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Building A Better World (Book Summary)


1947-2014 (Archived)
This is a summary of a book that is starting to attract a lot of attention at many levels of the education enterprise. It is inspired by the idea that we need to spend time in dialog, thinking aloud together about the world we want to leave to our grandchildren and their children, and acting on this thoughts.

building a better world


We have become a nation of sleepwalkers. We look around at the world's problems and wish they would go away, but they stubbornly persist despite our most heartfelt desires. So we end up living in a kind of ethical haze. It's not that people are bad or that evil is winning some kind of eternal battle. The vast majority of us have good intentions when we go about our daily lives. It's that we have been lulled into a sense of complacency around the world's problems, like they are less than real occurrences so we react similar to how we might normalize strange events that occur while we're in the middle of a dream. We are stuck in our daily routines, living on auto-pilot when it comes to the rest of the world.

People starve, communities fall apart, violence thrives, families fade, and nature disappears, and we continue on with our lives as if nothing is wrong. But like a whisper in the back of our minds that stays with us always, we have the feeling that something has gone awry. We have lost our faith in each other. Politicians are corrupt, lawyers win cases without justice being served; it seems that everything and everyone is for sale. Nothing remains sacred. We feel that perhaps we can only truly rely on ourselves. When these negative beliefs become widespread, we disengage from the outer world, recoiling into our own personal lives. As we withdraw, we see our society rushing aimlessly toward an unknown future without any sense of morality or conscious purpose to direct it. Awash in a sea of knowledge, we lack the wisdom to guide our own destiny.

How did we end up here? Of late, many people have begun to point the finger at a culture that breeds apathy. In fact, beneath apathy there lies an even bigger culprit, cynicism. Cynicism may be defined as the deeply ingrained belief that human beings are, and have always been, inherently selfish. Cynicism in this form is not just a long-term emotional state or adopted intellectual philosophy, it is a way of relating to the world. As a consequence we begin to see the world as a place that will always be filled with social problems because we are convinced that people look out for their own best interests above all else. It is the fundamental destruction of hope.

The most that you can strive for under this kind of a world view is that you become savvy enough to pursue your own self-interest in such a way that you come out somewhere nearer to the top rather than the bottom. The pursuit of happiness is relegated to an equation that consists of accumulating material wealth, increasing your social status and having the freedom to indulge in any pleasure you desire. Helping others, giving something back and making a difference in the world no longer show up on the radar of popular culture. People who decide to seriously pursue these less common goals are often labeled as odd, naïve, overly sentimental, unrealistic or simply irrational. In a world of constantly increasing complexity, this kind of cynicism becomes the safest, most strategic position to adopt. It involves no action and thus no risk. Cynics can portray their inaction as more rational, objective and even more scientifically founded than people who are taking action based on incomplete information. Consequently, apathy becomes an acceptable state of being.

So what happened? How did we become this cynical? Simply put, our modern society manufactures cynicism. Everyday we are bombarded with media reports, both locally focused and from around the globe, of crime, disaster, conflict, scandal … anything dark and sensational enough to generate a headline. The stories are presented in a manner that is usually too brief to gain any meaningful understanding of the problems and that lacks any options for us to contribute in any significant way to their resolution. These waves of negative imagery wash over us relentlessly as we try to keep up with what's happening in the world around us. Like sponges, we absorb this negativity, and it spills over into how we look at and, ultimately, how we act or fail to act in the world.

1. Finding out about a problem
2. Wanting to do something to help
3. Not seeing how you can help
4. Not doing anything about it
5. Feeling sad, powerless, angry
6. Deciding that nothing can be done
7. Begin shutting down
8. Wanting to know less about problems

The Cycle Of Cynicism (see above) begins when we first find out about a social problem through the media. When we initially recognize that others are suffering, our immediate reaction is to want the suffering to stop. We even wonder if there is anything that we might be able to do to help. When no viable avenues for action are presented, and we fail to generate any ourselves we end up feeling powerless to help the suffering we have just witnessed. This knowledge that others are suffering and we can do nothing to stop it saddens us. We may become angry and blame people in positions of power for not doing anything to stop it either. We feel that we are good people, but we see an injustice and we don't do anything about it. In the end we reconcile this dissonance by accepting that perhaps nothing can be done; the problems are too deeply rooted and we are powerless to change them. We then initiate process of slowly numbing ourselves to the suffering, and because knowing this kind of information about the world only results in taking on negative emotions, we subtly begin to avoid finding out about the suffering in the first place.

