Nicholas Lukowiak


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Western culture is wasteful. Is it fair to suggest that most people have to ask themselves what is worth more: luxuries or the future?

Phones last up to a year, rarely fixed to be reused.

Most restaurant franchises and corporations supply more waste than small countries.

Car companies come out with new models every year.

Oil... enough said

Recycling is more of a fade then it is a requirement.

When is enough damage enough?

  • Mar 26 2011: Fifty years ago, mankind had no ability to see the whole picture, to understand the full effects of our actions on other people, on society and on the planet. Now, we can. Measurements and computer analyses of the health of every aspect of society and the planet are readily available.
    Those of us who are aware of this window into the future, are like new parents, suddenly faced with the responsibility for taking care of other people, For some, this is a thrilling opportunity. For others, it is so terrifying that they retreat into shells of denial.
    As we mature, we will develop ways to manage our choices, in light of this breadth of information. We have two challenges: first, to honor basic equality and ensure that all people have access to the necessities of life, and second, to honor sustainability, to avoid damage to the Earth and its systems that support life.
    Until all people have access to food and water, no one should be using food for entertainment. Until everyone has basic preventive medical care, no one should get vanity cosmetic surgery. Until everyone has basic shelter, no one should have a second home. Until everyone is clothed, no one should have collections of shoes and games.
    In a sustainable world, widespread availability of clean energy gives people new employment opportunities and strengthens their access to basic rights, such as the right to plan their families. Appliances, clothing, and electronics are made to last, and to be totally recycled; there is no waste. We can envision this better world.
    Today, we are spiraling toward destruction of our basic resources. Individuals who live lightly on the Earth certainly help. However the problem is systemic, and demands systemic solutions.
    Society, through governments, must require the preservation of forests, the end of burning fossil fuel, and reductions in energy use with public transportation and efficient design.
    Your question is indeed fair, and important.
  • Jul 22 2011: Hi Nicholas, am I correct in interpreting your question loosely as whether today's wasteful culture will cost us our future if we don't mend our ways? If that's the case it depends on how much optimism you hold in man's potential. Can we be better today - yes. Is it going to cost us our future = no. I recommend Matt Ridley's Ted Talk "When ideas have sex" which begins with the following: "When I was a student here in Oxford in the 1970s, the future of the world was bleak. The population explosion was unstoppable. Global famine was inevitable. A cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was going to shorten our lives. The acid rain was falling on the forests. The desert was advancing by a mile or two a year. The oil was running out. And a nuclear winter would finish us off. None of those things happened. (Laughter) And astonishingly, if you look at what actually happened in my lifetime, the average per-capita income of the average person on the planet, in real terms, adjusted for inflation, has tripled. Lifespan is up by 30 percent in my lifetime. Child mortality is down by two-thirds. Per-capita food production is up by a third. And all this at a time when the population has doubled."
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    Mar 29 2011: Enough damage is enough and all ends when we realize that...

    A) The monetary system is the greatest scam in history and is at the core of most, if not all our problems.

    B) We are the ones who allow this shit to go on. People always like to blame others. They need a mirror for Christmas.

    C) Waste is our fault again because we agree with the economic system automatically, which is rarely questioned and is not economic in any way. It is all based on making profit, which naturally limits productivity automatically. Everything is built to be productive and efficient for x amount of time, after which, you must go back to the store. This is the only way to make money. And this brings us back to point A...
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    Mar 28 2011: Absolutely.

    I"d take it a step further: It is fair to ask what "worth" will we leave with our lives? Or to put it another way, how do we insure our life fills more than corporate coffers and landfills?

    It seems to me a worthy legacy to pursue as a life purpose -- and it is easier now given an economy that is strapping our spending -- a life wherein we purchase/waste and "leave" less material stuff and more human and relational substance.

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    Mar 26 2011: If we took a general survey of this thread, I doubt even 5% who can afford it, still have or use, or consider it desirable to have:
    -rotary phones
    -furniture-embedded radios or BW televisions
    -cars made in the 60's or 70's
    -ride bicycles made in the 60's or 70's
    -limit their food choices exclusively to locally grown produce and meat
    -take cold navy showers
    -have written Congress to end agricultural price floors
    -have EVER shopped at Walmart, Target, or big box stores
    -buy brand name products
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      Mar 29 2011: I fail to see the point of this statement Phil, what is the point?
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        Mar 29 2011: Simple. Do you practice what you preach?
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          Mar 29 2011: absolutely, my local chambers of commerce is on my e-mail list, not that I feel it does ANYTHING I still give it a shot. But still that question sucks, because I am an individual, a no body in the broad spectrum of reality. In respects to this nation I am still a no body because I have no credentials that matter in the professional world.

