Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#730 - A Vision Statement -- Part 4, 01-Aug-2001

Here is part 4 of a draft vision statement issued by a group that
has tentatively named itself ESDA -- Envisioning a Sustainable
and Desirable America. (See REHN #727, #728, #729,
http://iee.umces.edu/ESDA/, and www.futuresearch.net.) Having a
shared vision of the future -- a goal -- is essential. If we
don't know where we are trying to go, how can we tell whether we
are getting there or not?

The ESDA group says, "We hope you can take the time to read our
vision, and offer us your comments. Would you like to live in
this world? Are there elements of our vision with which you
disagree? Are important pieces missing? Please send your feedback
to farley@cbl.umces.edu," the E-mail address of Josh Farley at
University of Maryland.

The draft vision statement is organized into five parts:
Worldviews, Built Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and
Social Capital. In this installment, we begin publishing the
"Human Capital" section:

IV. Human Capital

Human capital has been defined as the practical knowledge,
acquired skills and learned abilities of an individual that make
him or her potentially productive and thus equip him or her to
earn income in exchange for labor. In America in the year 2100,
the definition of human capital itself will change -- no longer
will there be an emphasis solely on productivity in terms of
income exchanged for labor. The primary emphasis instead will be
on knowledge, skills and abilities that make people productive
members of society, that is, that help people contribute to the
goals of society. The goals of America in 2100 will be far more
than simply earning income.

Education will be integrated into everyday life, not simply
something we do for a few hours a day before we grow up. And it
will not be always confined to classrooms -- schools will be an
institution, not a physical place. Nature offers us an amazing
laboratory every time we step outside, and every bit as much in
urban settings as in rural. This will be even more true in 2100,
when our communities are designed to maximize exposure to healthy
ecosystems. Education about civic responsibilities and roles will
be heavily stressed, and will be taught by direct exposure to the
decision making process or hands-on participation in activities
that benefit the community. Youth will be schooled in civic
responsibility by actively participating in the community. And
what better place to learn skills required for economic
production than at the workplace? Apprenticeships will be an
integral part of the learning process. Technology will also play
an important role in education. Virtual learning environments
will be used where appropriate, but will by no means replace
direct interaction.

Education and science will no longer focus solely on the
reductionist approach, in which students are only taught to
analyze problems by breaking them down into their component
parts. While the reductionist approach and analysis will still
play an important role in education, the real emphasis will be on
synthesis, how to rebuild the analyzed components of a problem
into a holistic picture again. Synthesis is critical for
understanding system processes, and system processes dominate our
lives. In natural systems individual trees create a forest and
all the services that forest provides. In economic systems
production is not simply the transformation of raw materials into
products: production exhausts resources, creates pollution, and
alternative production processes can make working life pure
drudgery, or a chance to participate with others to meet
society's needs and to express our own creativity. And social
systems are certainly far more than an aggregation of autonomous
individuals.

Beyond analysis and synthesis, learning will also emphasize
communication. Researchers skilled at communication will be able
to more readily share ideas, and ideas grow through sharing.
Workers skilled at communication will be able to work together to
solve production problems. Citizens skilled at communication will
be able to contribute to the ever-evolving vision of a
sustainable and desirable future that will be the motivating
force behind policy and governance. Citizens will also be able to
communicate their knowledge with each other, so that education,
livelihood, family and community become a seamless whole of
lifelong learning and teaching, everyone simultaneously a student
and teacher.

Education will also emphasize much more than just pure scientific
understanding of the material world. Critical thinking and
research will be important, but so will creative expression and
curiosity. Knowledge and science will not be portrayed as value
neutral endeavors -- students will learn that the very decision
of what to study is a moral choice with broad implications for
society. The goal of education will be to cultivate wisdom and
discernment, to cultivate the emotional maturity to allow
responsible decision making in every type of human endeavor.

