Sustainable Humans

Let’s talk about sustainability. It’s not just about minimizing the impact on the environment so that there is still a livable planet for generations to come. No, the concept has a much bigger sense of longevity and of perpetuating the well being of all. It means humans have to be sustained, too. Take, for example, this article about how fast food employees are being under-engaged yet forced to hang onto their jobs. They want to move ahead but there are no jobs to move into, and so they would rather stay in a dead-end job than have no job at all. How about the Occupy movement that’s sweeping the nation? I would argue that this is an issue of sustainability. The recession forced companies to downsize and cut costs. They eventually learned how to function with less people. More sales and less labor costs is a CEO’s wet dream; it means he or she is maximizing productivity and profit, and getting more done with less people. These are the same people who want job advancement but are trapped in the dead-in jobs. Furthermore, the few who are employed are doing the work of many. They are working longer shifts, juggling more responsibilities and still earning the same amount of money. They would complain or change jobs if they could, but high unemployment rates have stifled any aspirations for job transitions. The sentiment is I would rather get a paycheck and resent my work life, than be broke and have no work life at all.

Many argue that this overburdening of the working class is squeezing the middle class. You are either on the side of those who benefit from the hard work of others (the 1%), or you are on the other side of frozen salaries and dismal job prospects (the 99%). And what happens when the 99% no longer has disposable income to afford goods and services? Well, one scenario is that the 1% will see their profits diminish because no one is buying their products and services anymore. You need the cushy middle-class with a little extra cash to make the world go around. If it’s a world of have’s and have not’s, then there is no free money to grease the wheels of capitalism. How long can this go on? How sustainable is this imbalance of wealth? Are we on the verge of class warfare and social revolution? America is more reactive than proactive. Things have to get pretty bad before we start addressing big problems. If protests escalated to what we have witnessed in the Middle East this year, we would get somebody’s attention, right?  The question is how would the 1% respond – by trying to reach a resolution or by suppressing the civil unrest?

I don’t want see an escalation of riots and violence. That’s not sustainable either, as it tends to lead to destruction and to shortsighted, irrational actions. Indeed, sustainability can actually pave the way to peace. If resources are treated fairly and smartly in an attempt to maintain their well being, then there should never have to be scarcity. There should never be the conflict that builds between the have’s and the have-not’s. Sustainability, at its best, means that positive and long lasting results are achieved for everyone.

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