          What I say shouldn't be considered into who I am, but rather compared, pared, and broken down to many many other and different viewpoints. By having many viewpoints you create your own. And is within that simple fact of how to create reality is what I feel most people cannot handle, because it involves taking criticism. Which is something that appears to have to be taught to adults instead of to children, weird.

          What I say doesn't matter, what is in every ones best interest is what matters. In reality people do not always know what is best for themselves because those ideas can be altered by exterior influences. So, we are in a conundrum. How does significant change happen for the better?

          (This isn't all directed at you Phil, but rather for anyone taking the time to read our conversation)
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        Mar 29 2011: To quote Gandhi, "You must be the change you wish to see." Actions speak louder than words. If you believe the VP is the right way to go, then adjust your life in ways that bring it closer to reality.

        The most important step into making this world a better place is for people to give words more value. "Civilization" is a hodgepodge and jury-rigged system that somehow amazingly functions a little in the way its supposed to. It's easy to criticize so long as you believe that your words have no value. If they ARE valuable, then shouldn't people be more responsible in using them? If you're going to advocate something, then test it out, ideally on yourself first; then tell us how it goes.

        I'm sure there are some VP-like communes out there, go join one, or build one. Let us know how it goes. Empty words won't convince anyone, but evidence will.
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          Mar 29 2011: Not trying to convince anyone, trying to allow my view points to be seen, like i said it is the composition of many ideas that should create your own.

          Even if there are those compounds, who will fund them? Who will fund the media for them? Ideas are priceless because you can alter them, build on them, and create more ideas from another idea.

          Also evidence doesn't create confidence either, the theory of evolution is a fact, yet MANY people believe it is false. I don't want to convince anyone because then they will look at me like I have more answers. I say think for yourselves on what matters and only take others ideas as an influence on yours.

          VP is only possible if people are willing to be open-minded to what matters.
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        Mar 29 2011: Not all ideas or forms of human thought are equal. What's better is having a collection of ideas from many sources that all have been proven to be valid, reliable, and testable. Children were told that it's okay to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Over time they realized that those are just fairy tales and are not really valid. When it comes to talking about what the world should be like, it's important to find out what does and doesn't work, and understand why.

        Virtually everyone in their late teens and early twenties loves to grapple with the philosophical and political issues of their time, and feel like they're the first to ever consider such issues. Heck for me it was "Ecotopia," by Ernest Callenbach. I'm all for a free-flow of ideas, but the difference between hot air and changing the world, is testing it out and letting the more jaded among us see that it actually works. It's important to throw an idea out there and equally important to do everything you can to understand why it would and wouldn't work. Even if there are some deep problems, it still might offer better alternatives.

        Is the VP a better alternative? I don't know. I'd like to see it tested out somewhere and to see how it would work when it depends entirely on people that it alone has trained. It could take 20-25 years for such an experiment to show results, but doing things on a societal level scale needs to iron out all of the biggest problems before millions and perhaps billions of people embrace it.
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          Mar 29 2011: If there is anything philosophy taught me it is that constructed thoughts are the problem of society. People still hold to Aristotle's original ideas as being more than just starting points but as cold hard truths. Space-time theory is a theory that would blow up and expand science, math, physics and all the fields in relation, but because many hold true to the idea of time being a river, space-time gains less credit. However if people were taught to take both ideas (space-time and the flow of time) as both reasonable ideas, concepts would be vaster.

          So, yes facts are good to assort from, but knowing how to filter facts oneself is an even better thing. That ability comes from critical thinking, something that should be taught as children instead of facts, figures, and how to obey.

          I believe humans have the ability to be on the same level as everyone else, if we were taught to do so. And A LOT of revolutionary ideas stayed on paper for generations due to the inability to experiment, but were accepted as fact because the numbers added up. If the numbers are done right the world could become stable on money and resources that already exist.

