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In this module, you will learn about the complex connections that tie our modern lifestyles and the consumption of goods to human and environmental impacts across the world.

Learning objectives

After reading this module, students should be able to

  • understand the complex connections that tie our modern lifestyles and the consumption of goods to human and environmental impacts across the world
  • relate our habits of consumption to the long history of human social development on evolutionary time scales
  • apply the working distinction between “society” and “culture” outlined in this section to explain the different and often conflictual attitudes toward the environment that exist today


The consensus view among scientists and professional elites in the early twenty-first century, as it has been among environmental activists for a much longer time, is that our globalized industrial world system is on an unsustainable path. Inherent in this view is a stern judgment of the recent past: we have not adapted well, as a species, to the fruits of our own brilliant technological accomplishments, in particular, to the harnessing of fossil fuels to power transport and industry.

Taking the long view of human evolution, it is not surprising to find that we are imperfectly adapted to our modern industrialized world of cars, computers, and teeming cities, or that human societies organized for so many millennia around the problem of scarcity should treat a sudden abundance of resources with the glee of a kid in a candy store. In evolutionary terms, we have simply not had sufficient time to adapt to the windfall of change. Though rapid advances in the biophysical sciences in recent decades mean that we mostly understand our maladaptation to industrialization and the great dangers it poses, our political decision-making and consumption patterns have barely changed on the basis of this understanding. This sobering fact tells us that, at this moment in human history, social behavior and political decision-making are not being driven by knowledge, but rather by entrenched attitudes that perpetuate an unsustainable drawdown of earth’s resources. In short, human decision making and consumption of material goods in our fossil-fuel age continues to largely take place outside of an awareness of the strained and finite nature of our planet’s ecosystem services.

It is the character of modern consumer society to promote the idea that nothing is connected, that the jeans we wear, or the food we eat, are matters of personal choice without any greater context beyond a concern for immediate pleasure and peer approval. Sustainability, by contrast, teaches that everything is connected. That favorite pair of jeans, for instance, is dependent on cheap labor in developing countries, on heavily fertilized cotton plantations, and enormous volumes of water expended throughout the jeans’ lifecycle, from the irrigation to grow the cotton to the washing machine that cleans them. Or let’s take that “cheap” fast food lunch from yesterday: it most likely contained processed soybeans from a recently cleared stretch of the Amazon rainforest, and artificial sweeteners made from corn whose enormous production quotas are subsidized by government tax revenues. The corn-based sweetener, in turn, turns out to be a principal cause of the national obesity epidemic, a key contributor to spiraling health care costs. Thus the “value meal” turns out not to be so economical after all, once the systems-wide effects are factored in.

Questions & Answers

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Sustainability: a comprehensive foundation. OpenStax CNX. Nov 11, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11325/1.43
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