Many times in history, humanity has done things that proved to be fundamentally wrong. Then these actions have been abolished and were finally accepted as wrong by everyone. We live in a time where such a change is crucial for the future of humanity.
Imagine an island with 1000 trees and 100 people living on it. Every year 100 trees grow back and each of the people cuts down one tree per year, which he uses for his purposes. The trees are the livelihood of the people on this island. This is sustainable living and it can work forever because the number of trees that are felled is in balance with the number of trees that grow back.
Let’s imagine that 10 of the 100 people cut down two trees every year because they want to build a larger house, a bigger carriage or because they are not careful enough with the material of one tree. Every year 110 trees are felled but only 100 grow back. The number of trees decreases by 10 every year. After one year there are 990, after two there are 980 and after 100 years there are no more trees at all.
At the beginning this may not be noticeable and the people who only cut down one tree per year say nothing about it. But with the time it becomes visible, because the forest becomes smaller. That’s not the only thing that happens. Let’s imagine, the number of people increases and more people come up with the idea to fell more than one tree to satisfy their needs. They say the others do it too, they justify felling additional trees with their personal freedom and they don’t stop.
Now we ask ourselves: What do the people who only cut down one tree think about the people who cut down more than one tree? What would the people do when it becomes clear that the forest on the island is disappearing? What would they do when they see, that some people are cutting down more trees than are growing back and that this will ultimately deprive everyone of their livelihood?
It is obvious, the islanders decide: The behaviour of people who cut down more than one tree is antisocial, selfish and makes the future of everybody impossible. The argument of personal freedom is unacceptable, because the behaviour ultimately harms all people and no one can live anymore. The human community would prohibit the felling of more than one tree and set clear quotas per person. This view would be rational and not political. Any political party would end up defending this paradigm, just as any political party today is against the slave trade and in favour of women’s suffrage.
The island is a symbol for the planet Earth, the trees are a symbol for all raw materials like clean water, clean soil, minerals, oil, clean air and so on. The people who cut down more than one tree are the people of the western world. Americans and Australians cut down about 5 trees and Europeans about 3, while Indians cut down only 0.7 and the world average fells about 1.6 trees.
Therefore, living sustainably is an obligation. Consuming only as many resources as are growing again, recycling raw materials, not wasting resources and producing only as many pollutants as the earth can process is not an option. It is not an ideology or political attitude, it is the only long-term logically correct and socially acceptable behaviour.
Humanity can no longer engage in discussions about for and against sustainable behaviour. If someone who earns his money by cutting down more than one tree for others loses his source of money, then this has to be accepted. It was also accepted that the seller of shackles for slaves lost his source of money when slavery was banned. This is a big challenge and it leads to short-term problems for which social solutions have to be found. But in the long run it is the lesser evil.
Sustainable living is not a luxury that few can afford, but the renunciation of luxury that we all afford. To renounce luxury in favour of the big whole must no longer be the exotic act of a few outsiders, but must become the new norm. Today’s norm must no longer be socially acceptable, the maintenance of today’s luxury must no longer be a yardstick. For today’s Western norm is a misguided state from which we must separate ourselves, even if we can hardly believe it.
We humans must be the first species to regulate itself, if we do not want to be regulated by nature. Because sooner or later there will be no trees left on the island.