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    Mar 22 2011: As so often, there is a golden middle path. Nobody wants (ok, perhaps a few do) to go back in time getting rid of all the goodies we are used to.
    BUT, Nicholas, you are right. We rarely produce goods for long term use. If we think about cars. Look at the VW beetle. They are around for ever and even decade old cars still run like a clockwork. And if one day something doesn't work right you can fix it with the use of some simple tools. Modern cars on the other hand last not much. After 3 years one starts to experience the first hickups. Doing your own repairs ? Forget about it. In most cases you have a hard time to find even the car's battery (ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit).
    Recycling, even if it works, should only be second choice. The first choice should be avoidance.
    To make it short, we don't have to say good bye to luxury and the modern world, but we should be more conscious in our buying habits. At the end, companies produce what the market wants. If the market cries for a new mobile phone every 6 months, then the industry will provide them and quality doesn't matter, because they know you are going to get tired of your old device and buy a new one in a few months.
    Same goes for a lot of stuff.
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    Mar 22 2011: If we redefine what luxuries are, we will all have a good future. For me luxury is to fish my own fish and cook it with my children, sit by the sea and hear nothing other than the waves and the birds. We need to teach our children to enjoy a life that does not damage nature. Unless we have time to stop, think and observe what is around us we will get in more and more trouble. We need to reconnect ourselves and our children to nature.
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    Mar 7 2011: First of all, don't generalize. America is wasteful because we can be. We live in one of the most agriculturally fertile and underpopulated landmasses in the world. True part of it had to do with conquest but most of it had to do with the pandemic that hit the native population like a ton of bricks and emptied out the continent. The phrase that applies to our situation is "ecological carrying capacity," a concept developed by a guy named Thomas Malthus who said that "every species will reproduce until reaches the limits of its food supply." In our case, we still have a long way to go before we reach the full capacity. When we add industrialization and employment specialization (which requires delaying child-rearing and having fewer children), we have permanently created a margin between current and full capacity, giving us permanent excess. If we were not industrialized, our population would keep growing until we had more than a billion people and then we'd crank out more babies than available food and not have excess. I focus on food because food is at the heart of our behavior. Before you mention injustices related to food distribution, remember that every country on Earth has a different carrying capacity, and each should be responsible for creating their own margin. To do otherwise will simply make environmental problems worse.

    Second, most of your argument falls under recycling. There's nothing wrong with having new goods every year if we're recycling them. But to do that, we need a new energy source that doesn't cause the kinds of problems oil gives us. Its hard to get off of oil because hands-down it is the best source of energy we have. Before you attack the negatives of oil, you must honestly look at the positives as well. Oil more than any other source is responsible for our industrial agriculture and transportation system which powers everything else.

    Instead of asking why people don't, ask why they do.
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      Mar 7 2011: It is not just America though, western culture is NOT just America, that would assume Britain is more advanced than America, which is not the case. Western philosophy, western civilization is what I was referring to; those areas in the world that go under that category.

      New energy sources have been discovered. Alternative engines to cars have been made but usually major car industries buy out the rights to making and put them on the shelf or file as in "NO"

      Food can be accessible to trillions if that was the concern but it isn't. Dog clothing, cosmetics,cosmetic surgery, and entertainment are bigger concerns to most than anything else. That is the result of culture my friend not the human condition.

      Oil once was a great thing, but today the result of that great thing is still unknown (climate shifting, ozone damage, and green house gases or global warming) Today it is primitive.

      SO I will ask, "why don't people" because it is possible, and asking "why they do" is obvious, because they do not care in the majority in western culture.

      All you did was declare the problems of society and the reasons behind them you are not answering my question. When will people realize when enough is enough. Will it take visible destruction? Acid rain? An environmental terrorist?
      • Mar 8 2011: Very good outlines. I believe there is one simple question we need to make... aand then you will have all that answered.

        Would you, today, dispose of your computer, remove electriciity lamps, throw away and never reuse any plastic, rubber materials... in itself almost returning to the most primitive forms of living?

        For as you said, there are alternatives. But they are no where near to developed enough to supply the equivalent of what oil currently gives us. Not to mention plastics, rubber, tarmac, fuels etc. which are used for practically everything, made from crude oil.

        Food... thats different. We would struggle for that to work perfectly, for monocultures are extremely wasteful and ecologically un-viable. (bet that word doesn't exist yet). Effectively, we would have to farm off a forest, plant our own things in back yards, ect. but then we would not be able to work as long and as hard....

        unless we eat insects... but I bet almost all but some asians would object to that with disgust.

        Cosmetics... what can I say? Ego, human nature really... Would you give most of your food to the nearest homeless guy you see? most likely not.
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          Mar 8 2011: Disposing of any technology is not the answer in fact we need them to build on.