Over time we end up shutting out most of our society's social problems and retreating further and further into our own insular personal lives. We become apathetic.
1. Taking personal responsibility for being a good person
2. Creating a vision of a better world based on your values
3. Seeking out quality information about the world's problems
4. Discovering practical options for action
5. Acting in line with your values

The $64,000 question now turns out to be, how do we break out of this cycle of cynicism? First, we must stop blaming others for not doing anything and begin to take personal responsibility for being good people in the world. No one else can do it for us. We need to seek out information about our world's problems that provides us with a basic understanding of what's going on as well as a variety of options for action. We have to generate a form of practical idealism based on well-informed actions that are accessible to all of us and that actually make a difference in the world. Each of us must decide what we want our lives to stand for, how we can uniquely contribute to a better world. By thinking about our lives in terms of what we can provide for the next generations rather than we can take for ourselves in this lifetime, we are choosing to create our own destiny instead of leaving our children's future up for grabs.

As a society we must reconnect to a set of values that re-ignite our collective humanity so that it burns bright within each of us. No society survives for very long without a moral compass to guide its evolution and progress, especially not one as powerful and rapidly changing as our own.
We need to bring our values back onto center stage as a people. We must consciously choose a set of core values that every one of us can embrace despite our many differences in values like compassion, freedom, equality, justice, sustainability, democracy, community, and tolerance. Then we have to go about deliberately building our society as a place that increasingly reflects and nurtures the growth of these values in the world. We create this world by having each of us individually choose to live and act in ways that more closely reflect our own personal values and those values we share as a people. We must begin by creating a vision of a better world.

We can all imagine what a better world might look like - a world where peace, justice, compassion and tolerance prevail or where each person has more than enough food, shelter, meaningful work and close friends. Think about the world that you would like to live in. Let yourself imagine the possibilities of a world that you could be proud to leave for your children. What does a world look like with more love, acceptance, patience, understanding and equality? This vision of a better future will provide you with an inspiring goal to work toward and will keep your passion alive for the journey ahead. Along the way, we must be aware of the many traps that will stop us from making a difference in the world.


1947-2014 (Archived)
9 traps that stop people from making a difference

TRAP #1: "That's just the way the world is"

If you look back through history you'll discover that the world has always been faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges: slavery, hunger, warfare, intolerance. It's easy to feel like "the world has troubles, that's just the way the world is, so why bother trying to change it?" But can you imagine how the world would be different if all people throughout history would have resigned themselves to just accepting the "troubles" of their time? Can you imagine the cynics of the day saying that:
* "America will always be an British colony."
* "Slavery will always exist."
* "Women will never be allowed to vote."
* "Whites and Blacks will never share the same classrooms."
* "People in wheelchairs will never have access to public buildings."
* "Free public schooling won't work because the poor don't want to be educated."

so there's no point trying to change anything.​
For every social problem that has existed there have been people dedicated to solving it and creating positive social change. We may be born into a world with immense challenges, but we have the opportunity to create and recreate the world each and every day.Every situation that has been created by humans, can be changed by humans. A better world is always a possibility. While current problems may seem overwhelming, surrendering hope only ensures that nothing will change. Embracing your vision for a better world is all the hope you will ever need.

Once you let yourself envision a better world you can then consider where you fit into this whole picture. Our culture teaches us that we are each completely responsible for our own well being - that we are independent creatures on this planet that should make their own way in life without depending on others. This particular view of the world neglects the fact that we all rely on each other for our daily existence. We eat food that is grown from soil nurtured by microscopic organisms. We drink water that was vapor from the oceans. We breath oxygen respired by the trees. We wear clothing made by people across the planet that we will never meet. We rely on our friends and family for support. We create a sense of belonging and meaning within our communities. Our personal well being is inextricably linked to the well being of our families, our friends, our communities, and our planet - and the well being of others is shaped by our own well being as well.

