Sustainability issues are generally expressed in scientific and environmental terms, but implementing change is a social challenge that entails, among other things, international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. “The relationship between human rights and human development, corporate power and environmental justice, global poverty and citizen action, suggest that responsible global citizenship is an inescapable element of what may at first glance seem to be simply matters of personal consumer and moral choice.”
Peace, security, social justice
Social disruptions like war, crime and corruption divert resources from areas of greatest human need, damage the capacity of societies to plan for the future, and generally threaten human well-being and the environment. Broad-based strategies for more sustainable social systems include: improved education and the political empowerment of women, especially in developing countries; greater regard for social justice notably equity between rich and poor both within and between countries; and intergenerational equity. Depletion of natural resources including fresh water increases the likelihood of “resource wars.” This aspect of sustainability has been referred to as environmental security and creates a clear need for global environmental agreements to manage resources such as aquifers and rivers which span political boundaries, and to protect global systems including oceans and the atmosphere.
One approach to sustainable living, exemplified by small-scale urban transition towns and rural eco-villages, seeks to create self-reliant communities based on principles of simple living, which maximize self-sufficiency particularly in food production. These principles, on a broader scale, underpin the concept of a bioregional economy. Other approaches, loosely based around new urbanism, are successfully reducing environmental impacts by altering the built environment to create and preserve sustainable cities which support sustainable transport. Residents in compact urban neighborhoods drive fewer miles, and have significantly lower environmental impacts across a range of measures, compared with those living in sprawling suburbs.
Ultimately, the degree of human progress towards sustainability will depend on large scale social movements which influence both community choices and the built environment. Eco-municipalities may be one such movement. Eco-municipalities take a systems approach, based on sustainability principles. The eco-municipality movement is participatory, involving community members in a bottom-up approach. In Sweden, more than 70 cities and towns — 25 per cent of all municipalities in the country — have adopted a common set of “Sustainability Principles” and implemented these systematically throughout their municipal operations. There are now twelve eco-municipalities in the United States and the American Planning Association has adopted sustainability objectives based on the same principles.
Human relationship to nature
According to Murray Bookchin, the idea that humans must dominate nature is common in hierarchical societies. Bookchin contends thatcapitalism and market relationships, if unchecked, have the capacity to reduce the planet to a mere resource to be exploited. Nature is thus treated as a commodity: “The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital.” Still more basically, Bookchin argued that most of the activities that consume energy and destroy the environment are senseless because they contribute little to quality of life and well being. The function of work is to legitimse, even create, hierarchy. For this reason understanding the transformation of organic into hierarchical societies is crucial to finding a way forward.
Social ecology, founded by Bookchin, is based on the conviction that nearly all of humanity’s present ecological problems originate in, indeed are mere symptoms of, dysfunctional social arrangements. Whereas most authors proceed as if our ecological problems can be fixed by implementing recommendations which stem from physical, biological, economic etc studies, Bookchin’s claim is that these problems can only be resolved by understanding the underlying social processes and intervening in those processes by applying the concepts and methods of the social sciences.
Deep ecology establishes principles for the well-being of all life on Earth and the richness and diversity of life forms. This is only compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population and the end of human interference with the nonhuman world. To achieve this, deep ecologists advocate policies for basic economic, technological, and ideological structures that will improve the quality of life rather than the standard of living . Those who subscribe to these principles are obliged to make the necessary change happen.