Tuesday, October 16, 2007

To the Leaders of the World

This letter is written by a father on behalf of his daughter and all the children of the world.

Dear Leaders of the World,

I am a third grade student in elementary school. Thanks to your leadership, I am living in an era of relative peace and prosperity. Like most children in your country, I am able to eat well, dress warmly and receive a good education. I know that it is not an easy task to satisfy the needs of so many people. The burden on your shoulders must be enormous. On behalf of all the children of the world, I thank you for what you have done. Without the hard working adults of this world, we would not have nearly the quality of life that we are enjoying today.

Time goes by quickly. In ten years, I will say goodbye to my youth and became an adult. By then, the young adults of my generation will start to take over some of the burdens from your shoulders. Gradually, we will be responsible for taking care of our parents and our children, just as you are doing right now. With the good education you have made available to us, I am confident that we will be able to handle this duty well; however we will face one tremendous obstacle.

To support the needs of a huge population, people need tremendous amounts of natural resources such as clean air, clean water, arable land, energy, minerals, and most importantly, a favorable climate. However, according to what I have seen and learned, all of those precious natural resources are diminishing fast. I see the smog in the air. I see the trees that are being cut down so that buildings can be built. I also have learned that the energy reserves and minerals underground are running low quickly. Recently, the scientific community has predicted that, due to human activities, a substantial climate change is very likely to happen in our life time. All of these issues worry me. How can we support a growing population with diminished natural resources in a much more hostile environment?

I understand that we will be left with a lot of buildings, roads, cars, and belongings. However, most of those man made objects are not able to produce the vital resources we need to feed people. What we need are what our great-grandparents had when they inherited the world, birds flying in the crystal clean sky, fish swimming in blue ocean and clear lakes, deer running in the woods, rabbits hopping in the meadow, and abundant energy resources hidden underneath the ground for emergency use. I am not sure if that is what we are going to inherit when we grow up. Certainly, I hope we can give these things to our children, grandchildren, and their progeny. After all, only those natural resources really matter to them.

The world is very complicated. You have a lot of things to consider when you formulate policy. However, I do hope that you keep our future needs in mind when you make your difficult decisions. In the end, our ability to take care of our parents and our children is largely in your hands.

Thank you.


Daisy Chen


What is a Sustainable Society?

People have been busy trying to build a perfect society where they can live and enjoy. Only until recently, many of them started to wonder whether our society could last long enough to see its perfection. With this in mind, they began to ask; “What is a sustainable society?” Based on experience, knowledge, and vision of the world, different people have offered different answers to this question. Our answer to this question is the following:

A sustainable society is one that can progress without catastrophic setbacks in the foreseeable future.

This answer recognizes the fact that human beings will not be able to build a perfect society or even to agree upon what is a perfect society for very many generations to come. A sustainable society is simply one that can avoid a devastating blow so that human society can continue its long journey to perfection.

In the past, by design or by accident, the planet Earth was a sustainable system in a grand view. First, the planet and its energy source, the Sun, were stable. Second, the law of nature had successfully ruled every living thing on Earth. Individual species which threatened the integrity of an ecosystem because of overpopulation or having destructive living habits were quickly suppressed by means of resource starvation. As a result, a colorful and vibrant world existed before human beings started to dominate the world. Nature was not perfect, but it was sustainable.

Armed with the capability to think, human beings discovered ways to utilize the resources the Earth had accumulated in the past. For example, a forest may have taken several hundred years or more to establish. Every year, it produced a certain amount of resources, such as fruits, lumber, etc. If our yearly consumptions were limited to the amount the forest produced each year, we would be on sustainable footing. However, we wanted more, much more. To support our ever increasing demands, we cut down the entire forest. Even that was not enough; we dug underneath for the resources that nature had built for millions of years. Through time, we have built a society which requires far more resources than nature can offer on a continuous basis. This is not sustainable.

For millions of years, nature had built a vast reserve of resources. Now, our society is largely relying on this reserve to operate. However, this reserve is finite. In just a few generations, we have almost used up all of those reserves. To make things worse, we are not only gobbling up the stored resources, but also destroying the planet's capability to generate new resources by polluting the air, water, soil and by altering climate. If we keep on the current track, we will run out of resources at a point in time not far from today. By then, catastrophic setbacks to human society have to happen in order to adapt quickly to the diminished resource supply.

A society running on a huge resource deficit is not sustainable. If it is allowed to continue, future generations have to pay a grave price. To build a sustainable society, a delicate balance between current needs and future needs has to be reached. In the past, the law of nature ensured this balance. Today, the law of nature still applies. However, with our capability to utilize the reserved resources, human beings have a choice to make. We could continue to use up all the reserved resources and let our children suffer the consequence of resource starvation. Or, we could aggressively move away from non-renewable resources and put ourselves on a sustainable footing once and for all.

Mahatma Gandhi has said, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed." The Earth had vast resources to satisfy our needs. The only reason we are running on a resource deficit is that we did not keep our greed in check. We have allowed our population to grow at a rate which Mother Nature could not support. At the same time, we have allowed our resource consumption per capita to rise rapidly. To make things even worse, we treat natural resources as a free giveaway. Our efforts have been focusing only on how to retrieve it fast and with minimum cost to us, regardless of what impact it could have to others or future generations.

Our ability to think coupled with our greed has led us on a collision course with Mother Nature. If we continue on this path, a final showdown with Mother Nature is imminent. However, this is not necessarily the only course for human beings. If our ability to think is coupled with our care for future generations, we will be able to strike a balance between current needs and future needs. That way, we will make peace with Mother Nature. This is the only way to build a sustainable society.