Monday, March 29, 2010

Green is for the People - Update



(This article originally published in 2007, I do think it's still timely.)

I am sick of climate change. I am sick of being told to go green. I
am sick of hearing that we are collectively doomed.

Yes, we now know the Earth is warming at an alarming rate and many species are in danger including the cuddly seal eating teddy bear of the north, and of course the only specie capable of reading this article.

Former Vice President Al Gore says that we cannot let ourselves reach a level of despair. The Australian climate change activist John Seed says that only when we are at our most desperate of places will we be able to find a way out of this mess. Could they both be right?

Someone once spelled it out for me in these terms: we are the cancer, and the escalating levels of greenhouse gases are the radiation treatment. Pretty bleak. I was disturbed, but did this man, humming
on black coffee and half a pack of cigarettes, disturb me enough to act?

We live in a complex system of systems of systems within systems and systems. The health of these systems creates a balance that the world as we know it needs to thrive and sustain itself. Does this mean that the increased pressures on these systems lead to our collective demise? And is this the type of thing that people need to hear in order to act? Or does rhetoric lead to a cultural backlash that dismisses the messenger and disregards our collective complicity.


* * *

I recently traveled to San Francisco to attend Dwell magazine's conference focused on building sustainable communities in the modern world. San Francisco loves design, loves the color green, and, of
course, loves itself.

San Francisco has, by far, the most comprehensive set of environmentally friendly initiatives. The city has incredibly strong
public and private support for all things "green," the most of any American City I have visited in the past few years. The steering wheel for the green bandwagon, a.k.a. the "sustainability conspiracy" (proudly spoken of by conference moderator Joh Hockenberry), is most definitely in the Bay area, which means the liberal pockets of the East Coast are bringing up the rear. (Or are we driving in reverse?)

That said, with all the free, tree-hugging love oozing from the central West Coast and areas like our very own Pioneer Valley, how does the “sustainability conspiracy” conspire to win over the rest of the United States?

A good way to start, I believe, is with a shift of attitude expressed in the communication of this movement.

For years now the liberal pockets of the U.S. have been nurturing the family of green movements that have evolved out of environmentalism. This nurturing has led to a great deal of momentum but also a great deal of protectiveness. The number of those singing in the choir may be growing but not at the exponential rate needed for the movement's ideals to hit home with a large number of Americans who dismiss the Green movement, and the coasts that harbor
it, as elitist.

Hollywood is buying hybrids faster than automobile companies can make them. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are popping up on every block in major cities. Fair trade is cool, and green is chic (as well as expensive). This may be a move in the right direction. If sustainable, responsible products can infiltrate trendy mainstream America, perhaps we do not need to convince anyone. We can herd the sheep right into the fresh green pasture and they can unknowingly graze on the fair trade grass until the earth heals itself, right?

By buying expensive products such as solar panels for our home and gasoline/electric hybrid automobiles we can not only save the earth and some cash (after the initial investment), but also announce to our neighbors that we are on the right side.

But what about our neighbors who can’t afford high priced organic foods or cutting edge technology?

As the sustainability conspiracy revels in its own culture, I don't see its conspirators seeking common ground with the number of people who need to be convinced that this is an issue that effects us all and that only by taking a collective holistic approach that includes every system we live by, will we have a chance. The pseudo enlightened “we get it, why don’t you” approach will no longer suffice.

A strong, positive, inclusive voice is missing from the current state of the Green movement, and the lack of that voice keeps us in very divided groups. Groups that I believe are working toward a very similar goal, that of prosperity.

So, if there continues to be those of us who actually believe that there are just two types of people living through this mess, those who act and those who sit on their couches and watch The Price is Right, how is it that will we all find ourselves at the “responsible-for-saving-the-world party"?

With a massive all-inclusive invitation, one that reads: "Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart."

* * *

While studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, a country praised for its environmental and social initiatives surrounding sustainability, one of my professors, who also worked with the ministry of the environment, looked at me and said, “If American industry jumped on board, the world would have a chance.” She had a great point. Perhaps our greatest right as Americans is our right to ingenuity and in turn to market our ideas to the people.

This ingenuity has built a nation that I am proud to be a part of. Let me remind you that a rally around our national industrial power has saved us before. By standing behind and contributing to our nation’s big business (not to mention higher taxes and victory gardens) during a time of dire need, American’s efficiently and successfully produced the technology and products to take down a tyrant.

The uphill battle we face is very different. In those days we were churning out war-planes and bullets to our soldiers overseas, now we must produce goods and services that will help every American to live more environmentally and socially responsible. If the biggest of business can turn it around and see the benefit to going green, fight the good fight, and buy and sell products that support a healthy vibrant planet, we must support. So what other company has the power to get more goods to more Americans?

Wal-Mart.

They may be a bit late, but what other company claiming to stand behind the ideals of sustainability has 1.9 million employees, revenue of over $351 billion dollars, and the ability to influence enough people to make a real change in the Earth's environment?

True, in the past, Wal-Mart has had horrific policies regarding social and environmental responsibility. But that company has all along been fighting for middle America and speaking a language sweet to its citizens' ears, selling inexpensive consumer products to those who cannot afford things elsewhere; goods priced for the people. Before you discard this company's environmental goals as pure green-wash, take a look at its current and planned initiatives (www.walmart.com/commonfuture).

Whether or not the Earth is melting or freezing, no matter how desperate we become, whether humans will end up being the disease or the cure, no matter how much of this green movement will fade to fad, we can all benefit from a positive, inclusive, responsible push to change the way we live, work, and consume. If no one is worried about who gets credit for saving the world, if this is a selfless movement aimed at making the Earth a better place to live — the sustainability
conspirators need to put lofty ideals aside and let big industry jump on board to popularize measures this earth needs.

Give those who might not be able to afford to “get it” a chance, and let them know that we are all welcome to live where the grass is green.

9 comments:

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