A Sustainable Cost?

Mar 25, 2013

Welcome to my new blog. Here goes…

Our world is getting thinner, faster, cheaper and more disposable. All at a cost we cannot, and could never, afford. Rather ambitiously for my first blog post, I am going to propose a potential solution to that problem.

We live on a planet of finite resources that is struggling to provide for a growing population and runaway demand. If we really want to help the planet more, then we all need to use less. The only way to consume ethically is to consume less. No matter how you look at it, ethical consumption is still consumption. The big question is how to encourage a behavioural shift away from over-consumption and harmful consumption? My proposed solution is based on the polluter-pays principle.

'The only way to consume ethically is to consume less.'

Imagine if the price you paid for any item was the true environmental cost. Take that out-of-season fruit that has been flown in from the Middle East or Central America. What if the cost included the environmental cost of the air-miles, refrigeration, packaging and transit to your local shop – how much would it cost then? And would we not then favour locally produced items that were in season?

In our globalised lives, the natural balance has been perverted by the ‘free-market’, subsidies and interventions. The locally produced item is the luxury one – think farmers market versus supermarket. It is cheaper and easier to buy from afar with little thought as to the consequences.

'…no matter how high the cost, it will be less than the cost of doing nothing.'

I am not advocating the removal of choice – just that our choices should come with a cost that reflects their true impact. We need to make it easier for people to think green at the critical decision point. As a lead-in to full carbon-emissions pricing, a transition period would be required where, for example, the carbon emissions are clearly marked on the label / packaging of *all* goods. This way, we all quickly learn which products have the highest environmental cost, and therefore, actual cost.

Admittedly this would result in a dramatic shift in world markets, food and transportation systems but this needs to happen if we are to live sustainably as a global population. Business as usual is the problem, not the solution. If necessity is the mother of sustainability, then in the absence of a naturally occurring necessity, we need to create it. Inaction is our worst enemy.

Good idea, but at what cost you might ask? That is too complicated to answer here, but no matter how high the cost, it will be less than the cost of doing nothing.


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