          Oil has done it's job it is now primitive. The fact there are no cars ran by solar, hydrogen, and ethanol is due to money. There is no money in being green because you will get more miles out of it and supplies are cheaper because they are less limited.

          I am not a radical man but being fat should be a crime. There is no need to eat more than you need.

          The bottom line is luxuries means comfort. Would I sacrifice my comfy life for a chance to make the future cleaner and exist? Fucking hell yeah I would.

          I recommend watching the works of Jacque Fresco - Venus Project.

          Not only is it plausible to have a world that will allow trillions to survive, but a world where continuous growth is required!

          I am not suggesting to think the whole world needs a change, I am suggesting the most primitive ideas do need to change. Oil usage is among them no question.
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          Mar 29 2011: So why not a solar/ethanol/hydrogen car? And most oil based products can definitely be replaced by now to bio-friendly products
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        Mar 8 2011: Okay... you seem to be mixing up American behavior with Western Culture and using an extremely broad brush to characterize about a billion people. Am I to assume that you have spent extensive time gaining experience with the various ethnic groups and sub-cultures of our "Western Culture" to form the basis of your critique? Be honest, you speak from the perspective of an American and your issue is primarily with America. Europeans tend not to buy cars as often as Americans do because they have a far better public transportation system than we do. They tend to conserve water better because it's more scarce there. They also tend to eat in smaller portions which means they're less likely to waste food. Again, it comes down to carrying capacity.

        No hydrogen or electric cars? I suppose that the Honda FCX Clarity or Tesla motors don't exist?

        If you want to ask "why not?" learn about the differences between Epicureanism and Stoicism. The main reason why people are wasteful is because of the difference between reality and existence. Reality is what we make of it. Existence doesn't depend on observers. People imagine the world to be a particular way and then the see what confirms their assumptions (confirmation bias). It takes training and discipline to break free of our cognitive habits and see the world as it is.

        I mentioned carrying capacity (as important to understand as gravity) and you completely ignored it, and then went about your confirmation-biased reference frame to talk about the VP, unlimited population, and continuous economic growth with the implicit assumption that economic abundance is possible. Your response is typical of most people in ignoring information that's beyond their standard reference frame. Therein lies the answer you're looking for.

        Deductive syllogistic-based logic is dangerous when it isn't anchored by what actually exists. I also encourage you to learn about the Organon and the Novum Organum.
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          Mar 8 2011: Europe has the most corporations in the world, America is influenced by Europe this you cannot argue. Those corporations produce more destruction than can be accounted for, more or less because no one can or would be allowed to. Indeed my major concern is recycling and earth friendly products.

          However in your rebuttal towards me you have indeed listed the "why not" in a majority sense. Further more it is not just America, it cannot be nor can it ever just be one country responsible for so much global damage.

          I listed phones, cars, oil, and the result of big business. What country in Western culture is free from phones that are do not have a life expectancy of a year? That are free from oil, not just from cars but from non-biodegradable products (which all have alternatives to be bio-safe)? Granted Co2 emissions are highest in America and pretty much match the entire continent of Europe. That is due no doubt to the lack of care for the environment, lack of knowing, lack of understanding of the "big picture".

          However I stand by my original argument, America is apart of Western culture, I am trying to generalize, which to some is ridiculous, but as soon as more people see the world as connected the more people will consider such.

          You are on the premise America is wasteful due to lack of education. America is a collective country of many other countries, we have more Europeans making our decisions than any of the other people. It is not an American problem it is a Western problem. When America pollutes it doesn't just effect America it effects the world. The countries America is most liable to is Europe. Exchange in culture is constant.
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        Mar 8 2011: Europe also has a larger population. Having more corporations means nothing. I'm concerned about recycling too as I pointed out earlier. But I acknowledge that it's because of energy.

        I wasn't talking about education in a general sense, I was talking about your education. You want to know the "why nots?" I think I answered it. As a philosophy major I hope you will take the time to learn about Epicurus, Stoicism, Aristotle, and Francis Bacon. You'll thank me you did.

        Where I think you need to be careful is generalizing Western culture and America. Yes America is part of Western culture (and more influenced by Europe than you know), but not all of western culture is part of America (we're FAR more conservative than they are). Europe has gone through a tremendous cultural change since WWII. It had to start from a clean slate after the devastation they endured. It's a lot more advanced in terms of environmental awareness and in the implementation of green solutions. I'd think that a lot of Europeans would be offended by your assertion that they are just as bad as the US. They turned a new page, we inherited their old one. America trades more with Asia now than Europe, what do you think that says about cultural influences?

