What Societal Changes need to be Made for a Sustainable Future?

So far this month we’ve asked what Sustainability means to you and what you personally are doing to lead a more sustainable life. But not all sustainability goals can be met by individual actions. Our society is collectively on an unsustainable path.

For the third week of Science and Sustainability Month, I’d like to know what changes do we need as a society to build a more sustainable future? What are the obstacles to these changes, and what ware the solutions? Is there hope for a sustainable social revolution?


  1. Mark Gibson · April 18, 2011

    Great question. Put in economics speak, we have a big coordination problem on top of the many environmental problems now facing us.

    One great example was given to me by a professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Imagine what happens if we unilaterally took the US economy off of oil. The price of oil would go way down…and this isn’t a good thing. It would make it easier for other countries to buy more oil, and given global population growth, you might have very close to the same amount of global oil consumption as before. That’s why we need global agreements. We have to change the rules of the game to avoid these leakages.

    As for what to do, here are my three my favorite ideas with regards to the oceans.

    1) Set aside 20% of the global ocean as protected areas. According to the IUCN, just 1.3% of our oceans are protected. Compare this with land which has over 11% protected. And I think most of us recognize that this 11% just ain’t enough, not for the Amazon, the Congo, and certainly not for future generations. This issue will probably be heavily discussed at Rio +20 next year.

    2) Set up an independent and global organization to combat illegal fishing. Up to 25% of the world’s fish is taken illegally, and this greatly drives the depletion of our oceans. Unfortunately, we aren’t doing very much to combat it, yet we know how to. Very little movement here, though there is a treaty that countries can now sign on to.

    3) End fishing subsidies at the WTO. Fishing subsidies have greatly distorted the world’s fishing capacity. By one study, the global fishing fleet needs to be reduced by 25 to 30% for it to be sustainable. There are just too many boats chasing fewer and fewer fish. In some cases, such as high seas bottom trawling, there might not be any fishing at all without subsidies, because it just isn’t profitable given the massive costs. The WTO is now working on a ban of “bad” fishing subsidies and a draft plan is out there. The hold up is that it can only be approved along with all the other work items for the Doha Round. Getting agreement on all the other stuff is a very tall order.

  2. Roy Mulder · April 21, 2011

    There seem to be several components involved in moving towards a more sustainable future. Creating an economic system that embraces the true price of products from cradle to grave is essential to make sure we use our resources properly. The economical models being used by business operate on a constantly increasing profit and larger market share. Low quality and disposable products result into a cycle of waste, as people keep buying products that need to constantly be replaced. Some resources are not sustainable at all and need to be highly valued and used accordingly. Our world supply of helium is limited. Yet we persist in using them to fill up balloons at a price that doesn’t reflect the value of helium used for other purposes. Of course the elephant standing in the room no one wants to talk about is overpopulation. Our planet cannot withstand this many humans.

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