Radcliff’s message is that the highway paved by modern culture will not get our world to that destination.
“What our society is offering us as the way to make our mark in this world—to be somebody in this world—has so much to do with materialism and status and all these things,” he said. “And that’s really kind of a shame.
“If we really want to find out who we are and what we have to say with our life, look at God’s world, the people and the planet, and find a place where we can be in community with the global community—not only for what we can give, but what we can gain.”
The topic at a noon luncheon with students and faculty focused on developing a sustainable lifestyle. Radcliff said U.S. society gives lip service to the concept, but has little understanding of what it takes to achieve it, or how pervasive are the forces that work against it.
“We (Americans) want to be able to do everything we’re doing and have everything we have—and find a way to ‘green’ it,” he said. “The people I read say that’s not possible.”
Quoting one current writer, Radcliff, said efficiencies would have to increase by a factor of seven every year to achieve a sustainable lifestyle based on the rate the U.S. population is currently over-consuming.
Currently, efficiencies are increasing by a factor of only 0.7 per year.
“He’s saying we can’t have our cake and eat it, too,” Radcliff said. “We have to deal with the demand side of the equation. We can’t just keep supplying because supplying is bumping up against various limits on what you can pull from the earth.”
Politics is a factor in the equation because few elected officials are willing to talk about reducing consumption.
“You won’t find a politician who will say anything about that,” Radcliff said. “Obama wants to deal with climate change rather than raise fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon—which probably will only make us drive more because gas will be cheaper.
“He could have said let’s have smaller homes, don’t drive as much, don’t consume as much, and think about how much meat you’re eating in your diet,” he added. “Imagine a president saying that. He’d be laughed out, if not worse.”
Radcliff said he realizes a less-consumptive lifestyle won’t catch on with most Americans until they see an economic incentive for embracing it.
Radcliff said Gernot Wagner describes that scenario in his book, “But Will the Planet Notice?”
“He said you can do everything you want—‘I’m riding a bicycle, I’m not eating a lot of meat, I’m recycling everything and pulling things out of trash cans’—whatever. But it won’t make a difference with 7 billion people going the other direction,” Radcliff said.
According to Radcliff, Wagner suggests the way to create an economic incentive is to build into the cost of conventionally produced and shipped products the unseen costs that undergird them.
“In regard to transportation, if you build in the real cost of our pollution, our climate change and the wars we fight over oil into the cost of a gallon of gasoline, my bicycle just went up in value—as did our incentives to build bus systems and have bike lanes in our towns,” Radcliff said.
“We’re not going to do it because we ought to do it—only when we’re pressed to do it.”
Radcliff said some students had suggested that catastrophe is the only the thing that might prompt Americans to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle. But he isn’t so sure that would do it.
“Milton Friedman, the Chicago economist, said when there’s a catastrophe, people look around for the ideas lying around—they’re’re grasping at something at that stage,” Radcliff said.
“Our role is to have some models in place for how to deal with the problems that are facing us,” he said. “So when things are running short, we have some ideas for the way of doing it—rather than, as a lot of people want to do, stockpile it in their basement and put an electric fence around their house.”
Radcliff encouraged the small group of listeners to be “do-gooders who are willing to be proactively do-gooding.”
“I think this society needs an imagination for what we can do differently,” he said. “We still need to work with the politics and the economy and all of that, but I think we have a role.”