The whole notion of work will also change, and the word itself
will lose the connotation of an unpleasant chore. People will
recognize the absurdity of applying technology to the problem of
producing more goods to be consumed during leisure time
regardless of the drudgery involved in production itself.
Instead, to recruit desired workers, industry will be forced to
redirect some of its technological prowess towards making work
itself a pleasurable part of our days that engages both mental
and physical skills. A typical job will involve far more variety
than one of today, not only to make work more exciting and
interesting, but also to take advantage of the full range of a
person's skills. There will also be less distinction between what
today would be considered gainful employment and volunteer work.
Everyone will participate in civil society, both in decision
making and in maintaining the public space. This will not be an
onerous chore, but a pleasurable time for socializing with
neighbors and community. Nor will it take time away from our
private lives, since the typical work week in traditional 'jobs'
will average only fifteen hours.

Education will de-emphasize the existing 'more is better'
mindset, and a greater understanding of the linkages between
economic production, nature, human development and society will
make people more aware of the true costs of excessive
consumption. With 100 additional years of technological advance
and diminished 'needs,' society will be able to provide a
satisfactory living wage to all who work, and meet the basic
needs of those who do not. Participation in the various types of
work will be expected and supported, but not forced. As work will
be more of a fulfilling experience than an onerous necessity,
there will be little resentment of those who do not work, but
rather a feeling of concern that these people are not developing
their potential as humans. Living in more tightly knit
communities where social goals are actively discussed, people
will understand better the importance of their work, and feel
greater obligation to contribute to the common good. Remuneration
for work will be restructured to provide the greatest awards to
those who provide the greatest amount of service to the
community, such as teachers, child care providers, etc.

Human capital is also directly related to human populations. The
population in America in 2100 will have stabilized at a level
compatible with the carrying capacity of our resources and
ecosystems.

V. SOCIAL CAPITAL

Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and
norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social
interactions. Social capital is not just the sum of the
institutions which underpin a society; it is the glue that holds
them together.

Strong social capital plays a critical role in our vision of a
Sustainable and Desirable America in 2100, as has been hinted at
in the previous discussions of capital. In America in 2001, the
dominant form of social capital in the employment and economic
sphere is simply the market. The interaction between employer and
employee is that of buying and selling labor. For the most part,
employer 'loyalty' exists only as long as the continued
employment of the employee increases profits. Employee 'loyalty'
exists only as long as no other job offers a greater salary or
fringe benefits (which may include location, working conditions,
etc.).

The interaction between producer and consumer is even more market
based. People buy a product only as long as it is perceived to
provide the greatest value in monetary terms, though admittedly
advertising may play virtually as large a role in shaping
perceptions as the actual price and quality of the product. In
America in 2100, worker ownership of many industries and local
production for local markets will change much of this. Worker
owned enterprises will logically pay more attention to worker
well-being than enterprises driven by the need to generate
shareholder profit. Well-being will of course include
profit-shares, but will be increased by working conditions that
are healthy, stimulate creativity, and create feelings of
participation and identity.

While not all enterprises will be worker owned, when a
significant percentage of enterprises offer these conditions, it
will put pressure on the others to do so as well. In the absence
of strong social capital, local production for local markets
could be a disaster.

In many cases, it might be inefficient to
have a number of firms providing similar products for a small
community. This could lead to monopoly provision of certain
goods. If the market remained the dominant form of social capital
driving interactions between producers and consumers, high
profits and poor quality would result. However, if worker/owners
also live in the local community, they will have to answer to
their neighbors for both price and quality of what they produce.
High quality production will be a source of pride, while low
quality and high prices will be perceived as incompetence and
laziness, decreasing the individual's social standing in the
community, and reducing their social capital.

Local currencies will also contribute to locally based production
and consumption. Such systems already exist in many communities,
such as Ithaca, New York [see
http://lightlink.com/hours/ithacahours/] . These currencies are backed
only by trust
that other members of the community will accept them in exchange
for goods and services, and therefore require strong social
capital to function. They also build social capital every time a
community member accepts the currency. They are virtually immune
to national and global economic instability, and provide
communities with greater autonomy. [To be continued.]