Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.
A few months ago, I discovered a YouTube video uploaded by one of my favorite channels, Kurzgesagt. In the video, the YouTuber mentions Fermi’s Paradox as well as the idea of the Great Filter. To put it simply, Fermi’s Paradox brings to light the illogicality of the lack of evidence of life, but the high probability of it existing. Just in the Milky Way Galaxy alone there are around twenty billion “sun-like” stars and estimates say that one-fifth of these stars have an earth-size planet in its goldilocks zone. Kurzgesagt further relays to his viewers that if only 0.1% of those planets harbored life, there would be one million planets with life just in our home galaxy. So why do we see none?
This is where the latter half of Kurzgesagt’s video dealing with the idea of the Great Filter comes into play. This concept is also quite simple: the creation and evolution of life is extremely difficult. A few examples of these “filters” we have already successfully gone through includes the right star system and location, creation of life, sexual reproduction, creation of complex life, tool-using animals, industrialization, and so far evading nuclear proliferation. However, we humans should not be quick to pat ourselves on the back because we are forever in an endless war with the Great Filter and the current battle is climate change. We must therefore take a step back and ask ourselves if we actually are the only planet teeming with life or has there genuinely been many other planets that once had life, but due to resource exhaustion, overconsumption, and unsustainable growth did the Great Filter finally win the war?
The most recent barrier, I would argue, that we have highly advertised would be nuclear proliferation. Notwithstanding North Korea, the many nations of the world have come to an agreement through diplomacy that using nuclear weapons against one another is unsustainable for human civilization and our world. In fact, at one time in recent history the few nations that possessed nuclear weapons had the capabilities to destroy the planet numerous times over. Eventually, with international cooperation the nuclear arsenal in the few states (the Soviet Union now Russia and the United States) possessing that technology downgraded the amount of arms to a lesser number. Even though there are still enough active nuclear weapons to drastically change the world we live on for the worse, steps are being taken quite intensely to monitor and control it.
The same cannot be said for exponential economic growth, something that is proving to be just as detrimental to our climate as firing thousands of nuclear missiles albeit just a slower pace. It is therefore paramount for us to once again cooperate internationally in order to put a cap on unsustainable economic growth.
And why wouldn’t we? We truly have not been as happy as we once were. In fact, since the 1970s, we have continuously been less happy year after year. Conversely, our national GDP has more than tripled. Anyone, thus, can see that GDP and happiness cannot share a positively significant relationship.
The World Happiness Report of 2017 lists the four happiest countries in descending order to be Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. It also assigns their GDPs in USD: Norway (370.6 billion), Denmark (306.1 billion), Iceland (20.05 billion), and Switzerland (659.8 billion). The United States on the other hand has a GDP of 18.57 trillion USD, but is ranked as the nineteenth happiest country in the world. In order to stop unsustainable economic growth, it is up to America, the nation that dominates any other in GDP, to change its priorities. We need to start measuring a nation’s capabilities in another way that is not GDP. This measurement only emphasizes consumerism. Americans, as well as other industrialized nations, must understand that it is themselves that are causing drastic, uncontrollable economic growth. Consumerism has mutated, not evolved. We have become addicted to buying to such a degree that we do not even care if we are replacing a perfectly decent product with a shinier version. We are morphing into a world focused on cheaply made products that become unusable too quickly. To control unsustainable economic growth it is a priority to understand how we buy.
We do not buy in a sustainable way at all. The social stigma we are sold by the marketing agencies has proved detrimental. We are always trying to outdo our peers and neighbors. How many car commercials consist of the protagonist walking out to his seemingly outdated car to see his neighbor across the yard step into his brand new, sparkling car? Is it a coincidence that consumerism and cheaply made products skyrocketed during the same time as marketing did in the past mid-century?
We individually need to make a rational consumer decision before we can collectively make a difference. When we see through the consumerist marketing and cultural ploys and instead center our priorities on long-lasting, high-quality products, consumers can truly have a say in what they buy. We can tighten the reins of our economic growth. We can slow down the rate of resources we take from the earth as well as slow down the rate we put waste into the earth.
They do not make products like they used to, it is true. We were not as happy as we once were either. Unsustainable economic growth is proving to waste away our planet at a faster rate than it has ever experienced and what we ever thought could be possible. We have found ourselves in another battle with the Great Filter and instead of confronting this battle, like we must, we are consuming. We are lying on our backs, bellies in the air waiting to be sniffled out by climate change. At least the cheap products in our hands entertain us along the way to our demise.
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2017). World Happiness Report 2017, New York:
Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. “The Fermi Paradox – Where Are All The Aliens? (1/2)”
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. YouTube. 6 May, 2015.