Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution.” While I think most people could give a reasonable definition of the word “revolution,” there are a host of varied definitions suited to varied contexts. The Merriam-Webster definition most applicable to my area of interest defines revolution as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something; a change of paradigm.” If following this definition, it is reasonable for every generation to have more than one “new revolution,” and I believe our generation does. As an example, some might say our generation is leading a variety of political and social revolutions in regards to gender and racial equality.
But, I often wonder at the probability of an environmental revolution in the United States – assuming we are not in one already – and, most especially, I wonder at the social and economic feasibility of such a revolution. Though it was generally overshadowed in the media by the first United States Presidential Debate last week, Switzerland held its September referendum just a week and a half ago. On the docket: green economy, launched by the Green Party of Switzerland. For the first time in history, a country considered—and ultimately rejected at a 36.4 percent favorable vote—a green economy. Despite the loss, it appears Switzerland is paving the way toward a greener, yet economically prosperous, future.
The green economy up for consideration would have enacted a 33-year project to transition Switzerland’s economy from an industrial to a natural capitalistic system. The Green Party touted the idea of a one-Earth economy, because currently, if everyone in the world behaves as the Swiss do, 2.8 Earths worth of resources would be necessary to sustain us each year. This may sound like a great deal, and it is, but remember: if everyone in the world lived as the average American does, an estimated five Earths worth of resources would be needed each year. Switzerland’s goal is to gradually bring this resource consumption down to the point where humanity lives within the Earth’s means. The approval of the green economy would have been a catalyst — or perhaps a challenge — to other countries to follow Switzerland’s lead in resource conservation.
According to Paul Hawken, author of “Natural Capitalism,” in order for the United States to follow Switzerland’s lead, the horrific, the unthinkable would have to happen: we would have to revise the lax taxing and subsidies system. Currently, oil and other nonrenewable resources are subsidized by the government, allowing items that degrade the environment such as cars, corporations and “technological boondoggles” to thrive. Despite efforts to curb fossil fuel dependence, subsidizing the very things that may destroy the environment, and further, humankind, is perhaps not the most strategic way of weaning the United States’ addiction to fossil fuels.
Regardless, the United States will eventually have to pay the toll for lax environmental regulations. Though this may not seem fair to many, especially when one considers that they may be paying for other generations’ past environmental degradation, the well-being of future generations ought to be taken into account. What sort of environment do we want to leave for the future generation? Someday – hopefully, someday soon – this question will be more poignant than how the country could best lower taxes.
There are certainly tumultuous issues in the United States right now, such as a universally dreaded election looming, and racial, gender and other social conflicts. Nevertheless, the United States ought to place environmental issues higher on its list of priorities. Environmental conservation cannot be treated like a term paper a student procrastinated and wrote last minute, because the environmental, economic and social consequences will be severe. A green economy following the principles of natural capitalism may be, by requirement, an additional “revolution” our generation has to add to its list.
Sarah Liebig is a senior studying English Writing and Global Studies: Worlds in Dialogue. Liebig’s principal interests lie in social justice and environmental concerns. Upon graduation, she intends to study law. Liebig is originally from Lincoln, NE and is the only child of two soil scientists. She shares permanent residence with two cats, Oscar and Ophelia.