        Economics addresses your larger point. The main problem is that exchange prices reflect group behavior and transaction value, not utility value. This has been known for over 200 years. The result is that we end up with are potential negative externalities. Until people willingly bundle transaction and social costs, we're going to continue to degrade the environment. Buying green or organic is a good start. But we need to back it up by improving resource reuse ratios.

        Understand that economics is NOT a proscriptive field but a descriptive one. The VP attempts to offer a prescription. As a genuine environmentalist, I'm wary of any superimposed design architecture that doesn't factor in carrying capacity. It warrants more study.
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    Mar 7 2011: Your a bit too caught up in the Media. You and I should worry about evacuating the post populated piece of land in the nation. That is whats wasteful. Over birth and Immigration is whats wasteful. I'm not saying their all good and at this point America is nothing more then a nation of rights to be wronged to prove how right their residual value is worth. Quality Corporations are what make America. Franchising , especially in New Jersey is very improperly use and disrupts quality lifestyle. This still will lead you back to higher quality population and less immigration before quality outcome.
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      Mar 7 2011: The media doesn't have any concern of these issues because they are owned by those who make the problems (for America anyways) I don't understand what you are saying
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        Mar 27 2011: The media is a significant in this issue , when we mention any kind of culture. Cultural outcome from social media. Another words the media aspect on this topic is that you believe we are being over conservative in this generation yet we use to much resources in some cases you are correct and trust by dividing these two aspects your entangled incorrectly somewhere and likely through the media. The fact you mention the media as if it were an outside perspective suggest such as well.
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          Mar 29 2011: Okay well let's define media as the source of public information, not just news channels, so that is schooling, themes of television shows (T.V in general), parents, peers, and internet.

          Now, in my media usage and understanding I am not confused about any problems in relation to western culture being wasteful, if anything I am unaware of how to solve them on an individual basis.

          Now you feel we should not live in city-like conditions, but that is the future. Cities allow resources to travel less, be used to benefit more people, and overall increase productivity.

          In a world where bio-friendly products exist (bio-friendly = long lasting, and non-lethal toxins used) life would become easier to maintain. In the ideal and best conditions that are possible and completely plausible, over population is welcomed.

          Immigration really? People coming to this nation for the ideology of becoming rich and having money is exactly what we teach our children to think. The american dream is the most ignorant thing ever, it universalized the idea of making materials what matter. No religion saying "treat others as you want to be treated" can beat the idea of putting materials over others, because the more you have the happier you will be is the ideology expressed in modern american media.Lotteries, game shows, and CONSTANT coverage of celebrities (wealth/rich people). Immigrants aren't the problem the values we install in society are.

          The media is in no way affecting this issue, if anything it is preventing the correction (global pollution), by feeding the general public nonsense about pop culture rather than REAL information is why the news is of no concern to this issue. If people really wanted to know about these amazing people they could buy the hundred magazines that are nothing but celebs.

          Fox news is a biased station (in favor of republicans, people who think the science on global warming and climate shifting is inconclusive) proven on youtube time after time.
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    Mar 7 2011: Back to the basics! I''m up for the challenge. I think the damage has already been done.
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    Mar 6 2011: I refuse to see this question as a simple either-or. It is perfectly conceivable that we can maintain our current lifestyles with 'luxuries' like healthcare, education, comfortable homes, entertainment, varied diets, etc. by innovation and invention. Resources are limited only because humankind is still quite inefficient at acquiring and employing them to the fullest. I look forward to a future in which all people have the same luxuries we currently enjoy and more.
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      Mar 7 2011: It isn't simple but it is either-or; if people do not realize their life styles are destructive then they will not care. Their lack of caring will be the ultimate demise of the planet, slippery slope? Maybe. Humankind only problem is humans that reinforce ideas. If you never change the idea there is no change. When will people notice and ask themselves if it worth exploiting the planet for luxury. Resources are not limited people reinforcing traditional ideas are limiting progress for profit margins. There is no money in cars that run on sun and electricity. If people cared for such products someone would have to make it.

      You're luxuries are slightly better than necessary life needs. I believe most would consider luxuries as being rich and having extra, and not as having just enough to be happy, because the idea of what will make you happy i believe is also distorted for most.