Sustainable South

Understanding limitations and how to deal with them responsibly is at the heart of achieving an enlightened, judicious, and sustainable society that adapts well to ever-changing circumstances.

Those of us who promote sustainability in public policy are continually reminded of limits – regulatory funding, environmental health and capacity, political support for green energy, etc. But due to widely reported constraints for recovering from our brutal economic slump, it is only recently that the general public has recognized the need to confront the reality of limitations.

America’s history has been marked by pride in our optimism and self-sufficiency, often verging on reckless bravado, largely based on promoting boundless economic growth. Rising expectations have been cultivated among the young, who were assured that better-paying jobs, improved technology, and the competitive entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism would generate evermore wealth and economic opportunities – despite the biological and physical limitations of “spaceship earth.”

These themes became the rhetorical dogma of political speeches for so long that many Americans came to believe our nation was invincible, able to defy all constraints that hamstrung progress in other countries. Any U.S. candidate openly daring to question such beliefs was unelectable. Legislation intended to correct problems caused by implicit vulnerabilities was often defeated, weakly implemented, or veiled in the guise of more acceptable purposes.

Now we face the ominous plausibility of irreversible national decline brought by prolonged wars and tax-cuts that we could not afford, global trade agreements and tax policies that placed corporate profits above the welfare of our citizens, and willful negligence of under-regulated financial institutions that viewed rampant speculation as a legitimate means of wealth creation. As a result, the U.S. presently staggers under the burden of a reality we are forced to reckon with, made even worse by our belated recognition of it.

The central question in confronting this harsh reality is whether we as a people are capable of determining our true self-interest and taking timely, strategic steps to act upon it effectively. Recent political trends suggest a contrary shift to even more reckless delusion, creating disruptive barriers to consensus at a time when we can least afford them.

As part of this delusion, blame is too often placed where it doesn’t belong. Immigration policy is attacked while unprecedented corporate profits are taxed at record-low rates (if at all), and bailed-out banks are flush with tax-payer enhanced capital, as small businesses and homeowners plummet into bankruptcy at rates not seen since the Great Depression.

Major industries that are among the largest profit-makers include irresponsible polluters and market manipulators, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, coal and oil, which are doggedly defended against justifiable regulation and elimination of government subsidies, while worthy competitors are dismissed as impractical and starved for funding.

Above all, government is often treated with contempt, especially in areas of activity where public programs are most vitally needed. Evidently, many Americans would rather suffer inferior infrastructure, healthcare, and education programs than see government provide needed improvements.

A false and deeply misguiding pride in a perverse sense of “liberty” motivates many of our citizens to oppose the imperative to divert a small share of private wealth, gained at public expense of one kind or another, toward repairing our threadbare social fabric.

Evidence contradicting foolhardy devotion to American “self-reliance” is quite clear: Concentration of wealth among the very rich does not create proportionate employment opportunities, just as surely as public expenditures are indispensable to economic recovery when the private sector languishes. Likewise, deregulation doesn’t improve society, because irresponsible business practices invariably result, imposing hardships on the public – whether through unhealthy air and water, fraudulent pension programs and mortgages, or substandard, sometimes dangerous, products and working conditions.

National recovery depends on achieving mature recognition of our mutual inter-dependence as fellow Americans. We must overcome the dismissive rejection of government’s pivotal role in shaping our shared future – ironically, a dogmatic position often taken by those who have benefitted from public programs but deviously deny their advantages to others.

Under conditions of greater limitations – whether environmental, social, or economic – the need for well-managed governmental programs in taxing, subsidizing, regulating, and social services is more profound than ever. Ill-considered efforts to defeat a robust federal role in resolving our nation’s most profound challenges will only make them more intractable.

David Kyler

David Kyler

David Kyler is the co-director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, a non-profit membership organization he co-founded in 1997. The Center works to protect, preserve, and sustain the vital natural, cultural, and economic resources of coastal Georgia.

One of David’s deepest convictions, and a founding principle of the Center, is that environmental research, scientific information, and public involvement are urgently needed to improve decisions affecting the sustainability of natural systems. Accordingly, the Center’s slogan is “Advocating responsible decisions to sustain coastal Georgia’s environment and quality of life.”

To pursue the Center’s mission, Kyler gives priority to raising public awareness about issues affecting coastal Georgia at all levels – from local to state and national, to global. He frequently publishes letters and opinion columns in Georgia newspapers, often commenting on controversial issues that require improving the analysis and coordination of both economic and environmental considerations.

In the past three years alone, on behalf of the Center David has published close to one-hundred commentaries on a range of issues, including offshore drilling, protecting Cumberland Island National Seashore, risks of contamination by coal ash and other toxic materials, coastal development controls, and conflicts between environmental protection and economic development practices.

In the past decade, under Kyler’s influence, the Center has been one of the few Georgia non-profit organizations persistently voicing alarm about the global climate crisis and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2018 and 2019 the Center hosted several public forums on climate issues in the Savannah area and collaborated with the Climate Reality Project in organizing a rally in Savannah, scheduled to be coordinated with the international Climate Strike.

Through his work with the Center, David is helping to redefine economic self-interest by incorporating the principles of sustainability in public policies governing both economic development and environmental protection. He is convinced that systemic analysis and life-cycle assessment, including thorough evaluation of economic and societal externalities, are essential to responsible environmental stewardship.

He holds degrees from Lehigh University (BS, Industrial Engineering) and Southern Illinois University (MS, Design Science), and has completed advanced studies in Resource Management and Policy at the State University of New York at Syracuse. Mr. Kyler has worked in environmental policy analysis, regional planning, and public-interest advocacy for over 40 years. He’s been a resident of Saint Simons Island since 1977 and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

  1. These are all excellent points, well made, however, from my perspective; I would argue that the root of all of our problems is the simple fact that we have lost our moral base. A short review of history quickly reveals that no nation has survived long after losing its founding principles. I’m not referring to any particular religious views, rather, I’m referring to the basic values of a civilized people. Situational ethics have driven us to a precipice from which I am not sure there is a return.

  2. Thank you for such a clear and well presented discussion of what ails us. I try to be optimistic, but as the skinny guy has found out, it’s near impossible to dance without a partner.

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