Unfortunately many of us have learned to ignore these connections and live as if each of us are our own island. When you truly understand the interconnected nature of the world, you realize that you are both very powerful and yet very small--you influence everything around you yet there is so much more to life than just you. Recognizing these fundamental connections opens up the possibility of a new sense of awareness. When we validate these clear connections that bind us all together, we gain some awareness of how each of our own actions affect the people and the planet all around us.

TRAP #2: "It's not my responsibility"

You may be saying, "I didn't cause the world's problems so why should I be responsible for fixing them?" That may seem true on the surface until you realize that the problems that our world faces are created by the daily actions of millions and millions of people. The CEO of a company may be the person who should be held most responsible for the pollution created by her/his company. But don't the shareholders of the company bear some responsibility, and the people who purchase its products, and the local television station that covers car crashes and celebrity weddings instead of investigating local water quality?

All of us hold some measure of responsibility for the challenges that our society faces. Even if it's only because we have not taken the time to become informed about our world and about the well being of others. We don't like to take responsibility for other people's messes, and we like to think that our own messes are very small. But our impacts on the world are much larger than we think. For example, try to answer the following questions:

* Whose car causes smog?
* Whose use of energy causes global warming and climate change?
* Whose apathy leads to the lowest voter turnout in history?
* Whose frown makes people think your city is not a friendly place?
* Whose purchase keeps an unethical company in business?
* Whose lack of support for a community group causes it to close its doors?

The answer to these questions is "all of us together". It's not one single person but everyone. You can't pinpoint which car causes a traffic jam because each car causes it. The responsibility lies with the group as a whole and with each individual.

How you spend and invest your money, the career you choose, the car you drive, your participation or nonparticipation in our democracy, and countless other decisions all impact our planet and its people. Each of us needs to take responsibility for our part in the creation of our world's problems and in the creation of a better world. Now trying to take personal responsibility for all of the world's problems will quickly overwhelm you, so just take on the challenge of doing your part. This book offers many concrete suggestions on how you can take responsibility for your part by creating forward-looking solutions to today's problems.

TRAP #3: "One person can't make a difference"

Even if you are willing to take responsibility and do your part to make the world a better place, you may be thinking, "But I'm only one person on a planet of 6 billion people with so many problems. I can't possibly make a difference!" Problems like racism, hunger and inequality seem so big that it's easy to feel small and powerless. How much of a difference can you actually make anyway? In truth, you can make one person's difference--no more, no less. On a daily basis you not only have the power to perpetuate the world's problems, but you have the opportunity to stand up for the creation of a world based on your own deeply held values.

* Your money invested in the right bank could help create more wealth for poor communities.
* Your letter can be the one that changes the behavior of an entire corporation.
* Your vote can elect government officials that really make a difference.
* Your timely call to a friend can change their outlook for the day.
* Your donation can help a social change organization meet its lofty goals.
* Your purchase can allow a locally owned business to thrive in your community.
* Your participation can transform a small group of people into the beginnings of a social

Not only do each of your actions have a direct impact on the world but your every choice you make sends a message to those around you. Your choice to: use your bicycle instead of your car, set up recycling bins at work, or volunteer for an organization you care about, potentially inspires another person to do their part to create a better world. We then create momentum for each other and at the same time support each other to live in a manner that creates possibilities for a better future. The way you live your life is a constant message about who you are and what the world can be. Don't ever let anyone convince you that you have no power together we have the power to change the world.

Remember that all significant changes in the world start slowly, at a single time and place, with a single action. One man, one woman, one child stands up and commits to creating a better world. This courage inspires others who begin to stand up themselves. You can be that person.

Deciding you're ready to be part of the solution is an exciting and powerful feeling. Once you become aware of how your actions affect others and accept responsibility for your role in creating a better world, your values will come to the forefront of your life. In what ways do you want to change the world? What do you value most in life? What would the world be like if everyone was taking responsibility for how their life creates and shapes the world?

