The Asterisk Writer
6 min readApr 19, 2021

Sustainability vs. The American Dream

Over time, human beings have developed morals that shaped their principles resulting in many influential and idealistic ideas. The American Dream was the idea that all Americans had an equal opportunity to become whatever they wanted. This sentiment has stuck with the country throughout history. However, it is now time to question if the idea was ever a favorable one. The world has changed greatly since the creation of the American Dream, the concept is unreliable. Sustainable Development is our chance at creating an improved intention for our world and country.

“Once upon a time, you could touch the air in New York,” states Jim Dwyer in Remembering a City Where Smog Could Kill, “It was that filthy.” The 1920s were a very memorable time period: jazz, votes for women, terrible pollution, and the infamous sentiment of the American Dream.

The view to the south from the Empire State Building on Nov. 24, 1966, one of New York’s worst smog days.Credit…Neal Boenzi/The New York Times
The view to the south from the Empire State Building on Nov. 24, 1966, one of New York’s worst smog days.Credit…Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

The American Dream is defined as, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” This was a very opportunistic idea. It shaped the country that is the United States of America. Be that as it may, the realization came that this sentiment was greatly flawed, notably in the 1920s. This dream was most definitely unattainable for minorities such as women and those of differing races. The Dream was only truly attainable if you had influence or were wealthy. Oftentimes, the climb to reach this dream required greedy and selfish grabs at power. Sons often wanted to get ahead of their fathers and did so by climbing the social status through affluence.

Alberto Gallo mentions in his article How the American Dream turned into Greed and Inequality, “Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the in first modern history expected to be poorer than their parents.” With a boom in the population during the mid 1900s, the reality of the American dream became less and less likely to be achieved by the masses.

In today’s world, new ideas and goals are being created, for example, goals of sustainability and environmentalism. Unlike the American Dream, sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The American dream led millions of Americans to believe in capitalist lies that told you could achieve as much as the richest person alive if you were open to all opportunities. This is the greatest lie the American Dream has sold us. Ryan Nehring explains in his article Why Won’t Jeff Bezos End World Hunger, “Runaway capitalism is the inevitable result of a nation built on the idea that personal wealth equates to a person’s inherent value, and that any means of achieving that wealth are acceptable; indeed the seed-capital that served as the initial investment for the world’s largest economy was generated by slave labor and later exploitation of the working class.” This passage explains that often the opportunities that could give you wealth would exploit minorities. In today’s society, you cannot gain immense wealth without exploiting the needs of the people.

“Wheatfield — A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan — With Artist in the field,” 1982.Credit…John McGrail, courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

The picture above is of Agnes Denes’s Wheatfield, one of the most significant artworks in New York City history. The Wheatfeild was planted in a 2-acre landfill in Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center. Agnes Denes is an artist, poet, and an environmentalist who often displayed her views through large art projects. Her Wheatfield was a symbol that represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics, world hunger, waste, and ecological concerns. It was a fantastic environmental monument in the early 1980s.

In the photo, Agnes Denes is standing on her finished project. The picture displays 1980s New York City behind a luscious golden field of wheat. It resembled aspects of nature against synthetic man made phenomena.1980s New York City was still as smog ridden and polluted as ever, but is broken up by the natural display that is the Wheatfield. While being planted, the plot of land was covered in junk and pieces of metal. The seeds were hand sown and covered in soil. Agnes Denes did much of the work herself, the rest was done by volunteers. The crop was harvested and yielded over 1,000 pounds of healthy golden wheat. Even in adverse conditions caused by human “pollution” a sustainable environment was still created from the rubble.

The American Dream was still very much a concept in the 1980s, even though the population had doubled since the 1920s. Opportunities were becoming more scarce for the public as more companies were achieving the capitalist dream. The Wheatfield is a symbol of how sustainability can still be achieved in rough climates, however it cannot be achieved with flawed concepts such as the American Dream.

“People are always fighting reality until it is pushed down their throats.”

— Agnes Denes

The American Dream is still believed by many Americans today; greed and selfishness still rule over opportunistic ideas. Granting all this, sustainable development is becoming more and more influential. The population is growing and sentiments like the American Dream will never be realistic in the world. Alberto Gallo mentions in his article How the American Dream turned into Greed and Inequality, “There are two ways we think the world may exit this loop of rising inequality, political polarization and short sighted politics. One is to make the poor richer through education and investment. The other is to make the rich poorer.” Right now, many charities work to help the poor and give them more money, however, the richest people in the world could live the extravagant lives they are already living without half of their money. The website explains that the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, could “end world hunger twice in one year… By an estimate of 30 billion dollars.” The question is, if you could donate less than half your money as a billionaire to solve world problems and still be astonishingly wealthy, why aren’t you doing it yet?

Ryan Nehring explains in his article Why Won’t Jeff Bezos End World Hunger, “by allowing the hoarding of wealth by so few people in a way that causes so much death and pain, we are lowering our capacity for future world wealth generation through the loss of unquantifiable amounts of human intellectual capital and potential innovation.” A person could make $100,000 every day of their lives and still not have as much money as the richest person in the world. The American Dream is a lie.

To be plain, the ideals of the past were never idealistic, even during their times. The American Dream is a sentiment, a romanticism, it can never be achieved by the people. The world is changing and our ethics and values need to change with it. Sustainability is an idea that will benefit all people, not just the wealthy. In order to move forward in a compelling and realistic society we must openly disconnect our bonds to the American Dream and latch on to ideas that will benefit all people.

Works Cited

Agnes Denes. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2020, from

Dwyer, J. (2017, March 01). Remembering a City Where the Smog Could Kill. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from

Nehring, R. (2020, November 20). Why Won’t Jeff Bezos End World Hunger? Retrieved December 15, 2020, from

Written by Alberto Gallo, P. (2017, November 9). How the American dream turned into greed and inequality. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from