An open letter to environmental friends: Do we lack shared big picture perspective, organization, and priorities?
The fundamental threads of our economy are not changing for the sake of environmental sustainability. In this era of hostile politics and financial depression, no one is shutting down a coal plant or a styrofoam factory or building fewer highways for the sake of the environment.
Intentional change, driven by corporate boards and political decision makers — and based on recognizing some of the limitations of our ecosystems — requires radical job restructuring. Eco-sensitive financial retooling? No thanks. As far as the world's big agendas are concerned, no one's rushing to shut down any of the stuff that's bad for the planet. American leaders are rising to the challenges of today's environmental issues by pursuing new and promising enterprises; a noble undertaking. But from a grass-roots'er perspective, profit-driven activity which grows our economy in a more sustainable manner seems to be the thing that's inching our world away from of doom and gloom. Not leadership.
Take Plastic Bags —
For years, enviros tried to convince other people to use fewer plastic bags at the grocery. Entire nations such as South Africa made plastic bags illegal as far back as 2003 (1), but here in the US plastic bag making factories continued to thrive. I'm grateful to Austin's Whole Foods Market for leading a major sea change to eliminate plastic bags. Indeed after their bright, recycled, multi-purpose shopping bags went nationwide in early 2008 virtually every other major retailer followed. (I have a very small canvas shopping bag from Office Depot I “treasure”… what is that little thing supposed to hold?) And companies like BlueAvocado (2) with their smart, reusable bagging have changed my girlfriend — the opposite of an environmentalist — forever. Nonetheless, plastic bag making is still pretty big biznes here in the USA. When will that change?
What about Electricity —
We've been told by Al Gore and the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, via their 4th Assessment Report, that unless humans stop burning fossil fuels our world will end within the next 90 years or so. Coal plants are the #1 offender in this future-negative scenario. But we're building more. If the causors of the greenhouse effect, which appears to be destabilizing global climate, were listed in order of the top three it might look something like this: #1. Coal plant emissions (electricity), #2. Transportation emissions (land & air), #3. Deforestation. Even though it's broadly known there are health impacts, economic impacts, social justice impacts, and of course environmental impacts related to each of these economic practices — we the people (aka, 'we, the economy') continue supporting businesses that hurt ourselves and our future. We're not decommissioning anything in the electricity world, relative to known and generally-accepted-as-known problems associated with electricity; even as our own lives depend on it. The urgency of “environmental sustainability” is having little to no influence over politicians, business leaders, and most consumers in this area.
or Oil —
As the 2nd biggest causor of global warming emissions and now famous for the Gulf of Mexico spill on American soil, the world's most incredible business continues to grow. No one, I mean no one, is talking seriously about using less or replacing oil with bio-fuels, electric vehicles, or better public transportation on a time scale commensurate with the problems we face today. Amazingly, the argument for environmental sustainability or just plain old environmental protection seems to have no place in our media's coverage of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. “Green and sustainable” is a vision only a few Americans share.
But maybe addressing the lack of environmental consciousness across America isn't the right place to start. 90+% of my environmentalist and Creation Care friends drive gasoline powered cars, fly often, eat primarily non-local food, use mainstream body care and cleaning products, have little or no sustainably-harvested clothing or furnishings, buy 'new' instead of reused, and etc, etc. Frustratingly, most of us speak more often from a place of passion than knowledge when discussing eco issues. Collectively, we don't seem to know what to do next. Everybody does what they can, but starting with the enviros, we need to look at ourselves — we have a long way to go.
It's pretty simple. People will do what they believe in, have desire for, have accepted as “part of life,” or care about. For most folks, “sustainability” has yet to connect to any of those areas: belief, desire, necessity, passion. Sustainability lingers as “something I should do something about” but don't know how to easily access or afford. Worse, like a diet or a foreign language sustainability requires disruption, and it's more complicated…”someday baby, someday.” On top of this, I have empathy for the big decision makers — you're running a business or a corporation or working within an entrenched piece of our country's political system. The effort required of you and your team of green-changemakers to make ends meet then grow profitably must be downright daunting to maintain: eloquence, vision, cash, backbone, “results”…
So I wonder,
Will the environmentalists of today tap into the powerful forces of economic growth that govern our reality and transform what seems to be the broadest common ground (“growth“) into meaningful sustainability? Have enviros lost touch with the urgency of climate disruption? Are environmentalists like me too focused on the eco-concern of the moment? Should 'we, the enviros' come together to organize a hierarchy of concerns, such as: #1. our planet (ourselves), #2. our health (our bodies), and #3. everything else? I don't know the answer, but I'd like more open dialogue on this, what feels like a stalled effort. Maybe we could start locally. My Green 2.0 point: Do we lack shared big picture perspective, organization, and priorities?
Your comments appreciated.
(1) SOUTH AFRICA banned plastic bags in 2003, offering offensive retailers a fine of up to 10 years. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/afr…
(2) BLUEAVOCADO is an Austin, Tx small business. http://www.blueavocado.com/