TRAP #4: "Building a better world seems totally overwhelming"

Wanting the world to be a better place is one thing, but being willing to personally take on bringing that world into being is another. In the process of more fully integrating your values about the world with your actions, you are bound to become frustrated. The first thing that you may notice is that we all live in contradiction with many of our values.

* You wish people were friendlier, but you realize that you are often too busy to smile and say hello to the cashier at the place where you go everyday for lunch.
* You detest the thought of children slaving away in a sweatshop, yet you find out that the new pair of shoes you just bought (at a bargain price) were made by workers paid only a fraction of their living expenses. Damn!

This realization may leave you feeling frustrated, guilty or even hypocritical. This kind of disturbing insight is inevitable for anyone committed to building a better world. It's important to remember that we don't have to be perfect people, have perfect knowledge, wait until the perfect time or know the perfect action to take before we begin making the world better. These are all just ways that we keep ourselves from making a difference. Once you start, you'll gain better knowledge, better timing, better actions and ultimately become a better person for it.

Keep in mind that the goal is a better world and not a perfect world. It is not an all or nothing commitment. That's why it's called The Better World Handbook not The Perfect World Handbook. You take those actions that are sustainable for your unique life. You are seeking to better the world and better yourself in the process. Learn to live with your imperfections, embrace them they are what make us human. And consider this. If you were somehow able to manage to be perfect, who would be able to live up to your standards? Who would want to join you in making a difference? Who be able to do what you do? No one.

The world is extremely complex and the impacts of our daily actions are truly global. We unknowingly contribute to the oppression of others and the degradation of the environment on a daily basis. But with each conscious choice you make to create a better world, you take responsibility for your existence. You increasingly become the director of your life as you more fully integrate your values with your actions. In essence, you are taking responsibility for the interdependent nature of life by realizing that every action you take shapes the world around you. You are choosing to live in a way that creates a stronger and healthier society and planet with your every action. Now is the time to commit to transforming your good intentions into action.

TRAP #5: "I don't have the time or the energy"

The last thing most of us want is to add even more responsibilities to our already busy schedules. Not only do we not have the physical energy for more activities, we don't have the psychic energy to worry about the world's problems.

We fill our daily schedules with bill paying, message returning, meal making, appointment keeping, note writing, house cleaning and appearance fixing. We surround ourselves with more and more technology to save us time and then often find ourselves at the mercy of it. In the end, it seems that we have even less time and more to get done. Unfortunately, this business distracts us from spending our time and energy on endeavors that truly nourish us. When you take the time to reschedule your life based on your most deeply-held values you will find all of the time necessary to live a fulfilling life that contributes to others. Upon examining your priorities you may discover that while you value spending time with your family you actually spend most of your free time watching TV. Why not shift your energies?

Many of the actions in this book take very little time to complete yet make a real contribution to the world. Some, like installing a low-flow showerhead or setting up an account at a socially responsible bank, you only have to do once. Other actions, like buying less stuff, will actually save you time that you would otherwise be spending in traffic, in lines, and working to pay for the stuff you bought. In fact we expect you to find that living out your values and engaging in meaningful daily action actually gives you energy there's no better feeling than the feeling that you're making a positive difference in the lives of others.

TRAP #6: "I'm not a saint"

Many people stereotype individuals committed to social change as people who have put aside families, convenience, and pleasure for a cause they deem to be of greater importance. They are so committed to their cause that everything else becomes secondary. Images of Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi come to mind. We see these individuals living in poverty, fasting, or protesting and we label them as self-proclaimed martyrs. We can't imagine doing the things they do, and we think, "I'm not someone who can change the world," "I don't want to sacrifice everything," or "I'm not that good'."

You don't have to be a saint to make a difference in the world. The point is to balance your personal needs, your family's needs, and your community's needs. The goal of this book is not to live the perfect life but to make improvements in your life so that your actions are increasingly in-line with your values. And be sure to forgive yourself when you don't live up to your own expectations. This book is not about giving up your whole life for a cause, nor is it about good deeds that you do twice a year when you finally get all of your chores done. It is about living a life full of passion and power--one that will enrich you and the world around you. Committing yourself to making a difference can be fulfilling, meaningful, and fun. Rather than being a sacrifice, working for a better world can help you create a deep happiness beyond your imagination.

