Urban humans and cool green living

Only a hundred years ago, most humans lived in rural areas, but according to the EarthWatch Institute; sometime in the next 18 months the balance will tip and humanity will now be primarily an urban species – with over half the global population living in cities; and many of those living in abject poverty.

Given that cities only occupy less than half percent of the Earth’s land surface area, that’s a whole lot of cramming going on.

Half a percent mightn’t sound like much, but when you think in global terms, that’s a rather huge chunk of the environment. I hate to think how much of that half percent is just roads.

Also, how much does the percentage increase by when you consider habitable land surface area; space that isn’t empty desert or covered by ice. The figure would certainly start creeping up.

I have mixed emotions about cities; primarily that I abhor them, but also I feel:

a) It’s actually a good idea to pack as many people (especially those who don’t really care about the planet) into as small an area as possible to minimize harm on the rest of the environment. That’s fatally flawed logic though as global warming and other issues have proven what happens in a relatively small area has consequences across the planet.

b) Greening a city is like  pumping gas into a car you’ve already wrecked as the focus of a city is consumption and destruction – but we must make cities more environmentally friendly for the same reasons as above.

c) That many humans living that close to one another can never be a good thing; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

In my ideal world, human habitation would be based on a village model with vast tracts of nature in between; natural corridors where animals could conceivably move from one end of a continent to another and easily avoid humans – and humans could avoid each other if they wished. Food would be grown by the local village for the local village, with surplus going to villages in trouble.

It’s a pipe dream, I know. It’s flawed because human greed and laziness will cause too much imbalance – and let’s face it, many people actually like living in cities.. brrrrr.

So we’re stuck with cities.

I really feel that cities make people lose touch with nature; the very reason we need to go “green”. Marketing green living to urbanites is increasingly being done through playing on the “cool”, trendy angle. While that’s fine to a degree, it’s a prostitution of the fundamental reason we need to become more eco-savvy. It also doesn’t instil the awe and deep respect of nature in people that it needs to.  Saving the planet from disaster is in danger of becoming the secondary message.

What’s “cool” today becomes uncool tomorrow. What if “cool” is no longer bringing the financial returns to shareholders after the green buzz has died down. What happens then?

I’ll give you a recent example. Oil skyrocketed recently and people stopped buying SUV’s, it briefly became “uncool”. That’s a good thing. Once oil dropped in price, sales went up again. So, will a bit of good news on the environmental front such as carbon dioxide levels slightly decreasing in the atmosphere send people back to environmentally unfriendly practices again?

Even during this initial green revolution we’re seeing, there are many dangers.

Given my involvement with marketing and knowledge of the shonky tricks that go on behind the scenes in promoting goods and services, I fear that consumers will be tricked by many companies as to their “greenness” – it’s happening already. Consumers will be oblivious to the fact that the products they are buying actually have a huge negative environmental impact. We will be blinded by clever advertising, not knowing the true cost of our purchase decisions.

Bear in mind also that marketing focuses not just on selling a product, but has a tendency to push to sell people more than what they need. No matter how “green” any product is, it will inevitably have the same sorts of effects on the environment as goods that aren’t; if consumed excessively. It’s an aspect of human nature, save on this to spend on that – net result is the same. The excesses of cities then spill into rural areas where more land needed to produce whatever product is demanded. The cycle continues.

When competition among “green” manufacturers really starts hotting up, watch corners being cut and all sorts of nasty mainstream practices these progressive companies currently denounce come into play.

How will we learn the *real* lessons about our co-existence with nature we so desperately need to if environmentally friendly living is just a trend controlled by big business, clever marketers and the “cool” factor?

Perhaps popular green living isn’t something we should all be aiming for, more so minimalist living. Living a green lifefstyle isn’t just about choices, but levels of consumption; and that’s a lesson I’m certainly still learning.

I realize this post is certainly somewhat  half-baked and if you’re scratching your head right now; I apologize :). I’m just tussling with a few things that are really bothering me at the moment about the future of our planet and my own lifestyle which could certainly do with some tuning. Sometimes putting it “out there” and then coming back to it at a later date can help bring some clarity :)