A student recently asked:
- How do we promote sustainable practices amongst people who don’t care about sustainability? Is it within our rights to force sustainable practices/actions on people who don’t care? Why do people who don’t care not care? Can they be changed? Should they be changed? (or is that infringe on their freedoms? Should we have that freedom?)
My response was that if we think of sustainability in terms of requiring democratic participation, forcing people to comply would run counter to this goal and be, therefore, unsustainable. However, has it ever been the case that 100% of the American population has gotten behind any initiative? The modern American democratic process regularly makes decisions that are supported by slim majorities of voters, and just five out of nine Supreme Court Justices can decide a case that will have repercussions for decades to come. Both of these outcomes take place within the American democratic process, but such majority decisions often results in a situation where quite a large number of people are put in a position of forced compliance with a policy or decision that they may not agree with. How does our working definition of sustainability account for this conundrum? Is it sufficient to our working definition to ensure that a process is in place that facilitates democratic participation, even if the outcome results in the dissatisfaction of a large minority of citizens (a minority that could potentially represent 49.9% of the population)?
Complexities abound as we probe these questions more deeply. If we attempt to specify these questions within a particular place, time, and situation, perhaps we might be able to discern some patterns about what causes people not to care about an issue someone else considers essential for sustainability. For example, do those who claim not to care have insufficient information about the topic? Are they being kept in the dark or being actively lied to? Do they have some kind of investment in or commitment to the status quo that they don’t want disturbed? Do they have an alternate definition of “sustainability” that isn’t being considered to their satisfaction?