Once you have a commitment to living out your values, the next step is to learn about and take the most practical, effective actions available to bring about the better world you envision. Without adequate information it's difficult to take effective actions and easy to take actions that unintentionally work against what you're trying to accomplish.

TRAP #7: "I don't know enough about the issues"

None of us wants to feel like we're leaping into action uninformed. Because the world's problems are so complex, it's easy to think we will never really know enough to act in ways that will really help solve these problems. Because of this complexity, it is important to make an effort to get quality information about the world so that your actions will actually be effective (see the MEDIA chapter for tips). And other times you just know in your heart which actions you should take.

In our ever-changing world there will always be more to know, but taking action can actually help inform you about the issues you care about. Becoming involved connects you with others who care about the same issues and creates numerous opportunities for learning. Don't worry, you don't have to start from scratch. This book provides you with plenty of information to get started and you can seek out further information as you get inspired.

TRAP #8: "I don't know where to begin"

In fact, you have already begun. On a daily basis, you already act in ways that take others' well being into account. Whether you lend your mower to a neighbor, jump start a co-workers car or let a car change lanes in front of you on the freeway. You have probably already taken some of the actions in the book. Go ahead and check them off.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the problems and possible solutions, so just start where you feel the most comfortable. Maybe pick an area in your life where you are already taking some actions. Then work up to actions that will be more challenging. Or start with the action that would be the most fun, the one you could do with a friend, or one that will give you the most fulfillment.

Throughout the book, we suggest choosing your battles. Identify actions that are important to you and realistic for you to take on at this point in your life. Be open to challenging yourself, but don't overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations. If making the world better isn't fulfilling for you, you won't keep it up very long.

TRAP #9: "I'm not an activist"

For many of us when we think of social change we imagine environmentalists in tie-dye shirts blocking logging trucks, bra-burning feminists screaming for change, or gas-masked rebels facing off with lines of riot gear clad police officers. Not wanting to get involved in such intense actions or be associated with what the media portrays as "irrational," "radical" protesters, we don't get involved. In reality, people of all professions, backgrounds, interests, and lifestyles are involved in social change. Lawyers, teachers, autoworkers, computer programmers, cashiers, and clerical workers are among the many people making a difference in the streets, in the office, in their communities and at home.

You can be yourself and fulfill your commitment to a better world. You don't have to follow some pre-designed path for making the world better. You don't have to change who you are to live out your values. In fact, with your values at the forefront of your life you're actually being more true' to yourself. This book provides you a range of actions so that you can carve out your own niche. Be creative, forge your own unique path, and translate commitment into action in your own way. The process of integrating your actions (your outer existence) with your values (your inner existence) is a lifelong endeavor. Becoming more conscious of the way you live and voluntarily choosing to live a life that balances your personal needs and the needs of others is a powerful way of living. It is this delicate balance itself which leads to fully experiencing life.

People all over the world are living out their vision for a better world. There is a global transformation occurring where average people are increasingly open to making profound changes in the ways they live. Many people are simplifying their lives, buying less stuff, working less, and giving back more to their community. Concern and knowledge about the environment has spread for the last 30 years while recycling has become a widespread habit. People are taking time to learn about other cultures and appreciate diversity. No matter where you turn you see individuals doing their part in making the world a better place.

You are not alone in building a better world.


Beware that when you start living your life more in-line with your values that some potential conflicts may arise. Your actions will sometimes threaten others who haven't put as much thought into how they want to live their lives. They may even try to stop you from making changes in your life because they do not want to examine their own existence in the world. Accept this, it comes with the territory. It is also common to take on a self-righteous attitude when you have strongly held values. This attitude is destructive to the goal of a better world. People do not want to be around someone who lives life to show others how wrong they are. If you have an understanding of the beauty and the complexity of life you will always attract people who are yearning for peace and fulfillment. Understand that you are no better than anyone else, you are just someone trying to live life the best way you know how.


