Across the world, developed nations have locked themselves into unsustainable, energy-intensive lifestyles. As environmental collapse threatens, the journalist Noah Gallagher Shannon explores the lessons in sustainability that can be learned from looking “at smaller, perhaps even less prosperous nations” such as Uruguay.
“The task of shrinking our societal footprint is the most urgent problem of our era — and perhaps the most intractable,” writes Shannon, who explains that the problem of reducing our footprints further “isn’t that we don’t have models of sustainable living; it’s that few exist without poverty.”
Tracing Uruguay’s sustainability, Shannon shows how a relatively small population size and concentration (about half of the country’s 3.5 million people live in Montevideo, the capital) had long provided the country with a collective sense of purpose. He also shows how in such a tight-knit country, the inequalities reach a rapid boil, quoting a slogan of a Marxist-Leninist group called the Tupamaros: “Everybody dances or nobody dances.”
Looking for answers to both a structural and existential problem, Shannon questions what it would take to achieve energy independence.
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Saskia Solomon, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.