. Collectively, these values may determine the course of human civilization.
Coupled with human ingenuity, the environment provided all the resources necessary for the industrial revolution to happen. In light of events in the past decade, it could be said that the natural world is more than capable of taking away all those things that we have built. (Sandy’s estimated damage is over $50 billion; Katrina was even more). Whether or not this is the result of our irresponsible behavior over the past 200 years is up to a whole other debate, but don’t you think taking a route that placed a bit more value on the most powerful aspect of our world should be a priority? I do, and looking around, it is pretty obvious that businesses around the world are too. One huge example includes Wal-Mart, who just committed to using 100% renewable energy and to create zero waste. That’s a pretty big commitment from a company whose been bashed for its irresponsible business model over the years.
Corporations like Wal-Mart changing the way they do business is proof that values are indeed changing. As more and more businesses, corporations, companies, entrepreneurs, etc. begin to emerge, environmental stewardship is becoming a key ingredient. For the most part, this isn’t because it is just a passing trend; it is because people understand the importance of a responsible economy. Sustainability is a becoming a word used more and more frequently and is influencing the way the future is designed. There was no Renaissance without the Dark Ages, so from the environmental perspective, we may be embarking upon a modern day renaissance. The only component that will determine what comes out of this shift in thought is of course, humans and their intent for the future.
Written by Cameron McElroy