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1947-2014 (Archived)
top 10 actions:

If you are excited about making the world a little better but don't know where to start...consider starting with our shortlist of what we consider the most powerful actions in our book. The actions come from our 13 action chapters in the book where they are discussed in detail:

#1: Buy A Low Emission, Fuel Efficient Car

#2: Limit Your Work Time

#3: Buy Less Stuff

#4: Buy Products From Socially Responsible Companies

#5: Make Time for Loved Ones

#6: Eat Less Meat

#7: Open An Account At A Socially Responsible Bank Or Credit Union

#8: Conserve Energy And Water

#9: Watch Less TV

#10: Join an Organization You Care About


1947-2014 (Archived)
7 Foundations

economic fairness

A world dedicated to economic fairness would strive to meet every person's basic needs so that no one would lack food, shelter, clothing or meaningful work. People's strength of character and passion should determine their opportunities rather than the economic circumstances they were born into. Everyone would benefit from economic prosperity.

comprehensive peace

A world committed to comprehensive peace would shift its creative energies towards cooperation rather than competition, resolving conflict rather than escalating it, seeking justice rather than enacting revenge, and creating peace rather than preparing for war.

ecological sustainability

A world committed to ecological sustainability would create a new vision of progress that recognizes that the future of humanity depends upon our ability to live in harmony and balance with our natural world. See the next article for the full chapter.

deep democracy

A world built on deep democracy would empower citizens to participate in shaping their futures everyday, not just on election day, provide broad access to quality information, and democratize our most powerful institutions.

social justice

A world dedicated to social justice is a place where everyone receives respect and equal access to jobs, education and health care, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, physical or mental abilities, economic background, or sexual orientation.

culture of simplicity

A culture of simplicity would encourage each person to find meaning and fulfillment by pursuing their true passions, fostering loving relationships, and living authentic, reflective lives rather than by seeking status and material possessions.

revitalized community

A revitalized community would create a healthy and loving environment for people to celebrate their many shared values while embracing individual differences, and provide support for each person's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
We begin each foundation by describing the challenges that face us at home and around the world. Following each set of challenges we launch into concrete goals, viable alternatives which can help us confront each challenge and construct each foundation. We also give inspiring examples of thousands of dedicated people around the world who are already making a positive difference. Finally, each foundation ends with some of the best, most accessible resources available for you to learn more about each issue.​


1947-2014 (Archived)
A world committed to ecological sustainability would create a new vision of progress that recognizes that the future of humanity depends upon our ability to live in harmony and balance with our natural world.
Overconsumption of Resources
Air Pollution & Climate Change
Ecosystem Destruction
Overconsumption of Resources

Our demand for bigger, better, more convenient goods has taken its toll on our planet. David Korten, a former Harvard business professor and current president of the People Centered Development Forum, likens unrestrained economic growth to a cancer spreading across the planet. Like a cancer cell, our current system of economic growth leads to growth in overall size while quality-of-life often declines; progress moves forward regardless of the impacts upon our families, cultures, communities, and eco-systems. The insatiable jaws of development, for example, swiftly gobble up what remains of our open space.

This growth ideology is penetrating into every corner of the globe. A 2000 report by the World Resources Institute found that increasing demands for natural resources are causing a rapid decline in many of the worldâs ecosystems. If this trend continues, they argue it will have severe implications for human development and the welfare of all species.

The vast majority of the demand for natural resources comes from the rich industrialized nations of the world÷especially the United States. This is no surprise since the U.S. uses 120 pounds of natural resources per person per day and the average American consumes as much energy as:

2 Germans
6 Mexicans
12 Chinese
29 Indians
117 Bangladeshi

Since 1940, Americans alone have used up as large a share of the earthâs mineral resources as all previous humans put together. In fact, it would require three additional Earths to support the human race if all people on the planet lived the extremely wasteful lifestyles of North Americans.

