We all understand that everything we do has an impact. Anyone interested in sustainable development realises that the actions we make have numerous knock-on effects. The theory that has been created around sustainable development divides these effects into four basic categories, the environmental, social, political and economic.
Take a simple example: if the person next to me smokes a cigarette they choose to pollute their lungs; unfortunately, unless I choose to move, they will also pollute my lungs. Their action has an impact on themselves, on me, and on everything else that is in the environment at that time.
However, there are a host of other impacts that are implicit in smoking the cigarette: there is the economic effect on the shop where the cigarettes were bought and the factory where they were made. There is also the ecological impact where the tobacco is grown and its subsequent effect on the social and political lifestyle of the tobacco growers. We could also examine the demand smoking has on the chemical industry that makes the additives - and no doubt many other links could be made between the act of having a cigarette and its impact on the world.
In Scotland the law has been changed to minimise the effects of passive smoking. After years of deadly evidence accumulating a popular, legal drug has been banned from public places. Hopefully this law will have a positive impact on Scotland’s health, but we should also remember there will be other impacts on many levels, some positive, some potentially negative.
In this instance the political will has been mustered to change the law because the social and economic impacts of bad health have been judged to out-weigh the value of the cigarette industry, taxation and the freedom of individuals to pollute their local environment. But how has that choice been made? And why has it taken so long for something to actually change?
In Leo Hicks article, ‘Is organic worth it?’(http://www.guardian.co.uk/food/Story/0,,1743666,00.html) his conclusion suggests that it is not government legislation that comes first, but rather that legislation is a response to pressure from society. In the instance of organic food it’s certainly true the consumer is demanding more organic food. According to Leo Hick’s view this implies that a time will come when enough scientific evidence will stack up on the grounds of health, biodiversity and good farming practice to ensure that certain pesticides will be made illegal.
Perhaps this is the way things work. Take the government’s response to climate change. It does seem in this instance that government will only legislate as far as they feel the electorate will move with them. Even given the huge amount of scientific evidence government actions are slow to come. To reach the proposed UK cuts in CO2 levels the government are now happy to admit that it is up to us – the public – to actually make the savings.
And the question that comes to mind is would we want it any other way? If science led the field then science would make its decisions based on its best scientific knowledge at the time. Then more than likely, ten years later, they’d come up with an experiment to find out that it wasn’t perhaps as simple as they first thought. Science and technology may have made modern life possible, but it also invented CFC’s which nearly destroyed the ozone layer, and then, once banned, replaced them with HCFCs which are powerful greenhouse gases. Then of course if government made decisions that rattled the average Brit’s comfort zone we’d soon be calling it a dictatorship, even if they did try to convince us they were acting for the greater good.
So let’s just presume for a while that it is down to us to make the right decisions to create a sustainable healther world for future generations. How do we go about it?
Fortunately for us mere mortals recent research around good decision-making has proven that we might as well go with our gut instincts. Thinking analytically apparently doesn’t help as much as we would like to believe. This doesn’t mean we should drop the scientific method, rather that we also have to be intuitive about what makes good science, or, what in some instances we could call common sense.
But even to follow the intuitive, common sense route we have to be well-informed and keep asking the right questions of the right people. We also have to learn to discriminate, to understand other peoples’ points of view, their objectives and biases.
The vast majority of people if asked if they want to live in a healthy, happy, sustainable world will say yes, as common sense prevails, but when it comes to making choices about our everyday lives which actually create a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable world it becomes a lot harder.
But at least if we’re reading about it, or writing about it, we’re attempting to increase our awareness – and perhaps that’s what a forum like this can offer, an opportunity to share each others views, ideas and common sense attitudes.
About the author:Article written by Raichael Lock.
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