I think the environmental crisis is mainly a result of structural problems. The problem is that our current society encourages us consume beyond our needs. Our systems goal is economic growth which requires greater production and greater consumption. It isn’t hard for industries to get us to overconsume because it’s in our nature have desires and to never be satisfied. The food industry engineers new food products with just the right balance of fat, sugar, and salt to hit pleasure centers in our brains and keep us reaching for that next potato chip or coming back for the next Happy Meal. Clothing advertisements use sex appeal to catch our attention. Industries take advantage of our biological desires.
It’s important to recognize aspects of human nature that contribute to the problem. But it’s even more important to recognize when society takes advantage of our nature to meet certain ends.
Structural problems are primarily to blame, but I also think change has to happen at an individual level. While it’s in my nature to want more delicious salty potato chips I can use my higher faculties to stop myself. We aren’t victims of our nature.
I’m optimistic about our ability to tackle the environmental crisis. I’ve proven to myself that I can make lasting changes to my own behavior. I have confidence that others are doing the same. I think we can reframe our tendency to never be satisfied as a strength rather than a weakness. Our desires give us incredible drive to accomplish things. The problem is not that we have desires, the problem is what we’re doing to try and satiate our desires. The key is to channel that drive to more fulfilling goals than getting the latest iPhone. I think we can find greater pleasure and fulfillment in striving to reach more meaningful goals like helping each other and saving the planet.