Air Pollution and Climate Change

Have you ever noticed a brown cloud hanging over big cities? Or inhaled the crisp, clean air when you camp in a remote wilderness area? Acid rain and air pollution, once problems only in Europe and parts of North America, are now becoming apparent in the Asia-Pacific region as well as parts of Latin America. Unfortunately, air pollution is more than just a smelly annoyance; it kills about 70,000 Americans each year (more people than die from breast and prostate cancers combined). And despite coordinated global action to try and limit air pollution, damage to the ozone layer continues faster than expected, with the next 10 years predicted to be the most vulnerable.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changeâs October 2000 report, human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases have substantially contributed to global warming. Again the U.S. is the biggest culprit÷emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide (the primary global warming gas) per capita as the average rich industrialized nation (UK, Japan, Germany). Contributing to the problem, U.S. automobile fuel efficiency standards have not changed in 14 years (while the light truck standard (including SUVs) has stagnated for 19 years). Even as the oil and automobile industries are admitting that "precautionary action" is warranted to halt global warming, disputes between the U.S. and the European Union over carbon dioxide emissions led to the failure of November 2000 negotiations to curb global warming.

Ecosystem Destruction

According to the World Resources Institute, we have cut or otherwise destroyed nearly 80% of the worldâs ancient forests. The result is increased global warming, species extinction, and loss of potential medicines. Although rainforests only cover about 2% of the earthâs surface, they contain approximately 50% of all life forms. Development drives an average of 137 species to extinction each day; thatâs 50,000 each year.

Pollution and overfishing threaten the health of our oceans and their myriad species of life. Despite numerous prohibitions on dumping toxic waste in the ocean, both the U.K. and France continue to unload reprocessed nuclear waste into the sea. The U.S. Justice Department also found a fleet wide conspiracy within Royal Caribbean cruise lines to save millions of dollars in disposal fees by covering up the dumping of oily waste into the ocean off of Puerto Rico. Overexploitation of marine fisheries and declining stocks of commercial fish species has created widespread alarm around the world. Globally, more than 60% of marine fisheries are over exploited. The quest for hefty profits rather than sustainable fishing has created a shortage that now threatens the entire industry and may lead to rampant species extinction.


In October of 1999, the world's population surpassed 6 billion people, doubling in size since 1960. In 2000, the human population grew by over 212,000 people per day. We might like to think that overpopulation is India and Africaâs problem, not ours, but when population strains lead to deforestation, global warming, war, malnutrition, starvation and epidemics the problem becomes a global one.

Overpopulation is a complex issue with a multitude of causes. The majority of women in the developing world want to control their fertility but currently donât have access to birth control options. Amazingly, in 1998, the U.S. Congress cancelled all funding to the United Nations Population Fund, the primary international family planning resource. Poverty, limited educational and occupational opportunities for women, and the lack of social safety nets further exacerbate this problem. As the developing world increasingly adopts a consumer lifestyle, the potential for ecological damage multiplies.


Cleaner Energy Sources

Minimal Waste
Sustainable Population Growth
Cleaner Energy Sources

One of the most important changes we as a society can make is shifting from fossil fuels to our most powerful and abundant natural resources: sun, wind, and hydrogen. We already have environmentally sound, energy-efficient technologies to harness these renewable energy sources ö we just need to use them. In 1997, the United Nations sponsored a global climate conference in Kyoto, Japan emphasizing the seriousness of global warming. The meetings produced a commitment from 159 countries to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions by 2012 (the US was not among them). As a consequence, the demand for non-polluting energy sources is increasing worldwide, and the costs of utilizing these technologies is steadily declining.

The results are that a number of countries are accepting the challenge of moving to a cleaner energy economy. Global production of wind energy doubled from 1995-1998 (led by Germany), and sales of photovoltaic solar cells grew an average of 16% per year from 1990-1998. Iceland has launched pioneering efforts to harness geothermal and hydropower to produce hydrogen for use in cars and boats. Here in the US, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) uses sales mandates to stimulate technological innovation in the automobile industry for cleaner vehicles. By 2003, 4% of car and truck sales by the big six automakers must emit zero pollutants, another 6% must have extremely low emissions (for example, hybrid electric cars). Other states have followed Californiaâs lead and now the CARB standards at least partly cover 30% of the U.S. market. Also to Californiaâs credit, in the Spring of 1999, Santa Monica, CA, became the first major city to meet its municipal energy needs entirely with green energy (geothermal).

Efficient Resource Use

If we are to live in balance with our surrounding environment we must learn from the principles of nature. The concept of "waste", for example, does not exist in the forest. A fallen tree becomes a home for animals and insects, and helps to fertilize the soil for surrounding plant life. We must also learn to "close the loop" and use resources wisely. In order to combat pollution, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, the U.K. and other countries are adopting Green taxes ö they lower income taxes and tax energy use, thereby encouraging energy efficiency and investments in wind and solar power. Many activists, consumers, and governments around the world are also holding industry to a higher standard of resource efficiency. In essence, they are holding the corporation responsible for the waste it creates before it gets to the consumer.

Encouraging examples of this kind of "reuse ethic" are happening all over the world. For instance the European Union has drafted legislation that states by the year 2005 European car producers must take back all cars they make free of charge by their producers, and must re-use or recycle 80% of the vehicle. Itâs also interesting to note that the worldâs largest producer of commercial floor coverings (Interface, Inc.) is on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable businesses. They have implemented the principle of producer responsibility by using fewer materials, creating 100% recyclable carpets, and implementing customer leases that make Interface responsible for reclaiming the floor covering.

Creating an economy where goods are produced, used, and remade into new products in the most environmentally responsible manner is a challenge that must involve all sectors of our society--businesses, all levels of government, and citizens from around the world. Making people pay for throwing away garbage would serve as an incentive to reuse and recycle. Governments must stop subsidizing environmentally destructive industries such as logging and oil with corporate tax breaks. Finally, switching from a pesticide and fertilizer based agricultural system to sustainable, organic farming will maintain soil integrity and preserve our health.

Fortunately, some people are already stepping up to the challenge. Twenty-six communities in New Zealand are pioneering a national Zero Waste pilot program to significantly reduce the amount of materials headed for the landfill. Canberra, Australia and Toronto have even aimed to eliminate waste completely by 2010. In 2000, Iceland PLC, a 760-store UK supermarket chain, announced they were moving their own-label frozen vegetables to 100% organic.

Sustainable Population Growth

The annual world population increase hit its peak in 1989 with 87 million people. Since then, many industrialized countries have stabilized their populations while developing countries still struggle with massive population growth. Wealthier nations must provide developing nations with the resources they need to curb their population explosion. These efforts need to be focused on improving the status of women, increasing access to family planning services and bringing economic opportunity to poverty stricken agricultural areas.

There have already been some amazing successes around the globe. Bangladesh, the most densely populated country in the world, has actually decreased its annual population growth from approximately 6.4 to 3.4 children per woman. The majority of this decline is attributed to the regular use of contraceptives by 45% of Bangladeshis in 1996, an increase from less than 8% in 1975.

Resources:State of the World 2001 by Lester Brown et al. W.W. Norton & Company. 2001.

This award-winning book provides in-depth but readable analysis of the greatest challenges rapid globalization brings to our world. Details global problems and presents potential solutions. Produced by the Worldwatch Institute.

Beyond Beef : The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture by Jeremy Rifkin. Plume. 1993.

Rifkin offers a comprehensive historical analysis of cattleâs role in our culture and the environmental impacts of a beef-based diet.

Natural Capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution. by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and R. Hunter Lovins. Back Bay Books, 2000.

Paul Hawken strikes an unusual middle ground between capitalism and environmentalism. He uses a number of modern day examples to illustrate what he sees as a trend towards more eco-friendly, better technologies coming in the near future along with more practical, sustainably run businesses.

Vital Signs 2000: The Environmental Trends That Are Shaping Our Future. by Lester Brown, Michael Renner, and Brian Halweil. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.

This yearly book from the World Watch Institute provides global statistics on a wide range of issue categories to keep you completely up-to-date on the state of the worldâs most pressing problems. It is considered one of the most well-respected and insightful publications of its kind.

Consumerâs Guide to Effective Environmental ChoicesI by Michael Brower & The Union of Concerned Scientists. Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Brower has produced one of the few books that separates the wheat of environmental actions from the chaff with well-researched evidence to back him up. He focuses the reader on a handful the most effective actions you can take to really make a difference for our global ecological crisis.


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